Thursday, January 2, 2014

On Starting Over... Goals

Two days in to 2014 the question on everyone's lips is "do you have any New Year's resolutions?".  It's the question everyone dreads, but feels obligated to answer, because it reminds him of all the resolutions he's failed to keep, all the things he should be doing better, and all the expectations everyone has of him.  He knows he won't be able to keep the resolutions, but he feels he must make them so he can at least show people he is a motivated individual, and try to convince himself that he can and will do better this year.  It's the same interior struggle he puts himself through every year, and though he never changes the way he forms his goals, he always expects himself to reach them, and always ends up disappointed.

This endless cycle is familiar to many, and this year it needs to change.  Every person has something that Sean Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, likes to call the Personal Bank Account.  Each goal reached and promise fulfilled is a deposit into that bank account, and each failure is a withdrawal.  Because people are so hard on themselves, the deposits are much smaller than the withdrawals, and it takes a lot of them to restore any semblance of self-esteem and interior peace once they are lost.  This is the root of why people need to change the way they make their goals. 

Listen carefully: you cannot do everything and you cannot change the past.  You cannot turn back time and change the way you spent it, so stop worrying, guilt-tripping, and fretting over the poor decisions or mistakes made.  Do what you can to amend the hurts you may have caused, but accept the fact that some things cannot be fixed, sometimes all you can do is ask for forgiveness, whether from God, a friend, or from yourself, and then let go.  The only way you can look ahead with hope is if you are at peace with what is behind.  You may be hurting, but you cannot heal until you've removed the dagger.  Do no let anger, guilt, hate, or a lack of forgiveness impair your ability to grow. 

Once you've learned to stop allowing the guilt of past failures overshadow your confidence in your ability to do better, you are ready to look at the future with new eyes, consider the coming months realistically, and make goals you can actually reach.  Instead of making big, impressive resolutions that can only be achieved if every day goes EXACTLY as planned and neither you nor those around you make any mistakes, set a couple of long term goals, and then establish "baby steps" in order to complete them.  Setting small, reachable goals will motivate you more, because you won't feel overwhelmed every time you think of them, will actually try to reach them since you believe you can, and as you achieve each one you will be that much more likely to work harder for the next one, because you will have the confidence in knowing you have already achieved something.  If you realize that the goals you have set are unreachable, do not give up on them, adjust them to fit your life.  They should be challenging but not impossible, because ultimately the point of making a goal is not to discourage yourself by never accomplishing it, but to help form you into a better, stronger person by helping you to focus your efforts towards the realization of something worth while, something that either helps you or those around you become better.

As Catholics, we also have the beautiful luxury of being able to offer up our daily struggle to God: be sure you do this!  Ask God every day to guide you, pray over your goals, ask for His blessing over them, and pray daily for the strength to achieve them, or adjust them, as necessary.

And may St. Paul, who transformed his life for Christ, lead your journey to transform yourselves for the better this year!

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