Rather than looking at goal setting, though I do set goals, my focus for making progress revolves around Life Themes instead. Over the years, five themes have emerged and infiltrated my life. I use them to continually evaluate my progress and reset my focus.
These themes serve to help me understand where I’ve been and what I’ve come through in a way that builds toward progress. They help me see my struggles in ways that allow me to focus on victories. These themes also help motivate me to continue moving forward.
Year In Review
Looking regularly at these life themes helps me review my life in a way that sort of hits a reset button on my focus. I don’t believe a true reset is possible in a person’s life. At least, not in the way one can reset a smart phone. It’s impossible for life to start over from a factory default state. A new start, sure, but not a complete do-over.
However, resetting one’s focus is possible. Life themes help me do this. I look at how I’ve applied them in the past, how active they are presently, and how they’re directing where I’m going. While I do this periodically throughout the year, I usually look at them more intimately at the beginning of every new calendar year. Doing so helps me to live out God’s word.
“Make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5
“But I am afraid… your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3)
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you… Blessed are all who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
“Set your face like flint.” (Isaiah 50:7)
“Do not throw away your confidence, which is your good reward.” (Hebrews 10:36)
“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees; make level paths for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)
Life Theme Application
My hope is that these life themes will motivate you to consider your own life themes, whether or not they exist and if you want to adopt any new ones or simply modify the ones you have. Do you have a system in place that helps you live out God’s word in your life?
1.) Focus determines reality.
I am reminded of the importance of my focus often. Sometimes it’s simply in the movies I watch and books I read, two of my favorite pastimes. Continually, the Holy Spirit whispers this truth back into my life in many creative ways.
No area of life escapes this truth. Where we choose to focus determines the reality of our lives. We all get to choose that focus — the place where thoughts dwell and motivations begin. No matter the circumstances, we can always decide to focus on progress over perfection, blessings over trials, and protection over limits.
This year, a reset in focus was needed as midlife and an empty nest descended on me. I have focused too often and for too long on what I was losing. When I reset my focus, I became grateful for all that I’ve done and experienced.
2.) Refuse to quit.
Physically, my body cannot do what it used to do. Take running, for example. No matter how much I decide to do it, my body simply says, “Nope.” At least, I can’t do even close to the extent I used to or that I see others my age still doing. I wanted to just stop trying many times. Instead, I adapted. I turned to other types of exercises, lots of different ones. I refuse to quit pursuing physical health.
I wanted to quit in other areas many times, too. When a loved one broke trust to a point I thought beyond repair, I verbally said, “I give up.” Multiple times. I didn’t follow through, though. I kept moving. Backwards then nothing for a while, then finally progress with still lots of back and forth. Not the same as before, but I’m finally glad I didn’t follow through on what my feelings directed me toward far too many times.
Perseverance becomes more natural when fueled by obedience to God’s will. Quitting ceases to exist as an option. I wear reminders of these truths daily. Literally, my necklace has two charms: “Persevere.” “Never give up.” Living this has kept me alive more than once, and it’s kept relationships alive too. It overrides feelings and gets me through the afternoon slumps that even now taunt me toward the couch.
When the struggle gets to be too much, I cry out to God to “Help!” I should cry out before this point, I know. His reminder is the same every time: “Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep moving. Refuse to quit.” I hear the words over and over in my head. They push me forward, and I’m always glad I listen, especially when progress finally appears as it always does.
3.) Take small steps.
Progress frustrates me. A lot. It does so because I too often don’t see it until I’m ready to give up. Also because I usually don’t see any progress until all of a sudden… there it is! Progress happens in such small increments that I just don’t usually see it right away. Most progress in my life, perhaps all, has happened this way. I simply need to remind myself of this often so the frustration doesn’t completely derail me.
This is where I find traditional goal setting most often comes into play. Yes, it fits in the other life themes also, but the idea of small steps creating progress are what I need to often remember when I’m working toward a goal. Weight loss. Raising my IQ. Both goals of mine this year. Both will only happen with small steps taken consistently.
Regardless of the specific goal, educate yourself on the steps needed for its accomplishment. Then, keep taking them. Even if you don’t see or feel progress. Keep taking them. Even if you go backwards. Keep taking them. Pull in the other themes… stay focused and refuse to quit. You will make progress. I’ve experienced this truth enough that reminding myself of it convinces me to take the next step every time. The same will happen for you, too.
4.) Keep it simple.
I was once an expert at complicating my life. Over-thinking. Over-committing. Over-emotionalizing. I was so good at this that it still often creeps back in unnoticed until it’s so glaringly obvious that I have to pay attention and do something about it.
Almost every time I start a new project, I venture toward the complex in the beginning. Actually, I do so throughout too and have to reset a simple focus periodically until the project is complete.
Whenever a problem arises in a relationship, I often make it worse than it really is, or I create problems that don’t exist. I’m very creative, you see. I can imagine a lot about a person or situation and make things horribly complex all by myself.
Opportunity falls by the wayside when my life is complicated. I lose focus on Christ when I venture away from simplicity. I cannot keep on track with any of my life themes or goals when I complicate life. Neither can you. No one can.
Simplicity creates a better way to use our energy. It allows for maintaining focus more consistently. Keeping life as simple as possible results in increased productivity. This is true for all of us.
At the same time, simplicity is relative. What’s simple for me may seem boring to you. What’s complicated to me may be your best focus zone. Knowing what simplicity looks like for you and then not comparing it to how others live is key.
5.) Wait on God.
When I push for something I think I want to happen before I know for sure it’s right for me, my life gets complicated. Every time. I’ve done it enough to know it will happen. I still do it sometimes, but I don’t get as far as I used to before I hear “Stop. Wait.” I’m pretty good at actually listening, too, especially if I do so sooner rather than later before emotions hijack my decision-making ability.
When I don’t wait and instead rush ahead based on emotions or superficial information or even what others think I should do, I end up with regrets. I also get overwhelmed and over-committed along with losing my focus.
When I wait, that means I’m trusting God’s timing. I’m believing he will make clear when I should take a certain step or make a commitment. It means I’m exercising patience, knowing his timing keeps me from overwhelm and overload. At least, the type of overwhelm and overload that runs me down and ushers in depression.
Waiting on God instead allows for the overwhelm that comes with realizing he cares for me more than I can even imagine. It brings me to a place where I am overloaded with his blessings in a way where I cannot out give him. That’s a great place to be. That’s the place I seek and aim for every day.
Where Themes Meet Goals
The best way I’ve discovered to tell how I’m doing in any one area is by looking at how all of them are doing individually and how they’re interacting with one another. In other words, if I’m keeping my life simple, I’m better able to consistently wait on God and keep my focus. If I’m strong in my determination to not quit, I’m likely making solid progress with the small steps that I’m taking. Each life focus is intimately intertwined with the others.
What’s more, progress with more traditional type goals also tells me how I’m doing with these life themes. If I’m steadily working toward weight loss as well as toward raising my IQ, for example, I know I’m likely staying focused on my life themes too.
This whole idea of how themes and goals work in my life makes sense to me. It may not to you. If you’ve read this far, though, you’re probably looking for something — anything — that will work for you. Let me encourage you to simply keep trying different approaches.
Read more about what has worked for others. Try those. Throw out what doesn’t work for you, and keep what does work. Above all, let the Holy Spirit guide this search and lead you to a place where you feel you are making progress too. That place is out there for you. I promise.