Do you set goals at the beginning of the new year? To be honest I like to set goals towards the middle to end of January to avoid all the New Year hype. But now is a good time to think about goal setting – or even better – to think about putting off goal setting – till you are in a healthy frame of mind, after the holidays, so that your goals are realistic and even helpful for the coming year. This week we are looking at some foundational thoughts about goals so that you can be realistic and not set yourself up for failure just because it is the new year.
One of the biggest issues with setting goals in the new year is that we tend to get narrow-focused and only see the issues that we need to improve on – and we get excited that this is the year things will change. It is like we put a spotlight on that issue and because that spotlight is so bright we can’t see any other parts of our life and we think we have all the capacity – all the time, energy, resources, etc to fix that one issue, to be consistent in new habits, and to make lasting changes. In our enthusiasm and optimism, we forget to look at our whole life. The problem with that is that when we come to the end of January when life becomes real again – and all the parts of our everyday life starts taking up our time, and we realise we actually don’t have time to work on that goal that we set only a few weeks earlier. That is why so many new years resolutions – or goals – get forgotten or cast aside.
The stats tell us that we all set goals along the same lines: lose weight, get fit, get out of debt, spend time with family, be less stressed, and finish projects. And I’ve fallen into that pattern of setting goals myself over the years. Over the years I’ve fallen into this pattern along with so many others. And just like many others my goals are kind of forgotten come February. As I flip through some journal entries I notice that I often reflect on lessons learnt about goals in February – here are some of my notes.
Journal Note #1: We tend to set goals in the New Year, in a buzz of excitement with the promise of a fresh start. There is no consideration of reality: of our very real everyday life. It would be better to set goals taking into account our whole life and being aware of our circumstances and limitations. We can still work towards change, but with a sense of purpose instead of random wishful thinking.
Journal Note #2: I wonder if we set goals from a place of discontent – a desire to change because we aren’t good enough (fit enough, wealthy enough, organised enough, creative enough etc) There is a risk that we set goals because we are comparing ourselves to someone who we think has it together. Instead of discontent being our main motivation to change we need to set goals based on God’s purpose for us; we can set goals based on the things on our heart that honours God and blesses others, instead of our weaknesses.
Journal Note #3: Why do we set the same goals every year! I am sure this compounds our sense of failure. We aren’t enthusiastic about our goals because we know we’ll fail – because we’ve tried it every year for the last 5 – 10 – 15 years! Instead, if we can focus on the ‘why’ this goal is important we will find stronger motivation to carry it through when it gets hard.
Journal Note #4: Just setting the goal doesn’t change my life! I need to take the time to write out a plan of when and where and how I am going to make this change happen in my life – otherwise it is just a dream. Baby steps towards what is important.
I wonder if you have ever paused to think about the end result of your setting goals in the New Year?
Come the end of the year is your life different because of the goals you’ve set?
When did you let your goals go?
When did they stop being a part of your active thinking and choices?
What lessons have you leant about setting goals over the years?
I think it would be really interesting if you could just pause and think about that for a little bit.
Our Seasons of Life impact the Goals we Set
So much of the goal-setting information out there is targetted towards career situations or they are designed by go-getters and high achievers. Over the years I’ve wanted to find a language and process that suits a mum – whether you are a stay-at-home mum, homeschooling mum, career mum, or empty nester mum.
As a mum I am responsible for my own choices and growth but I’m also balancing the well-being of other people so life changes really quickly and some of those changes I’m not actually in control of – so I never found setting goals for 12 months really worked for me because my life just changed too quickly. The most success I’ve found is with 90 day or 30 day goals. I think this time frame really works for mums – smaller goals set for a smaller amount of time because we have more understanding of what is likely to happen within that period of time, so our goals can be more realistic.
There are different seasons of life where we might feel we are in FULL mode – or SURVIVAL mode or RECOVERY mode. It is these times when we feel like we have nothing more to give, we can’t take on one more thing, our lives are full, crazy and we may even feel depleted. To be honest our goals should be about caring for our well-being instead of pushing for growth. And that is okay.
I have been in those places myself –
- After a baby was born – it took time to get back into the swing of family life. My priority was the baby and adjusting to a larger family.
- After Nomi was sick, or even during that time – our priority was dealing with her illness, travel, and treatments.
- November every year is a hard time for me, as I am at the end of coping with Peter being away so much, the weather becomes just horrid and it is a hard time, where getting through the day is my focus – that is a goal in and of itself.
- Some seasons last longer – after a particular hurt in our local church, it took me about 2 years of vagueness in my heart before I started to see little shoots of life again, little glimpses of vision and purpose. I was living my normal life, but I wasn’t taking on any extra projects, I didn’t set myself any goals, or put any expectations on myself. I was just living and doing normal – some might say I was coasting, but I know I was healing. And it was necessary to take that time.
You may relate to one of those seasons – and if you do, I hope you give yourself a grace period too. Instead of setting goals, you need to give yourself permission to just deal with life as it is. Make spending time with Jesus your priority. Let Him fill you and restore you, let him give you peace and joy. We all have seasons of life when the priorities shift or change and are very different than we would have expected. So don’t rush that season by looking for new things you can add to your life, or searching for things that you should change or do better in. Just focus on your relationship with Jesus, and do everyday life.
Resist New Years Resolutions
The reason I wanted to talk about setting goals, now, before Christmas, is I want to give you some thoughts so you can resist futile new years resolutions. I wanted to put the thoughts out there so you can enjoy your family between Christmas and New Years – and keep your own heart relational because it is too easy to get task orientated when we start to talk about setting goals. It is also too easy to be down on ourselves because we are focusing on all the areas we need to change in and when we start to focus on our failings we forget to enjoy the people we are with.
So when this podcast goes live we are just over two weeks out from Christmas and I know Social Media is already talking about setting goals. So let this episode be your permission to not do it this year.
Heart-focused Action Step
Instead, I have three things for you to do over the next few weeks. Regardless of when you are ready to set yourself some goals these three steps are the best place to start. Give yourself time to process each step.
Though many people use November as a month of giving thanks it is a habit we should develop all year round. As we start to think about setting goals looking back and giving thanks is a really good place to start. As I said earlier in the podcast our goals usually focus on the negative or the not good enough aspects of our life – when we start with thankfulness it changes how we view ourselves, how we view our circumstances, and our opportunities. So start a thankful list or journal page – keep it handy and add to it every day for the next few weeks.
2-Understand your Season of Life
What is your season of life? Our season of life is generally defined by the priority that shapes other aspects of our life. We all have various balls we are juggling – so which ball takes up the most time, is the most disruptive and consuming? Is it right and proper that it does so? If it is right then that is most likely the season of life you are in. That being said, we can be distracted by letting something become a priority when it really isn’t. So think about what is the priority in your life right now – what do you need to put most of your efforts into?
For me right now, we are in an empty nest season of life, we aren’t ready for retirement, but life has to change. These things are shaping how we do life. Some things come easy and some things are hard. But by me knowing and acknowledging this season I get perspective and can make sure I’m making decisions consistent with my reality.
Every season of life gives us opportunities and limitations. So if you are only seeing limitations – maybe spend some time looking for opportunities as well – the good things, the blessings, the open doors that are happening because of the circumstances you are in right now.
This may be obviouis but I think it is worth making note of. One of the things that setting New Years’ Resolutions simply doesn’t make time for is prayer. Typically we are celebrating Christmas and then suddenly it is New Years and we pull goals and resolutions out of a hat and hope they will stick and help us grow.
Growing as a Christian isn’t just about setting goals. Growing as a Christian has to include growing more and more like Jesus – and that starts with prayer. Growing more and more like Jesus also means our heart’s desires change so the things that we work on (or want to work on) in our life will change too.
Spend time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to give you the wisdom to know the things in your life that you need to change. Ask Him to start working on you now!
I find it helpful to journal my thought life and my prayer life as it helps me focus. So one of the things I’ll be doing in the weeks after Christmas is setting up a new journal – and starting to read, pray, reflect, and write down the things that come to me. I won’t be making decisions but I’ll be filling my heart with God’s word, which will put me in a good place when I am ready to set myself a goal.
Don’t get me wrong – I think setting goals are a good thing – we just have to come at them from a place of contentment instead of striving.
Let’s recap – 3 things to do over the next few weeks instead of setting goals or New Years’ Resolutions:
- Give thanks
- Understand your season of life
- Spend time in Prayer
If you don’t take time to do these three things then any goal you set will be based on your feelings in the moment and our feelings, though very true in that moment, are not a solid basis for making decisions. We need to know that we are heading in the right direction, we need to know that our goals have purpose, and that we really can walk towards that goal. When we do these three things it will certainly lay the foundation for setting some great goals that will really help you grow in the coming year.
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Celebrate being a New Creation this New Year: Before we set goals for the new year we need to check what voices we are listening to and who is influencing our goals.
God has a Purpose for this Year: As we look at the new year consider the purpose God has for you, and for your family and set your goals from that as a starting place.
Setting SMART Goals as a Parent: As a parent you can set a SMART goal to help each of your children grow and move forward in every area of their life.
You’ve Set Goals but is your Motivation Right? The things that God values should be the basis for my goals and plans – not the things that society seems to value. Time to check my heart before goal setting.