“The starting point of all achievement is desire.” – Napoleon Hill
Happy New Year, all you Ontozoans! You’ve very likely made some resolutions and/or established some goals for 2016 — I’ve been refining my own list — and I hope you’re taking to heart some of the things we discussed here and here. Rather than more advice on how to develop goals, I’d like for us to talk about how to see them come to fruition. The key is desire.
It’s not what you think…
For many of us, the very word desire has come under a cloud. It’s as though we automatically associate desire with something unwholesome, something sinful. But isn’t it possible to long for something noble and good? I would argue that anyone who has been homesick or who has missed his beloved or who has grieved at the death of a loved one knows this appropriate form of desire. This kind of desire is a gift from God, and it is to the soul what magnetic north is to a compass.
Two other thoughts here: If you’d like to research this idea, John Eldredge’s book, Desire (formerly titled The Journey of Desire), does an excellent job of unburdening the word from its unfortunate associations. And second, if I’m in danger of losing you for the balance of this post, please consider substituting the word passion instead. It’s the intensity that one brings to the pursuit that matters.
…Except it IS what you think
I’ve always been skeptical of the “name it & claim it” school of theology, and for a long time I thought it was prideful to want something. That is, I believed that I was pitting my will against that of God by having ambition. So instead of prayerfully setting some goals, I spiritualized my fear of failure and rationalized my procrastination. As Louis Rader said, “As long as you remain in neutral, you can only go where you’re pushed.” That was me — waiting on God to push me — even though he had given me a healthy mind and a healthy body.
Thank God, I got some help finding the godly middle ground between the manifestly incorrect Prosperity Gospel and the equally incorrect sanctified ambivalence. I have learned since that many times God has communicated His will through the desires of my heart. To clarify, I don’t just go with whatever feeling I have at the moment. Instead, I walk with God so that over time, my heart’s desire comes to resemble His. And the things my heart responds to very often lead me to the center of His will.
The behaviorist’s path
Behavioral psychology has debunked one of my long-held notions. Where previously, I thought that moods and feelings were kind of like the weather — that is, we can’t change them, so we just have to wait for a better set of conditions to come along. Behavioral psych says it isn’t like that at all. Our thoughts influence our feelings. Our feelings influence our behaviors. If you’re a man with goals and ambitions, consider very carefully what thoughts you entertain. The Apostle Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he advised the Philippian church:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
This is good counsel for living a moral life, but it is also the way to discipline your mind and your life for maximum impact. Measure your feelings against the thoughts that inspired them, and measure those thoughts against Truth. Build on your strengths and reinforce the best that God has placed in you.
When you fail at a task, talk to yourself the way your best teacher or coach would — or the way you would speak to a student under your instruction.
How bad do you want it?
My pastor teaches that the key to breaking any addiction is love. The addict who wants to be free must love something else (God) more than the substance he’s addicted to. He also likes to say that God is under no obligation to deliver us from our friends. If we love our chains, God will leave us in them.
If one of your resolutions this year is to get out of debt, ask yourself how badly you want to be free of your indebtedness. If you lack down-to-the-bone commitment, you will not succeed.
A certain amount of doubt will creep in along the way, but if you can’t find a passion for the end result from the comfort of your couch, perhaps you have the wrong goal.
Make it automatic
A great deal of success in life boils down to having the right habits. We all know bad habits are too easily acquired and are equally hard to defeat, but good habits can be equally stubborn. If you want to be fit and active throughout your life, you’ll want to cultivate the habits of exercise and sound nutrition. You can research anything (There’s this thing called The Internet, see?), but to make a habit of it, you need to practice the desired behavior consistently for three weeks.
It will feel weird and unpleasant at first — perhaps even for the entire three weeks. This is where desire comes in. You have to have passion to propel you through the uncomfortable first steps until the new behavior becomes habitual.
Review and refocus to return refreshed
Even when you’ve established the habit you want, life will intrude. Work issues will flare up, illness or injury will derail your fitness regimen, or you’ll have to spend your writing time earning extra money to keep your car on the road. Take the long view and recognize this is a temporary setback. It’s important to emphasize the word temporary.
Also, note you’re going to want to review the vision — the desired end state — to remain committed to it. This is true even if none of the dread circumstances above happen to you. At various times in my life, I’ve taped goals or things I wanted to learn to my bathroom mirror. It’s a great way to keep your goals in view while you brush your teeth.
Most of the people in your life want you to succeed. (Well, OK, some of the people in your life want you to succeed.) Why not tell them what you’re up to? The act of publicizing what you’re trying to accomplish will help you maintain your drive. Do you know anyone else with a similar objective? Can you share resources, critique each other’s work, or recommend each other? Find partners and fellow pilgrims.
And pray. If God is the source of your vision, why not seek His wisdom and ask for perseverance as you run the prescribed course toward your goals?
This doesn’t just apply to goals and resolutions, but I thought now would be a good time to talk about it. Happy 2016!