Projects – Turning Goals into Reality

For most of my adult life I have worked hard, but never seemed to get anything done.  Why?

As a kid I was easily distracted, had no real goals, and struggled with organization.  Just cleaning my room seemed like an overwhelming challenge.

Somehow I managed to graduate from college, but only after changing majors and schools half a dozen times, and even then had no clear idea of what I wanted to do or why.

So I went backpacking for six months, found God, and then began working as unskilled labor.

In my late twenties I read about the importance of setting goals to people who managed to accomplish something with their lives.  But I found it difficult to write down meaningful goals and even more difficult to accomplish them.

Still, I did begin to set goals for myself and achieved some of them.  I set a goal of becoming an actuary, began studying for the exams, passed some and was hired.  Even with my exemplary record.

This is part of the secret to knowing what you’ve accomplished.  When you set a goal, write it down, and accomplish it, you have a written record of what you’ve done.  You know you’ve accomplished something.

The people who did really well on those actuarial exams knew how many pages they had to read, how many problems they had to work, when they would begin taking practice exams, etc.  They had all these milestones on some kind of timeline with due dates.  That’s a project: a goal with a roadmap and timetable for its realization.  That’s the second part of knowing what you’ve accomplished: that written document of milestones, due dates, and done dates.

David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done really helped me with just this one idea: what’s the next action.  That was specific enough, clear enough, and short enough to get me from writing down the goal to accomplishing it.  Writing those next actions down is the backbone of a project.  Doing them turns a goal into reality.

Practicing Acceptance (sequel to The Problem of Envy)

I solved the problem of envy by accepting the fact that I am a jealous person.

That sounds paradoxical.  But like it or not, if we walk in the light, then we will cast a shadow.  The only way to get rid of your shadow is to walk in darkness.

The women who led the Spiral Dynamics workshop subsequently led multi-week sessions on Integral Life Practice.  In one of these sessions we were told to pair off. Each person was to give her partner a word to meditate on.  My partner gave me the word ACCEPTANCE.

That was huge.  For some reason I had trouble just speaking the word.  But I knew immediately it was the right word.

Its meditation was transformative.  I stopped hating myself.  I stopped wanting to change my wife and children.  I stopped projecting my image of perfection onto the people around me.  I stopped being Agent Smith, and just let myself be who I am, shadow and all.

Now when I feel jealous or inadequate, I recognize that’s just my soul casting its shadow.  I don’t try to deny it, or eliminate it.  I just accept it and move on.

That is what acceptance allows me to do: move on.  It is so simple, and so powerful.

I believe that is what the Apostle Paul is trying to tell us in his letters: that we are accepted and complete in Jesus.  There is nothing we can do to make ourselves that way.  We are made that way through the Christ.

Practicing Faith

How do you practice your faith?  Or perhaps you don’t think you have faith.

We all believe in something.  We couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning if we didn’t believe something was true, meaningful, or valuable.  Whatever those things are, that’s your faith.

I think faith has at least three parts:

  1. Understanding our faith.
  2. Connecting with like minded individuals in a community of faith.
  3. Practicing our faith.

By understanding our faith I mean drilling down into those writings, traditions, and ideas that are the underpinnings of our faith.  If our faith has scriptures, then those scriptures are the foundation that faith is built upon.  So it is important to know them, understand them, and to reflect on your life in the context of those scriptures.

If your faith has no scripture, then ask yourself what are the writings or the sources of the ideas upon which your faith is built.  Again, dig into them, know them, understanding them.  And reflect upon your own life in the context of those writings.

What can you do to embody those ideas on which your faith is built?

It is important to connect with others who share your faith.  We are social animals.  We need other people.  We want our faith validated by others who value the same things we do.  We can encourage each other in our faith, and pick each other up when we fall down.

Finally we need to practice our faith.  We want our actions to embody those ideas we value.  And it is easier to practice in groups than it is alone.  If you believe in public service, then find a group that is doing work you value.

Act on your faith and passion with those who share your faith and passion, and you will make a lasting difference in the world.

But ask yourself whether you and your group are a blessing or curse upon the world.  And if it is that later, perhaps it is time to reexamine your faith.

Goal Problems

All those executive functions like creating a vision, setting goals, mapping out a project, etc. just do not come naturally to me.

I didn’t begin setting goals until sometime after college, when I read Dennis Waitley’s book, Seeds of Greatness.  I found it remarkably difficult to do.

Feelings of grandiosity would lead me to set goals that were unrealistic, and feelings of inadequacy would lead me to despair of accomplishing them, and I’d give up on them.

For years I went through this cycle of goal-setting and goal-despairing.  Seeds of Greatness was only the first in a long line of self-improvement books, and most if not all of them would talk about goal-setting in some way shape or form.  But somehow I just could not seem to get the knack of it.

Maybe five years ago I started getting together for breakfast with a couple of friends.  Our conversations seemed to gravitate around certain ideas, like the Hero’s Journey, mastery, expertise, and practice.  This blog grew out of those conversations.

One of us in particular was a real goal-setter and planner.  I would listen to his planning process and began to notice differences between what he was doing and what I was doing.

First of all his goals were on the edge of belief, not beyond the pale.

Second he had a due date for each goal, but these due dates were not set in stone.  If he missed a due date, he tried to understand why he missed it, and then just moved it back.  The date gives the goal a sense of urgency, but missing the date is not a reason to despair.  This may seem obvious, but it was a real breakthrough for me.

Third, he had a daisy chain of small goals that lead to the big goal that was his end in view.  The chain of small achievable goals builds hope and confidence with the accomplishment of each small goal.

Fourth, he reviewed and revised those goals daily whether things were going well or not.

Putting these four points into practice is working for me.  I’m sticking with my goals and getting things done.  What works for you?

The Vision Thing

George H. W. Bush never got the vision thing, and neither did I.  All the self-improvement gurus like Covey stress the importance of “Begin with the end in mind.”  I just couldn’t seem to get a glimpse of what, if anything, my mind had in mind.

Moreover, glomming together a bunch of superlatives left me cold and unbelieving.

But at some point I tried.  And tried again.  And again.

Slowly a picture began to unfold.  Instead of asking myself what I wanted my whole life to look like, I began to ask myself what I would like just a small piece of it to look like:

  • What makes my life meaningful?
  • What do I want my family to be like?
  • What do I want my relationships with my friends and family to be like?
  • What kind of work and play do I enjoy?
  • How will I practice the ideals I value?
  • What do I want our home to look and feel like?
  • What kind of financial shape to I want to be in?

As I began to look at these smaller domains of my life, it became easier for me to describe an ideal of how I would like them to be.

But probably the most important thing I have learned about writing a vision is that it is an ongoing and never-ending process.  We change.  We grow and mature.  And as we do so will our visions.

So I review my vision nearly every day to remind myself of who I want to be and what I want my life to look like.  And if it dawns on me that the vision I’m reviewing no longer paints a picture of the life I want to live, then I revise it to paint one that does.

Your comments and questions are greatly appreciated!

My Keystone Habit

According to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, a keystone habit is one that is tied directly to lots of other habits in one’s life.  Change the keystone habit, and change your life.

I’ve determined my keystone habit to be my daily planning process.  When I do this every day, I generally get my practice done and keep the main thing the main thing.  When I don’t, the crosshairs of my focus gradually move from what’s important to me, to what’s urgently pressing upon me.  And my practice goes by the wayside.

So I’ve been working hard to make this planning ritual part of my morning coffee time every day:

  1. Review my vision.
  2. Review my goals.
  3. Review my project lists.
  4. Review my calendar.
  5. Review my tasks by domain.

You’ve probably seen a list like this before.  I sometimes think I’ve read every self-help book ever written, and you could find a list like this in one of Stephen Covey’s books, or say Dennis Waitley, or David Allen.

I have struggled with every item on the list.  My step-father was and is a successful business man and a great list maker.  He always kept his To Do list prominently in the middle of his desk.  He had a list for every day, for every job, for every work crew.  He was great at getting things done.

I resisted this key insight into successful living into my thirties, and by then it was a tough habit to learn.

Life would be so much easier if only we would learn from our parents.

Your comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged!