Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Plans for My Goals (and Yours)

My daughters flank me on either side, sitting composed over laptops. They’re both writing stories. Inspiration has visited them on this snow-covered morning. It is our third creative writing session of winter break. I am a proud father; three periods of focused story-telling sounds remarkable for an eight and ten-year old. Not bad too shabby for a balding thirty-six-year old, either.

But I give us too much credit. We have failed. We have strayed from “the plan.”

Both my daughters have expressed the goal of publishing a book. I professed similar dreams yesterday (and the twenty years that proceeded it). Our goal is noble and not beyond reach. However, to make goals achievable, children and their fathers need more than audacious dreams. We need plans.

I want greater things for my children than dreams. I want them (and me) to experience some level of achievement. We will face obstacles. In fact, the greatest obstacle to achieving our goals is the self. My self-imposed hurdles come in myriad forms. Lack of time, lack of energy, lack of clarity, lack of motivation, and lack of resources all point to me as the culprit.

Other authors, especially those cast in the mold of self-help or business-inspiration experts, have far more to say about personal success than I could summarize. Web sensationalist, James Clear, and Getting Things Done guru, David Allen, head the list. Dallas Willard and Gordon McDonald offer a Christian perspective of life-planning and spiritual disciplines in their writings. Moreover, the proliferation of mobile apps, wearable tech, hashtags, and websites dedicated to “life hacking” and “activity tracking” underscore the obsession with micromanaging our lives.

What I offer below are a few simple strategies I have employed to overcome the obstacle of ME. And if my daughters aren’t careful—they’re sitting close enough to touch—I will micromanage their lives, as well.

Set at Timer to Ensure an Actual Start
I wake up to an alarm five days of the week. It’s the actual start time of my day. I proceed with a routine of journaling, Bible reading, prayer, reflection, and reward myself with coffee. Without an alarm, my morning routine suffers, productivity for the day languishes, and I wear pajamas until noon (see picture above - time of picture 9:48 AM, EST).

Like an alarm, the timer has a similar effect, ensuring a starting point. When my daughters purchased their newest journals, stating their intent to write, I bought a kitchen timer. “We’ll write ten minutes a day,” I said. We set it only once. In spite of limited use, I know from other occasions the timer has a stimulating effect. The initial beep signals a call to action. The final ring announces my success in following a plan.

Push through an Arbitrary End Point
While the alarm signals an end point, that finish line is artificial. I’m training myself to fight through artificial end points. Sometimes I run an extra mile, even though I set out to run less. (Didn’t Jesus teach a similar principle in the sermon on the mount? see Matthew 5:38-42.) Sometimes I add ten more push ups, even though I achieved my goal. I’ve also extended conversations, writing sessions, reading stints, and the number of days I’ll wear a pair of boxer briefs to prove I can push through arbitrary end points. (Full Discloser: In an earlier phase of my life I would have stopped writing this entry after the introductory paragraphs. Insert Fist Pump emoji.

Fuller Discloser: I stopped right here before finishing. Insert Sad Face emoji )

Let Discipline Outweigh Inspiration
If I wait until inspiration strikes to work out, write, read, organize my garage, or follow through with other personal goals, seasons change and I park in the driveway. Inspiration is like the cool uncle who visits every two years and makes you feel good for doing nothing. Inspiration is the feeling of reward before anything is accomplished. Do not confuse inspiration with discipline. Discipline is not averse to rewards, but can anticipate them as you follow through with a plan. It may be the positive self-talk you provide, the milkshake you procure (yes, milkshakes can be procured), or the shower after you tear muscles and sweat through a shirt (this happens often when I write). More importantly, discipline puts regular workouts and writing sessions on the schedule, working regularly until Uncle Inspiration’s next visit.

Celebrate Meager Progress (not Mediocrity)
Some days I write two sentences instead of two pages. Some days I run four minutes instead of four miles. Some days I pray a minute instead of an hour. My plans do not always follow the mental script for perfection I’ve laid out. But I remind myself time and time again, “Something is better than nothing.” “Any movement in the right direction is good.” Meager progress doesn’t earn me a trophy or spending spree at Amazon, but it’s worth a cat poster aphorism.

Keep God’s Kingdom Ultimate
My ambition must not be allowed to become ultimate. God expects big things from His children, but He does not compete with big heads. There is only room for One Ultimate Authority, and I am not He. God and His Kingdom must be my primary pursuit. Not only did Jesus teach this principle (Matthew 6:33), he modeled it. Throughout the gospels he said, “Not my will, but God’s.” Or, “I only do and say what the Father bids me.” Jesus lived and led and died in humility. God vindicated him through the resurrection. I can only hope at the end of my days – however many there may be for this misty man—God will see my plans and goals contributed to His glory.

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