Faith Based Goal Setting
by Jeff Montgomery
Way back at the beginning of the year, many of us made New Year's resolutions. The beginning of the year typically offers us an opportunity to start over, and to look ahead to what we'd like to accomplish over the next 12 months. Reaching the mid-year point gives us an opportunity to evaluate where we are, and how far we are down the road toward our goals.
Now, if you're like me, you won't be surprised to learn that some of those goals haven't seen the light of day. Making goals and sticking with the plan to achieve them isn't always an easy thing to do. Consequently, I've looked for a way to set realistic goals for the coming year and to create an environment where one can be reasonably successful at meeting them. What follows are some suggestions for setting goals and creating an environment for success, with a focus on including God in the process. These concepts can be equally applied in either our personal or professional lives.
First, we need to start with prayer. What does God want for us to do? Certainly, God wants us to be our best in our professional lives, so a valid goal might be to get better at managing the projects we get assigned. He also wants us to take good care of our physical selves, so everyone's annual goal of losing weight and getting in shape would also be valid.
But God may also want us to take on a larger goal. Only through prayer can we be open to God's leading for whatever that may be. Perhaps we're led to change professions. Perhaps God wants us to think about the religious life. Maybe we need to relocate to be nearer to a sick family member or elderly parents. All are valid goals. The point is that we must know where God is leading us so we can set goals that are aligned with His will.
Secondly, we need to have a plan for getting there. In the past I certainly have been guilty of setting a goal at the beginning of the year and not making a plan for how to get there. If our goal is to be a better project manager, then what steps to we have to take to get better? Perhaps some education, writing better project plans, or incorporating regular progress reviews into a project plan will help. If our goal is to become closer to God, then what will it take to get there? We could include such things as daily prayer, scripture study, reading appropriate books, or finding a spiritual advisor in our plan for that goal. The point is to determine the steps we'll need to take to reach the goals we set.
Following closely on the heels of creating a plan would be regular review of our progress. How can we know if we're nearing our goal without regular checks of our progress? The frequency of review is up to our own determination, but I would think that a minimum of quarterly would be effective. It's much better to know that we're getting off track early than to get to the end of the year and find out we missed the mark. Imagine following a road map. Wouldn't you rather find out you're off track when you're 10 miles out of the way rather than checking later to find that you're 300 miles out of the way?
The fourth component of setting successful goals is to write them down. There's no way that most of us, with the hustle and bustle of daily life, can keep track of all of these plans in our head. So, much like a project plan we might create at work, our personal project plans should be written down. This will also help in our regular reviews to have our goals and plan written down, so we have something concrete to work with.
One of the components of goal setting that is used by secular motivational speakers is to surround yourself with positive, reinforcing stimuli to keep you on track. We can take that same concept and incorporate a Christian perspective. As Christians, and particularly as Catholics, positive reinforcement might come from a favorite saint. A sheet of paper with inspiring quotes from that saint that you read each day could be very helpful. Certainly daily prayer is critical.
Periodic rosaries with the intention for increased attention to our goals would be very helpful to us. Even something as simple as a holy card of our favorite saint, placed somewhere that we can regularly see it, is a very powerful help.
Each of us will have our own special prayers, saints, and devotions that can be enlisted in a powerful way to help us meet our goals. As long as our goals are in alignment with God's goals for us, and we pray regularly to insure they stay in alignment, these faith-related items can be a powerful help in our quest.
If it seems complicated to have all of these plans and goals, we should try to approach goal setting with the philosophy discussed in Emmanuel de Gibergues' book 'Keep It Simple'. In that book, de Gibergues puts forth the idea of spiritual simplicity, which in turn brings simplicity to our entire lives. He defines this simplicity as follows:
"To be simple is to see, love, and desire God in all creatures and in all things; it is to unify one's life with God" (Keep It Simple, page 8).
He goes on to say that unifying one's life with God means that our goal in ALL we do should be God. Not worldly acceptance, not the approval of others, but simply to please God. If our goals are aligned in that way, and our motivation is simply to please God in being unified with Him, then all of the goals we set have the same end: to please God. This is simplicity itself.
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