12 January 2016

Goal-Setting. Tips for what helps and doesn't help #LDS #mormon #TwitterStake

The following is a talk I gave in church on January 10, 2016. If religion is not part of your spirituality, then reader beware.
Since we are 10 days in to 2016, it is a common occurrence this time of year is to make New Year’s resolutions. You know, the goals to lose weight, to not do this and to not do that.

Plus, we as Latter-Day Saints are asked to improve through the Atonement daily, by setting and keeping goals. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught: “I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When one learns to master the principles of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life.”

It is so unfortunate that 85% of New Years resolutions fail by Valentine’s Day. A mere 45 days or six weeks into a year with 52 weeks or 366 days (in this leap year). That’s not a great success rate.

The reason is, as Elder Ballard said, that we have not learned the techniques and principles of goal setting. So let’s look at some reasons why goals are not successful, and what we can do instead.

If I may also add, don’t just listen to me, pay attention to what you may not hear and that you are feeling as we discuss making changes through goal setting.

One reason goals are not successful is that they are simply not made properly. We just identify one single item and don’t make a plan, or do anything about it.

There is a common acronym that is used to help with goal-setting, and that is SMART, or SMART goals. Which means make your goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Specific, what exactly will you accomplish. Measurable, how will you know you have reached this goal. Attainable, is achieving this goal realistic with effort and commitment, plus do you have the resources to achieve the goal, if not, how will you attain them. Relevant, is this goal attainable and of value to you. Last is time-bound, when will you achieve this goal.

It is really important to use SMART correctly, if just parts of it are used, chances are the goal will not be successful. For example, we may want to do said activity, have it done by this date, but what we fail to take into account is the A & R, attainable and relevant. Usually because said goal does not fit in with our current value and belief system and it is not a priority for us to commit effort to. The best example I have experienced with this, is someone who was pregnant and wanted to lose weight, not really a congruent goal given life’s current situation.

President Thomas S. Monson taught: “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” – Which is what makes SMART goals so useful, especially when shared with a trusted individual.

While it is important to formulate a goal the SMART way, many times this process alone will not work.

Motivational Interviewing
Another reason why goals are not achieved is they are not tied into motivation.

We need to know what motivates us, and how we are motivated. That is finding the internal or external motivators to accomplish a goal.

There is a process to this, called Motivational Interviewing, where you Engage with your issues/concerns and hopes and then Focus on how to bridge the gap in daily habits from where you are now to where you want to be, to then Evoke the confidence and the importance of making changes, to then Plan how to make the changes.

If I may share a scriptural reference regarding motivation, or a lack thereof: Laman and Lemuel. When Lehi asked his sons to return a get the brass plates, Laman and Lemuel were less than thrilled compared to Jacob and Nephi. They murmured, as it is said. And even after an angelic intervention, promising success, the first thing Laman and Lemuel did, they murmured, saying “How is it even possible?” Despite having a spectacular spiritual experience, they were still unable to find the motivation because they could not engage with, focus on, and understand the importance of getting the brass plates.

Later, Lehi received a revelation that his family should not be alone in the wilderness. Lehi essentially said to his sons, go find Ishmael and bring his family back so that you will have someone to marry. Laman and Lemuel went with Nephi to go get Ishmael, and you know what, there was absolutely no murmuring reported! Laman and Lemuel were able to find the motivation this time! What is interesting with this moment in time is that on the way back with Ishmael’s family, two of Ishmael’s daughters murmured, you have to wonder if those two became the wives to Laman and Lemuel?

I think it's also important to remember our temperament when talking about motivation. This, same with motivation, is different for everyone. If you are someone who needs to slowly wade into the pool, that temperament impacts your motivation. If your someone who just jumps in the deep end to get in the pool, that impacts motivation as well.

Time Management
So many times goals are focused on not doing something. It is really hard to remove a behaviour, action, or pattern in life without finding a replacement for it. We need to find something else to invest our time in.

All of us have been given one common resource, time, that we can invest in any way we want.

President Brigham Young said: “Time is all the capital stock there is on the earth; and you should consider your time golden, it is actually wealth…”

Did you know there are over 300 hours of videos uploaded on YouTube every single minute? And if we stopped all future YouTube video uploads it would take 60,000 years to watch all the videos currently on YouTube.

Did you know there are an estimated 130 million books worldwide? And if you read a book every week for 40 years, that is only 2,080 books.

Did you know according to Internet Movie Database (IMDB), there are over 1 million movies and 3 million TV episodes? And Netflix offers just over 13 thousand of those titles, which is less than one percent of all titles worldwide?

Did you know the average Canadian spends just over 4 hours per day on their cell-phone and computer? And that they spend nearly 3 and a half hours watching TV? Another two hours listening to the radio/music, and 30 minutes spent reading printed materials? That means in an average day, a Canadian spends almost 10 hours with some sort of media, 75% of that is screen time.

So what are you doing with your time? If you are going to do something else with your time, what is it going to be?

John Longden a former Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve shared: “Mere ‘busyness’ is not necessarily evidence of the wise use of time. There should be time for mental and spiritual development as well as relaxation: time for worship and time to express our thankfulness for our ability to work, and think, and pray, and read, and help, and dream, and laugh, and plan, and learn.”

Elder Dallin Oaks added regarding decision making: “As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best.”

Next reason why some goals are unsuccessful is they focus on balance, doing all things equally. The goal of balancing spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical growth with the demands of work, family, church, community and other obligations.

While it is noble to strive for balance, I’m beginning to understand that the notion of “balance” in all aspects of life is an ideal. It is more about what our priorities are. It is simple to make changes in your life, and will be easier to do so if it is a current priority.

Elder David Bednar shared the following during a training in the Philippines: (and I think on our continent as well): “Balance in doing all things doesn’t exist. You cannot be perfectly balanced in doing all things. The principle is over time were you able to give sufficient attention to all things that you need to attend to. Prioritize. The Holy Ghost will help us to focus on the things that need attention at a time. There are nice things that are not very important – don’t attend to those. You have to determine what you need to do according to the will of God. Don’t neglect the things that really matter most.”

Now, I am not here to tell you what your priorities should be, that is up to you to determine. But know that through prayer you can learn what your individualized priorities should be. And also that it is one less barrier to reaching a goal when it is a priority.

Change Model & Relapse
Another reason why goal making is unsuccessful is that the stages of change are not understood. I will draw a lot from AA and ARP principles here.

It’s important to know that making changes is difficult. There are stages of Pre-contemplation and Contemplation before you even consider making the plans to change! There is a lot of thought preparation before action is taken to implement the change and then to be able to maintain it.

What is annoying is this thing called relapse. It’s not bad, it is crucial to making change, it helps find areas of weakness that need to be strengthened in order to maintain changes.

But at times we can be more vulnerable to relapse than at others. Alcoholics Anonymous uses an acronym called HALT - hungry, angry, lonely and tired. If you are experiencing any one of those you are more vulnerable for relapse and returning to your pre-New Year’s resolution habits. Imagine experiencing all four, how much more vulnerable you would be!

Consider the brain like a forest. As we have grown from infancy we have built pathways from one section to another. Some of these pathways have become four lane highways, while vegetation has grown over the less used pathways. When we are making changes, especially drastic changes, we are forging a new path, or using a less travelled path, and trying to travel on it enough to become a side-walk, then a gravel road, then a paved single lane, to eventually a four lane highway. It takes time.

This also means that when implementing a new goal, or making changes, it is sometimes, if not often, things become worse or chaotic before they become better, because of the effort needed to make a change.

So it makes sense when one is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired it is just much simpler to travel on the four-lane highway of thought instead of forging a new path.

Let’s go back to Laman and Lemuel, they are great examples of relapse. Nephi’s bow broke, they got hungry, they murmured. They were angry for many reasons: getting the plates, leaving Jerusalem, building a ship, the ship not going fast enough; they murmured. They felt lonely many times in the wilderness, on the ship, and in the promised-land; they murmured. Tired from traveling, they murmured. Noticing a theme? (And by the way murmur, murmuring or murmured is mentioned 16 times in all of the Old Testament, 12 times in the New Testament and 15 times just in the book of 1st Nephi, 20 if you include 2nd Nephi – shows just how much murmuring happened.)

Don’t look back
Another reason goals get stuck, is that we keep looking to the past. Whether this is because we are looking for inspiration in the past, or that something from the past is preventing us from focusing on the present.

Sometimes there is also this thought that we need to resolve the past, or dig up the past in order to be able to focus on the present. The only time, I am learning in my work, to focus on digging up the past is if it is impacting your daily ability to function, such as sleeping and going to work or school, and then it is important to work on healing. Other than that, the past should be in the past. I’ll share two pieces of insight regarding this.

First, let’s look at research from the University of Illinois on looking forward after a tragedy. The lead researcher was a crisis social worker for children and teenagers after the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans. She shared that the children and teenagers started saying “We are not interested in talking about our Katrina experience. We want to talk about all the other issues we are facing.” She realized that “these kids [didn’t] need to reprocess the storm over and over again, they need to talk about other adversities related to the storm” This is true in our lives, where we will have a storm, physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, impact us. When the storm is over, and we are beginning to deal with daily life again, we need to focus on the future and its struggles, not talking about the past over and over again.

Second, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shared this about looking back: “If something is buried in the past, leave it buried. Don’t keep going back with your little sand pail and beach shovel to dig it up, wave it around, and then throw it at someone, saying, “Hey! Do you remember this?” Splat! Well, guess what? That is probably going to result in some ugly morsel being dug up out of your landfill with the reply, “Yeah, I remember it. Do you remember this?” Splat! And soon enough everyone comes out of that exchange dirty and muddy and unhappy and hurt, when what our Father in Heaven pleads for is cleanliness and kindness and happiness and healing. … Perhaps at this beginning of a new year there is no greater requirement for us than to do as the Lord Himself said He does: “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” … then we look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future.”

I hope for you that as you go through the stages of change as you make your New Year’s resolutions, that you invest your time in priorities for your life, using your motivation, SMART goals, and that you look forward.

And I know that as we include the Lord in our plans, He will guide us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.