Finding Your Way Through the Elusive Fog of Dreams

I don't know about you but I am constantly setting goals for myself.  Some are good ideas and will truly benefit me, while others are simply "hail mary" moves that I convince myself will be that "one thing" that fix my life, or at least will become one successful step in the right direction toward that "one thing" that will fix my life.  

The problem is that I have spent a great deal of my life in a fog.  

A fog made up of goals that have been both realistic and not.  The mix of the two have not served me very well because I have gotten bogged down in so many choices, so many changes, so many really good ideas.  I tend to get overwhelmed by it all.

I am all for self development but I have finally come to the realistic understanding that I can only work on so many things at a time. I have also finally figured out that even if changing a behavior or adding a new one would be really helpful, if I'm not absolutely and thoroughly convinced that it's essential, I will never follow through.

Have you ever "bought into" setting a particular goal for yourself as if it were a product in an infomercial?  You know, thinking that you have to make this change because you just know it will be the answer to so many problems, or will at least make life more exciting and meaningful. But, the excitement only lasts until the next commercial plays or until the next great idea comes along.

I'm not sure if I am becoming more realistic, cynical, or just plain smarter, but I am starting to do goal-setting a whole lot differently.

1.  I have divided up the areas of my life into categories:  My relationship with God and myself as I learn how to follow Him, my resources (personal space, time and money), my health and fitness, my relationships, my work/ministry, my constant need for growth and development.  Any goals that I come up with need to fit into these categories and the value they could have need to make sense.

2.  As I honestly evaluate each area, I have decided to set a maximum of 2 goals in each one with the understanding that I will keep checking in for the next 6 months to see how I'm doing.  I don't seem to do as well if I try to do more than 2 things at a time and 6 months seems reasonable to me.  Obviously, it would be really helpful to have a partner to be accountable to which realistically works in some areas but not in others.

3.  After writing down each goal in a particular category, I have learned to then make a list of how altering or adding this behavior will really benefit me.  I have to create the "buy in" or I'm simply not going to follow through.  On the other side of the paper, I come up with 2 things that I can do to make this goal happen.  Again, I can only work on a maximum of 2 things at a time and they have to be realistic and tangible.

4.  Now here's the clincher for me:  Underneath the 2 things that I can do to make this change or addition work, I write down what doing these things will cost me.  There's always a cost involved with goals.  These are the things that will trip us up and keep us from reaching our goal because when it gets difficult we often choose to give up.

5.  After looking at the benefits alongside the cost of doing what is necessary to reach the goal, I have to ask myself the crucial question of whether or not the goal is worth it in the end.  Do the benefits outweigh the costs?  If they do, then I need to figure out what I need to do to minimize the costs.  If they don't, I need to throw that particular goal away and move on to something more attainable. 

Some of you are familiar with "SMART" goals which in the goal-setting world means that the goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  I've struggled with the practical use of this technique but have found my new-found process to fit well into this process.

Now, this all sounds very sterile and maybe a little rigid so I will give you a couple of examples on how this has worked for me.

Example #1:

 Our church has a fantastic Hispanic Ministry that is meeting the needs of the large population of Spanish speaking individuals in our community.  While having the opportunity to travel to quite a few foreign countries,  I totally get the struggle that comes with not being able to speak the local language.  I also know the frustration of learning a new language after taking 3 years of German in High School but still not being the least bit fluent.  So, when the opportunity came along to attend the Spanish class the church was offering, I of course thought taking part would be a great idea since it would help me to grow as a person as well as would help within my own ministry category.

I went through the above steps fairly quickly in my head, listing the benefits which were many, determining what I needed to do to learn this new language, and figured out the costs involved with really digging into the process.  I had to come to the realization that even though I saw great benefit, at this point in my life I just couldn't afford what it would cost me.  No matter how badly I wanted to do it, I knew in my heart that I wouldn't follow through and it would just bring frustration and a sense of failure that I don't need.  I had to let this one go.

Example #2

I have always been very dedicated to the idea of health and fitness and have been fairly disciplined with eating a healthy diet and with consistent exercise.  But, the last couple of years I have gained a few pounds-not many but it bothers me and I don't feel great about it.  And, I have a terrible sweet-tooth which I have always had guilt over.

I don't know how many times I have determined that I will "never eat processed flour or sugar again--ever!"  I convince myself that "this time I can really do it" and I do--for about a day.  Then I feel pathetic. Obviously, I know the benefits and am convinced by them, but when it comes right down to it, the cost always outweighs the benefits.  I have had to be realistic.

So, while listing the benefits that I know come from eating a healthy, non-processed, low sugar diet, I have also had to list what it would cost me to do so.  I am convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs, but I had to figure out how to minimize the costs so I don't just give up and throw in the towel when it gets hard.  I decided I needed to to come up with a compromise.

The 2 things that I know I need to change to get my eating under control are (1) I need to stop snacking and eating things mindlessly (you know a handful of this and that throughout the day) and (2) I need to limit my sugar intake.

How do I do it?  (1) I have decided that I HAVE to keep a food log of what I eat and the size of portions.  It sounds like a drag but phone apps now make it pretty easy.  (2) I have decided that I still need to be able to have a sugary treat every day (or I will simply give up) but I can limit it to only after dinner.  I find that I naturally don't want to eat much then so I tend to limit the amount I sugar I eat. 

So far this has been working pretty well.  I don't always feel like logging something on my phone so I just don't eat it.  And, I don't feel like I'm depriving myself of a treat but now look forward to having a little something at the end of the day.  I feel a lot better about myself and don't feel so out of control.  One smart addition to this would be to add some outside accountability if I start losing my own personal strength.  Also I know this is an ongoing change so I decided to reward myself with a little something each month if I follow through.  

I have other goals in other areas as well and using this process has helped me not get so overwhelmed.  It also works with the idea that in some life categories there may be things you needto eliminate as well as add in order to reach your goals.  That can be hard but if you list the benefits of doing so, it can make your resolve to follow through the tough moments stronger.  One great resource for this process is Henry Cloud's book Necessary Endings.  

Sometimes there are thing that we need to give up in order to move forward.

Sometimes we even need to give up setting unrealistic goals because they can clutter our lives and keep us from reaching the goals that really have value.  Sorting through the changes we want to make and being more intentional with our focus can be a great help and can simplify the process of reaching success. 

Hopefully this has helped you as you also move through the fog of life and the constant change and challenge that it brings.  

I would love to hear about some of your goals and how this process could possibly help you as it has me!