Making Priorities a Reality

contributed by Steph Schief

In recent years, our culture seems to have grown more and more focused on self-improvement. People are daring to grab books, ask questions, and seek wisdom for the sake of their own personal dreams becoming personal realities. Our independent and interdependent muscles are being flexed and we are growing. I am a part of this movement.

Three Months Ago…

Three months ago, I purchased two items for self-improvement:

  • 1 Blank-paged, leather-bound, fresh journal with promises of personal progress already written with invisible ink on every page.
  • 1 New pen that will no doubt miraculously trigger perfect penmanship and write with real silk ink.

The world is mine when I have a blank slate. Anything can be written on these pages, so the words should be the most meaningful, most honest, self-reflecting writing I can muster up. I mean, my kids could read this one day (should I have any), right? Upon cracking into the binding, I wrote in my best hand-writing on the very first page:

Priorities/Goals

  1. Achieve optimal health – physically, mentally, spiritually
  2. Make sure finances are in order/adjust budget if needed
  3. Pursue excellence in talents – guitar, voice, dance, painting, etc.

Immediately I sensed I’d written all this before and felt uneasy thinking maybe I hadn’t done a good job making these goals very SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound), resulting in little ability to gauge progress. I decided to flip through an old journal or two and what did I find, the exact same list, and in multiple journals spanning the last five years. What am I doing with my time? I don’t watch TV, I don’t live a party-life, and I don’t have a family. This should be easy.

Time To Take Action

I decided to get SMART, reformatted some things, and then picked one piece of one goal to work on: Learn a song on the guitar and be able to play it for someone within a month no matter what level of excellence is achieved. Start tomorrow.

Tomorrow revealed what I have been doing with my time.

Day 1 goal: Come home from work and practice guitar for a half hour.

Day 1 result: Come home from work, look at my guitar, go clean the bathroom.

I made the argument in my head that I needed to get practical, daily duties completed before working on things that give me joy or personal progress.

Day 2 goal: Complete yesterday’s goal.

Day 2 result: Come home, look at my guitar, pull a bin of childhood keepsakes out from under the bed and sort them by age for future scrap-booking.

How will I ever achieve optimal health, financial peace, or grow my talents if I can’t transfer my internal priorities into outward actions? How do I balance these daily duties with forming new habits?

What’s The Magic Formula?

I don’t have a magic formula for success here, but one thing I have done since discovering this problem is this: Ask for help. If I have written this Top 3 Personal Priorities list multiple times over the course of years, it is clearly important to me. If it is important to me, I need to make changes in order to head in the right direction.

Fun fact: Yale almost conducted a goals study in 1953, which could have jump-started the self-improvement movement much earlier. It has been followed up in more recent years by Dr. Gail Matthews broad spectrum study using 267 participants split into five groups. This study produced three coaching tools for achieving goals: writing the goals down, commitment, and accountability. Read here for the study summary.

Moving Forward

In my most recent personal writings you will see that previous goals have become SMART Goals and progress is in motion. Doctors, friends, mentors, teachers, and coworkers have now become partners and resources in the growth that I have been hoping for in my succession of journals for so long.

I would like to challenge you to ask yourself three questions:

Have you written your goals down? Where do you want to start? Who will you ask to join you in your process?

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