sunrise melbourne australia setting goals

February is almost finished, and I’m still thinking about goals.  Here are a few things I’ve learned after eight weeks of 2018.

The domino effect: intentionality in one area leads to change in other areas.

Some of the small steps I take in other goals have led to other changes in my life, changes I wasn’t even thinking about. Here was my one, real parenting goal for the year: Smile at my kids. It’s simple and actionable, and only I am responsible for it. But making myself smile more at my kids helped me spend more real, playing time with them. It meant we got outside more. I felt more naturally inclined toward encouraging them. I helped my attitude. I think I feel happier and more content. One tiny goal is doing so much more in my life and relationships than I could have imagined.

The easiest goals to accomplish are the ones most clearly broken down.

My big project in January was finishing the kids’ playroom. I wrote down a detailed task list, and systematically assigned those tasks to weeks and days and powered through them. It was concrete. It was clear. It was relatively easy to accomplish. Some goals (see the next point) are less concrete, which makes it harder to work through in the same way. I still think the key is turning those bigger goals into tiny, bite-sized pieces, actionable in a day.

Resistance is real.

It’s what comes after you’ve chipped away at parts of your goal, but you still aren’t “there” yet. I’ve felt resistance most acutely with some of the bigger picture goals for 2018. I broke them down into smaller chunks, I attacked the chunks, and then I heard the questions. Who do you think you are? Why do you think this is going to work? Why should anyone listen to you about this? Dealing with these resistance voices has been the hardest part of working toward my goals this year. For any of your goals that require months or years of work, learn to expect resistance. And develop your plan for how to deal with it. I’m still struggling with this one, but my simplest plan is this: Keep doing the work.

The 80-20 principle.

I’m not trying to “not do this” or “do this” every day, for the whole year. I’m aiming for 80% of the time, and the grace to not do anything all the time has made it easier for me to push for the things I want.

I can only do one thing at a time.

January was my playroom month. As much as I tried to work toward writing goals, most of my capacity went to the playroom. I still did a few writing things on the side, but I can see now that I am just a one-thing person. Not everyone is like this, but for me to get through my days in a good way, I need to remember this and not make myself focus on more than one thing. You get to decide what works for you in what way it works for you.

Now it’s your turn: How are your goals working in 2018? Are you finding it easy to follow through? What’s working for you? 

Last year I misplaced a book in our house, at least that’s what I hoped. It is a copy of Thumbprint in the Clay by Luci Shaw, one that she signed and gave to me when I was at a writing retreat in 2016. It was my companion during Lent last year. I read through it slowly, savouring the words and ideas. I read it at home, I kept it in my bag, I read it in the car at school, and somewhere between getting in and out of cars and bags and bookshelves, I lost it.

This was June last year. I searched. I looked on our bookshelf, in drawers, in our bedroom and in the car. I couldn’t find it. I started praying about it and told God repeatedly how much this book meant to me, how devastating it was to not find it. I asked God to lead me to the book. Please, I begged.

Six months went by, and nothing happened. Every time I thought about it, I could feel a swell of anxiety and sadness welling up inside of me. I felt so silly for not taking better care of it. During one of the last few evenings of 2017, I went to bed with the book on my mind, asking God again for a miracle. Please, help me find this book.

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I woke up on January 1 with a long list of things to do because for the first time in years I made many, clear goals for 2018. The list is a combination of matters I want to work toward, habits I want to change, writing goals and home developments. But I will tell you that there is a fear in me when I look at this beautiful spread of plans. Dreaming is not difficult for me, but almost every year in the past few years, we had something big come along toward the beginning of the year that hijacked my intentions. Some years it was the fragility of my own mind, other years it had to do with our source of income, sometimes it was particularly difficult seasons of parenting. In March 2017, we dealt with the possibility of a family health issue that jeopardized my husband’s Australian visa application.

I had to look at the possibility of moving back to Europe, and it terrified me. When I think about 2017, my memories are lost to fear. It undid, upended, shook. Yes, there was a recovery, a solid, strong recovery, but a wound that doesn’t bleed still needs time to heal.

When I started dreaming about 2018 a few weeks ago, I will tell you that for every delicious endorphin the dreams elicited, there was another question: But what horrible thing is going to happen?

Will it be a car accident? Maybe it will be an illness for the kids? What if school is a disaster for my oldest? Is it going to be the house?

One of the gifts of these trying seasons is the way they make you stronger. One of its curses is the way it keeps you walking, furtively glancing behind.

But I made my plans, and they are that. Human plans. I made them in big picture and small with tiny pieces listed for January. Last Monday was the beginning. I was itching to start, and it felt good. I pulled Christmas chaos off our surfaces and into boxes, picked up the floors in our living room and moved things back into order.

Our bookshelves are too full, there are rows behind rows, books stacked on top of books and in front of books, but several stray books needed a spot on the shelves. When I straightened some spines that fell over to make room for a giant volume of Tolstoy, I noticed a few books tucked behind the row.

I moved the others aside, and there was my copy of Thumbprint in the Clay, its green cover catching light; God, winking at me. It was January 1, 2018.

I pulled it out, held it to my chest and cried. I couldn’t have asked for a better blessing for the start of a new year. It doesn’t take the fear away, but it anchors me in something bigger. God listens. He answers.

Ask for more.

There is no thing too small. There is no fear too trivial. There is no want too great. There is no miracle too big.

Before everything else in 2018, in all things that will come at us in 2018, when we face the world and all its pain, when we face our lives and the things we fear, in all these things, at all times: Ask for more. Ask Him for more.

How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard writes in The Writing Life. I know this because of Google and because of guilt because I, maybe like you, know how to guilt myself at the start of the year. Here it comes, the new year with all its promise and potential, here comes the list of ways I’m going to change. Here comes the list of all the ways I failed in 2017.

These kinds of maxims give insight into the rhythm of life; I believe Annie Dillard. But I also know what it is like to face down February with its slow and steady defeat, the list untouched, your soul, unchanged. I know what it is like to wonder if the sum of my days will be a complete and utter waste in the end.

I write here regularly about small changes, and the power these little steps have in my life for growth. I believe in small changes deeply, the kind you can do any time, anywhere. So here are four small changes for how to think about 2018 and whatever goals and plans you are making right now. Maybe you don’t have them and feel like you should. Maybe you’ve got a huge list and are excited or maybe you’re overwhelmed with your list already. Start here, and see if changing your thinking about these four areas brings freedom.

January 1 is not the start of your life changing. Every day is an opportunity for change, which means you can start on April 14 if you notice something then that needs growth in your life. You aren’t limited by the beginning of a new calendar year, neither are you pressured by it. You are free to change when you want and how you want. For some of us, the pressure of making each year intentional is too much. Maybe you need to dispel the myth that there is something magical about January 1. Maybe you need to go past January, let your days speak to you, give your circumstances time to marinate into you before you decide where and how you want to shift.

Begin with identity. Who are you? If your answer to that has to do with your occupation (accountant, chef or student) or your relational role in someone’s life (husband, wife, mother), may I gently suggest: Go deeper. Our roles are not our identity, neither is our vocation. Identity is given by a Creator when we were made, and I want my goals to connect back to who I am. When it comes to habits I want to break, I want to break them because this isn’t who God created me to be. When it comes to the things I want to pick up or put on, it is because this is who God created me to be. This is better fuel than the shame and guilt that can drive us to “get better” or “be different.”

Differentiate between goals and desires. Goals can only be set for matters over which I have control. It is something actionable by you not by someone else. A goal like “Have obedient children,” while a wonderful desire, will be a frustrating goal because my kids have their own will. I don’t get to determine how their attitudes are shaped or what they will choose. Hopefully one day they will pick “Obey my parents” as a goal for their lives, but until then, my kids’ actions and attitudes remain something I deeply desire. (Of course we communicate and correct hourly with the hope of an obedient end in our sons’ lives. But it is not a goal I name or even work toward at any point in the year.) I do have goals for myself as a mother, this year one of the big ones is to be intentional about using encouraging words with my kids. I can do this because it is entirely within my control, it is not based on the actions of others.

(A digression here about your desires – they are so deeply important. They are not to be ignored. Please write them down, please acknowledge them. If you struggle with even acknowledging you have desires, and that your desires might possibly be wonderful things, perhaps start with your disappointments. Behind every disappointment is an unmet desire. Follow your disappointments and they will lead you to your desires. It’s a powerful thing to name our desires, and I always try to do this in the pages of my journal at any point in the year.)

Make space on your list for fun. This year my fun list includes bake pies, have a spontaneous picnic, and go on a mom road trip with my sons. Most people I know put fun at the end of the list of things to do, and I get it. The older we get, the more those grown up responsibilities seem in reach. Save up and buy a house. Work for a promotion. Find a spouse. Have kids. These are all great things, but there is something soul killing about a list that only requires you to work and work and work. Maybe one gift you can give yourself in 2018 is to let your desires speak to you. Make one goal a fun goal, something that will “accomplish” nothing except to have loads of fun.

Now it’s your turn: Do you make resolutions or intentions for the new year? What’s one small change you can make to make those things possible? What did you think of these four small changes? Relevant to your life or not? I would love to hear what you think. 

You know I like to find my teachers, and when I think about 2018, someone who has taught me a lot in the past week is Elise Blaha Cripe. She’s got two stories in her highlights on Instagram (you’ll only be able to see this on your phone via the app), the five-year-plan video and the 2018 goals one have been hugely helpful for me in thinking through my list for next year.

If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here:

It was a piece of pan-fried white fish, peas and some pasta covered in cheese on his plate, the kind of dinner he would normally inhale without complaint. Seafood and carbs are his favorite. Tonight though he pushed it around with his fork, his frown deepening. I asked him to eat it, but he snapped at me saying he would not.

You know the feeling when you put something down in front of your child, and you’re certain, This will be a hit. The usual thoughts cropped up in my head, “He’s disobedient and needs to be disciplined. I can’t believe I’m having to deal with this. I’m going to make him eat this or he will be in trouble.”

“I won’t eat it, Mommy,” he whined at me, his voice getting higher and angrier by the minute.

I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached across the table and broke off a piece of his food and tasted it.

The fish was cold and unsalted. I would not have eaten it.

Continue reading at The Better Mom (if you’re reading in your email, please click here).

It’s the beginning of summer for us in Australia, and time for me to write my favourite list. I started keeping track of what I learned a few years ago thanks to Emily P. Freeman, and it became a way of caring for my soul, not just something to write. I hardly wrote on the blog during our winter and spring, but I never stopped writing down what I was learning. In a world that keeps changing and moving, I need these practices to keep me grounded and firmly here. Maybe you should try it too? The easiest way for me to do it is to have a place in my journal (like a page), and whenever I learn something, I go there and jot it dow. Re-reading the list at the end of the season (I keep my list according to the seasons) puts a smile on my face every time.

Our spring was warm and beautiful, and here’s what I learned:

I learned how to bullet journal (see above). I love it and will probably write more about it in the coming weeks. The short story is that I enjoy having everything in one place, and it’s become a creative space for me. More life-giving creative outlets are usually a good thing. For an explanation about bullet journaling, you can start here. My version is this one: It’s a homemade planner with whatever you want in it. The end.

You can’t really sift wholewheat flour. I started sifting flour this year, and feel super grown up doing so, but when I sifted wholewheat flour in October, the bran was left behind in the sifter.

For a few weeks in early October (our spring), the evening air smelled like perfume. I think it was jasmine or something else, but all I had to do was step outside for lungfuls of the sweetest smelling perfume. It wasn’t like this last year, and by the end of October, the scent was gone. But it was delightful while it lasted and a good excuse to get outside in the evening.

Grocery shopping in person is a major energy and decision-making drain for me. Even if I have a good list. Even if I meal plan. I’ve been using a few places for online shopping in October and November, and it’s been a sanity saver.

How to wash my face. Apparently you can learn how to take care of your skin as a 35-year-old, and adding a skincare routine to my life gave me so much more than clearer pores. You can read about that here.

Always keep bacon around. This has been a lesson of 2017, and you will have to trust me on this. When you have bacon in the fridge, all things are possible. Including (especially) happy meal times with children. Also, breakfast for dinner. Also, fast tomato sauces. Also, fast white sauces. The sky is the limit.

Putting up photos is a good thing. My phone has lots of photos. My laptop holds lots of photos. Photos that I just look at, on our walls, in a book? Not so many. I changed that up with a giant photo board for our wall as a gift for my husband’s birthday. It brings us all so much joy to see these memories from the past.

The pruning of the trees in the forest is done by the seasons, and I think it is the same with us. I wrote a bit about the way time can cut back our branches for GraceTable in October.

Re-reading my old blog posts reminded me of the ups and downs of the past years and reminded me of the woman I used to be, the good and the bad. It was a sweet walk down memory lane, and it gave me many reasons to be grateful for this space and your investment in it. I wrote about that here.

Ecclesiastes wasn’t written by Solomon (blog post coming about this soon). I finished my first grad school class two weeks ago. Studying again was one of the most enriching and even fun parts of 2017 (also one of the most stressful). I learned a lot from the class and from the process of formal study, but one little lesson was a comment my professor made in class during our 45 minutes on Ecclesiastes. I’ve been told by almost anyone who mentions the book that it was written by Solomon, but he said most scholars – conservative and critical – dispute this claim now mostly because of the Persian loan words in the book. Persian didn’t exist when Solomon was king.

 

I love to keep track of what I’m learning each month, and it’s become a celebration of growth in small and big ways, a way to measure my days. Emily P. Freeman via her blog introduced me to the process, and I like to join her linkups each season. You can head over there to find others who participate. Please do sign up for my email list in the tool bar at the top of the page if you want to be notified of blog posts in your email. I send out a short, weekly email with links to my posts and other little things along the way.