Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rethinking the Notion of Setting Goals

A few recent circumstances have caused me to reconsider what it means to "Begin With The End In Mind."  I have long been a Stephen R. Covey fan.  I have studied his books extensively and have applied the principles he teaches in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  While I haven't applied them perfectly, nor do I suppose anyone has; I have made near Herculean efforts to use those habits to achieve the ends I had in mind.

While in the throes of addiction I had great hopes that The 7 Habits would be a means of escaping my bondage. They were not.  In fact I have come to believe that the second habit, Begin With the End in Mind actually exacerbated  my problems.  Let me explain.  As I have boiled down my addiction to it's bare bones I've discovered that the fundamental problem for me was wanting life on my own terms.  I would envision in minute detail how my life would turn out if I pursued such-and-such a course.  That course always produced different, and to my mind, unsatisfactory, results.  The ensuing pain of disappointment then, led to substance abuse, depression, and retrogression.

Beginning with the end in mind was my problem; not a solution for it.  Now, this being said, I must admit that I remain in a bit of a quandary as to what this discovery means for me.  So, writing this, is more of an examination for discovery than some stipulated conclusion.  I have personally heard the present prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, encourage the setting of and earnest pursuit of goals.  How can it be then, that the pursuit of established goals has become my nemesis?

For me a significant part of the problem has been that my goals had not been my own.  As is common for people in childhood, goals are often set for us.  Someone bigger, stronger, wiser than us always seems ready to tell us how to proceed with our lives.  My father in particular had a very specific future outlined for me.  That future included athletics, heroics, fame, security and success.  Essentially, he was endeavoring to create me in his own image.  Eventually, I rebelled against that pattern for my life.  Partly because it was impossible and partly because I had other ideas.  I concluded to make my goals my own.   I replaced the ends my father had in mind for me with ones of my own.  That approach was flawed too because now I was trying to create myself in my own image or in other words after my own imagination.  That was equally impossible and ultimately, utterly frustrating.

Covey and others have long preached that goals need to be specific.  We are supposed to establish what it is we want to achieve and then break that down into smaller more individual components of the whole that can be worked toward in bite sized portions.  Makes sense.  But for me it just doesn't work.  At least it hasn't.

Let me give you a recent example.  I have long had a goal to write a book.  I could do it page by page, chapter by chapter until it was complete.  Well, what foolishness.  If I am honest I have to tell you why I wanted to write a book.  I wanted to be important, famous, wealthy, and admired. That was my purpose for writing the book.  Sitting down to do it though, I have discovered that I have nothing much to say.  Oh, I can write a book alright.  I can fill it from cover to cover with words, I can complete my goal and then some.  But then what?  Is writing a book a good goal?  I think not.  Is discovering something worthwhile to say a better one?  Perhaps.  But I think that even that is a misbegotten pursuit.  What kind of objective is it to seek something to say, just so you can become admired for saying it.  All of those objectives are completely confined to self-centeredness.  They are not about contributing something to the world, but about contributing something to me.

All goals I might set for myself seem doomed to be selfish and thus, unsatisfactory.  What is to be done?

I appears that the answer is in letting God set my goals.  Allowing Him to create me in His image.  This calls for a completely different approach.  An elaborate, gate-folded planner will be unnecessary.  This approach doesn't require planning, nearly so much as it requires seeking.  Seek.  That is the word the scripture uses.  You won't find goal or objective or aim in this context in the holy writ.  You will find seek quite commonly.  There we are counselled not to seek for riches (Alma 39:14), power (Alma 60:36), glory (1 Thess. 2:6), praise (2 Nephi 26:29), "great things for thyself" (Jeremiah 45:5); but for God (Deuteronomy 4:29), His glory (2 Nephi 1:25), His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) and the blessing and interest of our fellow men (D&C 82:19).

Successful pursuit of the Kingdom of God can never be a selfish one.  It, of necessity, requires that we think instead of God and of others.  Attempting to approach Heaven with ourselves in mind is like building the Tower of Babel and pursuit of that goal will always be confounded.

In a recent article on Home Teaching I wrote:
I am aware that most of us tackle such a project and have been trained to begin with the end in mind.  We suppose that if we are nice and give service for a while that we will eventually bear the fruit in some preconceived way.  And, if we don't, we tend to become discouraged and soon move on to greener or more golden pastures.  I believe that Ammon had no such agenda.  He let God be in charge of the agenda.  His call was to be of service forever if need be.
I was moved by the reply of a dear and very wise friend:
I think if we begin with the end in mind, imagining what the fruit will look like, we might miss the fruit as it blossoms, ripens, and eventually falls rotten to the ground without us noticing, because it wasn't how we pictured it to begin with. 
What an astute observation.  You see what I'm getting at?  See what happens when we establish specific goals for ourselves rather than giving God his role in our lives.  Another dear friend in recovery often makes this telling statement:
I have come to know there is a God; and I have come to know that He is not me. 
I am forced to conclude that if I selfishly, independently set my own goals to the purpose of achieving my own ends I am declaring myself to be a god in whose image I am attempting to create myself.  But, if I am willing to get out of my own way and let God be in charge, He will create me in His image.

Now, when God established The Promised Land as Lehi's goal for himself and his family, did they all get their planners out, their maps and charts, their encyclopedias and catalogues?  No.  Instead they simply, continually, sought God's guidance and direction.  Literally on a daily, even hourly basis they asked Him, or by extension the Liahona, where they should go next.  Had they planned the trip themselves, they wouldn't have anticipated a fraction of what they eventually encountered on the journey.  In a very real way every trip to The Promised Land is more about the journey and less about the destination.  So it was for the Children of Israel, the Jaredites, the Lehites and the Mormons.  So it is for us.  For the promised land to be a land of promise, the promise has to be in us before we get there.  We have to learn to let God lead.  He is after all the Author of our Salvation.  Let us quit trying to write our own stories and let the Author write them for us and for those around us.

Years ago a visiting authority at Stake Conference made a statement I have never forgotten.  I've forgotten his name and I'll have to paraphrase his comment.  Essentially he said:
It is interesting that we spend such great effort to put roofs over our heads, clothing on our bodies and provide ourselves with retirement investments, insurance policies, police and army forces all in an effort to feel secure in a world that was designed to be insecure so that we would develop faith in Jesus Christ and learn to put our trust in Him.
Is that why we set goals?  In order to take care of ourselves and others; in the event that God fails us?  Who then is failing who?

God began this business with the end in mind.  "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)  He knows where he wants to take us.  Can't we let him?  Even an alcoholic understands this notion when he prays, "Lord, what would Thou have me do today?  Please, give me the strength to do it?"  God knows where we need to go, what we need to do.  Why is it so hard to abandon our false security and let Him take us there.  For me there can only be one end; which is to begin each day letting God be in charge of my life.  When I was in charge I careened from train wreck to train wreck.  Even when I planned carefully.  More and more I want to be like Nephi; knowing in whom I have trusted.


Love Life and Learning said...


Just want you to know that you are blessing my world through this blog. My Seminary kids are getting to know my brother as I have incorporated much of what you write into lessons. I also have shared with my own children your sought for wisdom and this particular entry is going to a child this very morning. I hope you realize that by small and simple things, great things are brought to pass.

Keep writing.....I might be your biggest fan.

Love you, ydnewyak

Myke Weber said...

I can't think of a time when I needed such encouragement as much I did this morning.

This and a wonderful walk in the sunshine have changed everything!

We're having the most beautiful clear cold morning. Walking in fields of diamonds was breathtaking.

My personal discoveries in this article made me wonder about my future. The clarity of the air lent itself to clarity of thought and your comment refined even that.

Thank you so much.

sas said...

Thanks for sharing this Uncle Myke. I love how you shared your thoughts concerning the role God can have in what pathway we trod. We need only ask, trust and act. I love your testimony. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Thinking about how important and valuable it is to trust in Him and be guided by Him. He wants the best for us. He Loves us so much.

I love you.


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