Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Directed Motivation with Delusions of Improvement (a.k.a. Goals)

The year 2012 was barely 12 hours old and I'd already heard one talk in church and I'd led one discussion on the importance of setting goals. By 36 hours, I'd led a second goal setting discussion with my wife and kids and we'd established some simple goals for myself and my family. I expect that more introspection and internal, mental churning will take place over the coming days and weeks. Let's just say that there is lots to improve on.

There is something about the dawning of a new year that drives humans to evaluate their lives and to creatively (and sometimes unrealistically) outline a new path or to attempt a self-re-invention or to conduct a specified overhaul of their lives. Personally, I am all for it. I figure, if we aren't taking a serious look at ourselves and our habits, behaviours, qualities and our general progress in life, we are living in a delusional half-life or at least a proverbial "mental cave".

Goals serve several purposes. They:
  1. narrow our focus and attention and direct our efforts (potentially improving our efficiency)
  2. result in an increase in effort (again linked to efficiency)
  3. give us more reason to work through setbacks and obstacles
  4. can lead to change in attitudes and behaviour
During my preparation for my lesson on Sunday, I came across some good points that really highlight the importance of focused and "true" goal setting (as opposed to false/fake goals). During the ensuing discussion, there were some excellent points raised by men I really respect, as well as some of those great mental AH-HA moments that I am always grateful to receive.

The first quotation that I shared with my class was one by O. Leslie Stone (I was informed that he is an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy - good to know).

“We should all constantly evaluate our progress. To live righteous lives and accomplish the purpose of our creation, we must constantly review the past, determine our present status, and set goals for the future. Without this process there is little chance of reaching one’s objectives”

I have to ditto this one. I think that it is absolutely critical for us to constantly assess our progress in life relative to our overall purpose in life. We can't truly tell if we are gaining ground or making headway unless we take an occasional look behind us. Looking backwards occasionally has the added advantage of providing us with the necessary perspective we require to make course adjustments and corrections throughout our lives. That is why experience is in the past.

To clarify, I don't think that you have to spend all of your time "micro-checking" your progress, as this is counter-productive, but you should do periodic checks. These checks can (and probably should) be a part of your goal setting process, with milestones and check stops built into your overall goal(s). Milestones are sort of like micro-goals or stages within your goals, regardless of whether the goals are short, medium or long-term.

Another great quotation that I came across that really resonated with me was one by Elder Dean L. Larsen (an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). He taught:

“An important distinction must be made between the potentially confining aspects of setting specific goals and the much more encompassing need of having a general purpose in life. This distinction is more than a play upon words. One’s purpose in life has an overriding influence on what he does with his time, energy, and resources...”

“Unless the goals and objectives an individual works toward are harmonious with his general purpose in life, a devastating kind of internal conflict can develop which is destructive to happiness and personal development. Appropriate, useful goals and objectives must be a direct outgrowth of one’s perceived purpose in life. Otherwise they can lead to a random expenditure of effort and resources that may not contribute effectively to long-range progress.”

To me, the take home message from Elder Larsen is how important it is for us to clearly recognize and accept what our overarching priorities and purposes in life are. If we set goals that are out of synch with our priorities, we'll make no progress and I think that we will actually do some damage to ourselves (sort of a disruptive disharmony - if you can wrap your head around that). Focused goals are good. Focused goals that align and mesh with our priorities are better. Honest, appropriate effort towards our goals that align with our priorities is best.

Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a number of excellent points relating to goal setting. I have to say that I had several of my AH-HA moments while discussing or considering what he taught.

"When you set a goal and commit yourself to the necessary self-discipline to reach that goal, you will eliminate most of the problems in your life. Spend your energies doing those things that will make a difference.”

He also taught:

"I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the technique of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential."

Another quotation from Elder Ballard:

"I would suggest that if you want to have success in the goal-setting process, you learn to write your goals down. I would even put them in a prominent place—on your mirror or on the refrigerator door."

What I keyed in on in these quotations were the points suggesting that while setting a goal is important, commitment and self-discipline are required to achieving the goal. It is how we live and what we do towards a goal that matters. The goal is the end, whereas self-discipline, commitment and the expenditure of energy are the means to that end.

I also liked the point of writing down a goal. Somehow moving a thought or a conviction from the mental sphere into the physically tangible realm makes it more real. Posting it, or as the class discussion suggested, sharing it with a loved one (spouse, family member, trusted friend) or by sharing it with God, you put it out there to be remembered. An added advantage would be that you gain the potential for support and encouragement. That is powerful.

Some final, simple quotations on goal setting. Perhaps this'll give you what you need to make some changes in your life. I know that I am going to start the process, soon.

Benjamin N. Woodson said...

“All you need to do is this: Beginning this very day, stop doing some one thing you know you should not do.” After you have written this one thing down, stop doing it! He continues “Start doing each day some one thing you know you should do!”

Elder M. Russell Ballard

"Perfection is a process and not an event, and you will come to appreciate that perfection is an internal matter, not external. It is a process by which you and I learn to eliminate the things in life that are not good, replace them with the things in life that are eternal in nature, with the objective and thought that perfection is obtainable, but it must be earned."

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