A traditional activity for many individuals and families at the end of each year is to set goals for the next year. Much has been written about the importance of setting goals and working toward them. Some people set general goals, while others make more detailed ones. The process of setting goals has proven to yield positive results. Yet, the same routine can restrict and limit if it becomes distorted or imprudent. Therefore, each of us should be mindful of the goals that we set and the process we develop for meeting those objectives.
We must be careful and use wisdom in setting our goals and intentions. Elder Dean L. Larsen of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke at a devotional at Brigham Young University in May 1980. The topic of his remarks was “Some Thoughts on Goal-Setting.” He counsels the students to avoid setting goals that would limit their growth by developing a general direction for life.
An important distinction must be made between the potentially confining aspects of setting specific goals and the much more encompassing need of having a general purpose in life. This distinction is more than a play upon words. One’s purpose in life has an overriding influence on what he does with his time, energy, and resources. It can also have a profound effect upon how he relates to other people. Without this sense of purpose, life has no compass. Within the framework of such a purpose, there is an acceptable place for much spontaneity and flexibility. Indeed, without this freedom, life can become stilted and sterile, and much of the potential for inspiration and renewal can be thwarted.
Unless the goals and objectives an individual works toward are harmonious with his general purpose in life, a devastating kind of internal conflict can develop which is destructive to happiness and personal development. Appropriate, useful goals and objectives must be a direct outgrowth of one’s perceived purpose in life. Otherwise they can lead to a random expenditure of effort and resources that may not contribute effectively to long-range progress.
Elder Larsen discusses that the importance of setting qualitative goals as well as quantitative ones. He says that most people today consider goals to be meaningless unless they can be measured in some way. He counsels us to “remember that worthwhile goals and objectives can be qualitative as well as quantitative; that is, they can relate to the quality of people, things, and relationships, as well as to numbers and size.”
Although Elder Larsen presented his remarks nearly thirty years ago, they are truly applicable for current times. This year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued the home teaching (priesthood bearers visiting families) and visiting teaching (Relief Society sisters visiting other sisters) programs were discontinued and replaced by a policy called ministering.
The new policy is simply emphasizing what should have been happening under the old programs. The old program was measurable: visits were to be made every month with a certain message presented. The new policy is to minister or to truly love the sister or family under one’s stewardship. How does a person measure love? It is impossible to do so. Yet love can be seen and felt. It is qualitative rather than quantitative. Elder Larsen concludes him remarks with these paragraphs.
As members of the Church and human beings in general reach for a higher level of moral and spiritual attainment, they will be required to more clearly define the principal purposes in life. They will need to be motivated more toward the qualities of life associated with moral and spiritual growth than toward producing or acquiring quantities of things. Historically, people have always achieved their highest levels in material things as a by-product of their attainment of high spiritual and moral qualities. It has never occurred in reverse order.
Goals and objectives within the framework of life’s true purpose can be helpful in motivating and maintaining general direction. The more important of these will be of a qualitative nature, and their achievement must be evaluated more by discernment and observation than by quantitative measurement. In such an environment the doctrines of the priesthood will distill upon the people as the dew from heaven. Whatever dominion is achieved by man over himself or over material things will not then come by compulsion, but as a natural and inevitable result of his having qualified for such an endowment.
Although there are important goals that can be measured, the most important ones are not actually able to be gauged. Although I was flossing my teeth several times each week, I did not truly make it a daily way of life until I made it one of my goals for the New Year. Now that I have been flossing daily for many years, I am determined to not break the chain of doing it. Hence, the goal became a daily habit and resulted in healthier teeth.
An example of goals that cannot be measured is a semester-long project called the Becoming Project, which was a part of every religion class I have taken at BYU-Idaho. I appreciate the religion classes for many reasons, but I particularly like this aspect. The first assignment for the project is to determine a Christlike attribute to develop during the semester. I always made this determination after a few days of pondering and praying, and I came out of the process with a sure feeling that I had chosen the attribute that God considered important for me at that time. Often I was surprised at it! Other assignments were to refine the attribute, determine a way to monitor my progress, and develop a list of weekly learning opportunities. The final assignment was to write an essay that explained what I did for the various assignments and the effect of the activities on my life. Even though I had nothing that could actually be measured, I became a different person as I worked to become more like the Savior in that one characteristic.
One of my goals this year has to do with the Come, Follow Me initiative that the Prophet and Apostles have provided to help us learn gospel doctrine. They developed a “home-centered and Church-supported” program and cut Sunday meetings by one hour to give members more time to learn at home. I look forward to having an extra hour each week for personal and family gospel study. One part of my goal is to actually do the gospel study each week (measurable), and a second part is to gain a stronger testimony of the Savior (unmeasurable). I encourage you to set goals for yourself that will have more meaning in your life and help you become the person that you wish to be.