2017 is officially underway, and we’d be remiss not to weigh in on the goal setting discussion that comes with a new year. If you’re like me, you may be feeling behind the curve already, despite being only a few days into January. Why does it seem like everyone has a full 10-point-plan for their personal and spiritual growth for the new year? Did they spend their holidays with gallons of coffee and a whiteboard strategizing?
Regardless of wherever you are in your journey to become a better you, it’s never too late to make some decisions about what you want to change or improve on. And while many people are quick to take on areas such as health or finances, I think a lot of us can feel lost when trying to figure out how to set spiritual goals for the new year. Less popular, but arguably more important:
Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)
Since there are such a broad number of topics to cover when it comes to spirituality, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed or daunted by the idea of nailing down a set of goals for our spiritual growth. If you feel you could use a little guidance, follow these steps to get yourself on a manageable spiritual regiment that you can actually succeed with.
1) Make a 2016 “Spiritual Year in Review”
It’s hard to know what goals to set when you don’t know where you’re currently at. The best place to start when trying to figure out how to set spiritual goals for the new year is to be brutally honest with yourself about how things have been going up until now.
Because of the privilege and authority[a] God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.
Romans 12:3 (NLT)
Self-evaluation is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to the heart. We don’t want to be overly-negative, but we also want to avoid deceiving ourselves into thinking everything is peachy when it isn’t. A good way to take on a spiritual self-evaluation is to break things down into the following categories:
- Walk with God – what Bible studies did I make that strengthened my view of God? What memories have I built with God? When were times I was faithful and spending consistent times with God, and when were times I was putting in little to no effort to connect with him? What new things did I learn about God, what inspires him and how he feels about me?
- Sins – what victories did I experience over sins that were dogging me? What areas came up that I see as lingering or continued challenges? What areas was I stubborn or slow to change?
- Friends – what relationships did I love, serve or otherwise strengthen? What friendships did I neglect to invest in?
- Marriage – how much did I adhere to my biblical role in marriage (read Ephesians 5:21-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7)? What are some ways that I helped my spouse in his/her spiritual life? What are ways that I did not?
- Doing good – what acts of service did I partake in, and to what degree of consistency?
Try your best to be objective, using facts and actual occurrences over your feelings. This will help you paint a clearer picture of what spiritual goals you need to set.
2) Set positive goals
When setting goals, be sure to avoid the temptation to make them negative. For example, “be less selfish at home” or “stop being angry” are high level goals that dwell on the areas you’re coming up short in, rather than keeping in front of you the encouraging possibility of becoming loving and calm.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
Switching your goals to be positive-oriented has been shown time and again to be a more effective way to inspire commitment to change. James Clear explains in a piece about positive vs negative thinking:
Researchers have long known that negative emotions program your brain to do a specific action. When that tiger crosses your path, for example, you run. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. You are focused entirely on the tiger, the fear it creates, and how you can get away from it.
In other words, negative emotions narrow your mind and focus your thoughts. At that same moment, you might have the option to climb a tree, pick up a leaf, or grab a stick — but your brain ignores all of those options because they seem irrelevant when a tiger is standing in front of you.
…Negative emotions prevent your brain from seeing the other options and choices that surround you. It’s your survival instinct.
James Clear, Huffington Post
Make sure as you go through your goals for the new year that they are focused on who God wants you to become, and not just on what you are afraid of being.
3) Set an attainable number of goals
Instead of honing in on a small number of items in order to make success possible, the tendency for many of us is to write out the biggest list we can conjure up. The end result is typically discouragement when we see how many goals were left untouched.
If you used the focus areas from point #1, that would be 5 goals for the year that would strengthen each of those cornerstones. Try selecting on goal per area that you want to strengthen. Remember, there’s nothing stopping you from creating new goals if you accomplish them all by summer!
4) Make your goals realistic
During the early phases of your goal setting, it’s important to think big and be creative. The sky’s the limit on what can be different in the new year! However, once you’ve narrowed your focus to your 3 key areas, it’s necessary that you specify them and make them goals you can actually achieve.
For example, while I’m sure it would be great to read the entire Bible in a month, the likelihood of that actually happening without you quitting your job is pretty low. A better goal might be would be to take on an existing reading plan like “The Bible in One Year 2017” on YouVersion.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
Proverbs 21:5 (ESV)
Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting unrealistic goals. This will only lead to discouragement, and will probably hinder future efforts to change challenging areas of your life.
5) Enlist help
“This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. 18 “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself.”
Exodus 18:17 (NLT)
The best way to ensure success is to set yourself up with some accountability. As Moses learned from Jethro, taking on too many tasks alone will lead to burnout. Certain jobs are too heavy for individuals, and setting big goals will benefit from a reliable team around you.
Once you’ve set your goals, tell people about them. This is a good way to practice vulnerability, since it will open yourself up to discomfort when your setbacks are on display to others. However, odds are that whatever it is you’re taking on, there is someone out there who has gone through the same thing or something similar. Sharing your goals with others allows you to endear yourself to people, and it gives them the opportunity to share with you what helped them.