Planning to Succeed

by Dianne Orcutt

I’m a bit of an obsessive list maker. I’m not particularly obsessive about actually using lists, but I love making them. I have running lists of places I want to visit, movies I want to see, books to read, restaurants to try, home improvement projects to tackle, topics I would like to learn more about, etc. I also have about half a dozen Post-it notes stuck around my computer screen at work with assignments needing to be completed and ideas for streamlining and improving implementation of other projects. And of course I have the obligatory list outlining my resolutions for the year.

If I actually accomplished even a quarter of what I set out to do, I’d be an unstoppable force. But like most people my lists and resolutions go largely ignored, unread, and not accomplished. At some point I realized that simply putting my desires and wishes onto paper or in a Google Drive doc wasn’t enough to ensure things got done. (I’m a genius, clearly.) I can’t simply think about meaningful scripture study, developing public speaking skills, playing the violin again, cooking dinner (with real food) once a week, running a half marathon, or anything else on my lists and will it to be done.

Last week, as I rode the train home from work, I decided to take inventory of this year’s resolutions on my phone. As I scanned the list I was disappointed to find that many of my goals have fallen by the wayside, forgotten. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that several are coming along well.

There are important steps one should take between formulating an idea and meeting the goal. A sampling of literature on the subject would likely include (good) advice about being realistic and specific in setting your goals, making yourself accountable publically, setting priorities, acknowledging limitations, understanding motivations, challenging underlying fears, etc. All of which are undeniably important considerations.

The key, for me, however, has been in the making of a plan; a real plan. As Benjamin Franklin is said to have proclaimed, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” The road between where we are now and achieving our goals can be long and unproductive without a plan on how to reach the desired destination.

The handful of goals that I’ve been able to achieve this year (or that I am on the path to achieving) are those where I have devised a real plan of action. For some goals this has been quite straightforward. One goal was to attend the temple every month. This is a standard goal of mine every year, though I’ve ever come close to meeting it before. I can’t officially count this goal as “achieved” as the year is not yet half way through, but I have made serious strides. As I typed out my resolutions this year, I also scheduled on my phone’s calendar a night every month to attend the temple. For this goal, that seems to have been all I needed. I’ve had to make a few adjustments some months as conflicts arise, but it’s been working. If I don’t make it 12 for 12 this year, I can and will feel successful. The goal isn’t simply about being able to check something off every month, but rather actually being more regular in my temple worship. I am learning to appreciate the process of changing habits as much as I enjoy crossing something off my list. Similarly, my husband and I have had the vague desire to “do a lot of hiking” this year. We decided on a list of hikes in advance that we’d like to try and have set aside Monday nights for hiking. So far so good! Likewise, my goal to “save more money” has become more concrete by setting up a fixed, automatic deposit to my savings account each pay period. Again, I realize this is so basic it’s painful and certainly not revolutionary, yet so many of us fail to take the small steps that can help us achieve big things.

Setting a goal or deadline without a plan, schedule, or system in place to meet the goal is often fatal to that goal. Appreciating the growth we experience as we work towards our goals is as important as achieving the goals themselves. One of my goals this year is to run a half marathon (which I swore I would never do again, but that’s another story). Earlier this spring I decided that to do this I was going to run a certain number of miles per week. I chose per week instead of per day to give myself flexibility; some days I might only have time to run one mile, but others perhaps 3 or more. I scheduled specific times to go – and went. That lasted until there was a cold spell and I stopped running – I had no contingency plan for bad weather and simply stopped running. Now, several months later, I’m starting to run again (with a plan). However, this time I am doing so with the desire to improve my physical health rather than simply to run a race. Though I still hope to run a race this year, the way I have now framed this goal is helping me to see the progress I am making in the process.

Realizing I needed to have a plan in place was at first a bit disheartening. It seemed like a hassle, too much effort. I was a bit disappointed in myself because it seemed that I was content with the status quo, wishing for my goals to be realized but not expecting much of or for myself. However, I soon recognized how empowering this knowledge can be. It does take effort to make plans tailored to achieve a desired outcome, especially a plan that addresses our fears and that can anticipate roadblocks and setbacks, but knowing that my effort can and will be rewarded by personal growth is an exciting prospect, even more exciting than being able to cross things off my cherished lists (and I do love that). As we read in our recent book club selection, The Confidence Code, “[c]onfidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action. In turn, taking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed.” As I’ve been able to look back and see the successes I’ve had when I have prepared myself to achieve my goals, I’ve gained confidence in my own ability to succeed as well as in the process. Having reviewed my progress, or lack thereof, with my resolutions so far, I have gone back and picked a few goals that are important to me and I am recommitting to them. Some are professional, others are personal. More importantly, they are becoming real possibilities as I begin to create the plans to achieve them, and I am realizing that maybe I really am unstoppable.

What experiences have you had with successful goal setting and achieving?

8 Comments on “Planning to Succeed

  1. This post makes me think that I really need a good game plan to help evolving career path. I often have goals of things I’d like to do or hear of jobs I’d like to apply for, but in reality they are pretty vague aspirations. I believe the reason that I never really sit down to plan out a career path is because I have a commitment issue with locking down to just one path. There are so many different fields that interest me, but I only have one life to give, and from what I’ve come to experience is that careers aren’t jobs and that bouncing from one career to the next isn’t as easy as job to job. Does anyone else feel this way? How do you plan for the unknown?

    • A good game plan is key, but it can be challenging to define. The examples I discussed were pretty basic, but as I’m trying to formulate plans for other goals, I’m realizing that creating a plan can definitely be challenging. A career plan can be tricky too, especially if you’re deciding among various careers. One key, I believe, is to take the time to understand yourself, objectively. Who are you? What are your strengths? What are your core values? Who do you want to become as a person? What motivates you? Taking the time to reflect on those questions takes time and effort. But perhaps you can also find direction in other developmental experiences – new assignments, tasks, seeking out feedback, networking, etc.

  2. Yep. For example “reading the scriptures” never did it for me. I need a daily goal. So, being on page 49 by next Sunday and page 98 by the Sunday after that meant that after 353 days (51 Sundays) I’d read the entire standard works. I’ve since learned that the real trick is having a goal for the week after that.

    • My vague “reading the scriptures” goal didn’t ever really work out for me either. I had more success when I broke it down to concrete terms, like a chapter a day, or whatever.

      You’re right about the goal for the week after. I think that’s where appreciating the process and personal growth that comes from accomplishing that goal come in. Seeing what you’ve been able to accomplish should open the door to having a better understanding of how you can build upon what you’ve done. Seizing that opportunity is important.

  3. Once I attended a class on goal setting for the new year where the teacher shared Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” She pointed out that all we know from the scriptures about Jesus’s growth is that he did in fact grow in four areas: intellectually (“in wisdom”), physically (“and stature”), spiritually (“in favor with God”) and socially (“…and man”). She suggested that one way to make our goal setting a little less overwhelming was to focus on one goal in each of these areas and as Dianne suggested, to make a plan to accomplish each goal. I took the bait. Four areas, four goals. My main goals inevitably broke themselves into smaller pieces as I made my plans to accomplish them throughout the year. At the end of the year I can’t say I was perfect in achieving everything I wanted to, but I made significant progress! I felt so accomplished and well-rounded by making progress in each of these major areas of my life. I have continued to try to follow this pattern, some times with more success, others with less, but this principle of patterning my own growth after the Savior’s has always stayed with me.

    • I remember having a similar lesson and I think it’s an important one. Our goals should help us create balance in our lives and assist us in developing those characteristics that make us more well rounded. I’m going to take a look at my list through this lens and see how it looks. Thanks, Stephanie!

  4. Congratulations on the progress you’ve made toward your goals!

    A great book on achieving goals, especially those that involve changing habits, is Change Anything (it’s a business book but the authors happen to be LDS). The strategies are based on research and the book outlines techniques that empower you to change habits (willpower isn’t enough — similar to what you said, you need a plan).

  5. I love this post, I started including game plans for my goals last year (in my resolutions, but no other goals….ahem) and it made a huge difference. I also only recently am converted to this new idea on goal setting being a little more flexible, like your running X miles per week, instead of X miles per day. In addition to that flexibility I have started to think about the idea of building in a “reach” number. For example, I will go running 10 times per month (2-3 times per week) with a “reach” goal of 14 times per month (3-4 times per week), or week or year or however you break it out. I like the idea of an attainable goal but also a “reach” goal.

    Have I incorporated this into any of my goal and list making? No, I have not. Do I want to? Yes.

    xox

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