Most of us will set some pretty ambitious career goals for 2016. Sadly, most of us will fail at almost all of our goals. I’ve been setting goals for myself each year since I graduated high school, and failed on most of them, too.
2015 was different. I played with two Dove-Award winning artists, lost 25 pounds and got back into shape, rehabbed an old injury that had refused to heal, read 53 books, bought my first house, paid off two cars, took two road trips/vacations across the US with my wife, and started working steadily in Nashville with musicians I respect. To say I was absolutely thrilled with what I accomplished in 2015 (by God's grace) would be an understatement.
The difference between the 2014 and 2015 was so striking that I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what I did differently, and I came up with a list. Here's what I think made the difference in 2015:
1. I adjusted my expectations.
You will never be able to overhaul your entire life in one year. Focus on a few of the most important changes you want to make, then do it. There’s no sense in setting up goals you can never accomplish.
2. I set fewer and more specific goals.
In past years I’d set about a dozen vague goals (get in shape, spend more time reading, etc), and end up not accomplishing any of them because I felt overwhelmed and unfocused. This last year I set just 4 general goals with specific actions. For instance, under “career”, I set a general goal of “work with great musicians”, followed by two specific goals: practice around 2 hours a day, and reach out to area musicians you respect every week.
3. I didn’t set any goals that I couldn’t directly control.
In year’s past I’d set goals like “land a tour with a major artist”. This was a weak goal because I had no control over whether I got picked for a major tour. Choose goals like “get better at playing pop music”, followed by specific goals like “take lessons from a pop keyboard player for at least 10 lessons”. This keeps you in the driver’s seat with your goal.
4. I did several realization exercises.
Before you roll your eyes, I’d encourage you to write out your “ideal” day on paper. You can might be surprised what you learn about your you really want.
For instance, my ideal day last year looked like me waking up, hitting the gym, getting home to get my wife out of bed for breakfast together, morning coffee, followed by two hours of piano practice. Then I’d take trip to a friend’s studio to record a quick track, lunch, a late afternoon hang with my wife, and then a run with my Huskies. A home cooked dinner, followed by us going out on the town together. By writing this out, I could make sure my goals aligned with what I actually wanted my life to look like.
5. I focused on tweaking habits, not rebuilding my life from the ground up.
Don’t fight your habits, tweak them. I decided that this year every time I traveled I’d stop in for a 6 inch sub at Subway instead of hitting up the local burger place. This one tiny habit tweak helped me to lose 25 lbs., and freed up my mind work on bigger problems.
6. I didn’t freak out when I blew it.
I probably fail 50% of the time with my goals, and my guess is you will, too. The secret to continue progressing is a short memory and quickly moving past mistakes. That said, if you’re constantly failing, it’s a sign you’ve set unrealistic or even impossible expectations. My suggestion is not to abandon your goals, but to retool them.
7. I focused on thankfulness.
After reading one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read on the Christian life, “Ruthless Trust”, I decided that I would make thankfulness a central focus of my daily routine. I started thanking God several times a day for all the amazing gifts He’s given me, and the results were amazing. Instead of worrying about what I still had to do, I began to be actually joyful about what I’d already been given.
This habit drastically dropped my stress levels in a bunch of areas in my life, made me generally a lot more content and happy, and helped me to trust God in a way I haven’t been able to in the past.
Please understand I’m not advocating for you to use this as an end to a means. Instead, if you’re a Christian I encourage you to focus on thankfulness because it’s such a transformative power to our way of seeing our daily lives.