By Karen Foster

New Year. New You? Changing How We Prioritize Goals

When the first of the year rolls around, even if you’re not thinking about making your own resolution, we are all inundated with so many commercials and messages about it. A “New Year, New You,” right? It could be gym membership specials or weight loss apps. Maybe you feel like you need to tweak some study habits before the new semester. Or maybe you should take a break from social media or promise to call/text your family once a week. Okay, so everyone should be doing that last one!

As a One on the Enneagram (hello, my fellow perfectionists), I love thinking about what I need to fix about myself. A few years ago, I decided I would improve my New Year’s Resolutions/Goals system for the year. I got on the whole “choose a word” bandwagon that’s been growing recently. I would pick a word like joy or friendship and then list my goals for all my categories, such as financial, physical, spiritual, and even some fun ones, like travel. It did work for the most part.

However, last year was a little stressful for my family, so I didn’t get around to listing my category goals. I only chose a word: friendship. While I did a lot of great new things related to that, I felt like a failure, like something was missing. Did I really need to always list my goals in such specific ways? It caused me to reflect more deeply and wonder if I needed to shake things up a bit for 2020.

Choosing One Thing

What if we approached the New Year with a new take on creating resolutions? What if instead of “trying to fix ourselves,” we chose one thing we wanted more of? Something we want to bring into our lives in order to follow Christ more closely.

Thinking back to when a goal I set truly changed my life, I was reminded of my nutrition class in college, of all places. I don’t remember a lot about it other than our professor charging us with changing and tracking one nutrition habit in our lives. At the time, I was a college sophomore struggling to eat healthy while surviving on college dorm food. So, I decided I wanted to improve my fruit intake by eating at least one serving of fruit per day. Twenty years later, I laugh because I don’t struggle with that anymore. Then I realized . . . it was because of this class. During that semester, I remembered to grab fruit in the cafeteria at least once a day because I had to track my goal for the class. I didn’t want to fail. Also, I knew it was tangibly benefiting my body. I wanted to be healthy and had a reason to do so.

This may seem like a silly example, and it is to some degree. Today I want to change more important things, like how I’m building relationships with friends, how much time I spend with God, and how intentional I am raising kids who love Jesus. But my fruit example worked! It was so simple. I changed one thing. Not a dozen. Not two or three. Just one. Although I’m not getting a grade today like I did back then, I’m deeply invested in growing in my walk with Jesus. In 2020, I am simplifying my plan. I am choosing one thing.

Listen before Decision

In order to do this, I decided to change the way I create my goal for the year by prioritizing my spiritual life. At InterVarsity’s National Staff Conference in January, we entered into a time of listening prayer. (If you are new to listening prayer like me, check out Jan Johnson’s Prayer & Listening.)

This inspired me to do the same when it came time to set my goal. I got out my journal, sat in a quiet place, and invited the Holy Spirit to join me. For a while, I didn’t hear anything. Then God began to speak. He was asking me to listen. Ironic, I know. The word “listen” had actually come up earlier in the week too, so when it resurfaced, I realized I couldn’t ignore it.

As an Enneagram One, I like to check things off, feel productive, and get things done. But this year, I feel like God is asking me to try something different. In 2020, I’ve resolved to practice listening prayer every week.

I invite you and challenge you to join me. Spend some time with God discerning what his will is for you this year or even just this semester. Look at how you’ve set goals for yourself in the past. Maybe you have never tried making one before. Maybe it seemed too daunting to finish. Or maybe you’re like me and got a little carried away with all the goals and resolutions and categories.

Change the way you look at goal setting. I’m convicted more than ever that our goals must match God’s invitation for us. If we truly desire Christ to be the center of our lives, we need to fully enter into his presence first—before we look at our bank balance, before we think about the weight we want to lose or the trips we wished we could take.

Remember your goal shouldn’t be a punishment. It should be something we desire to do. Create a spiritual goal first and then think about other physical and financial goals later if you want. Also, be realistic and give yourself grace. You can always set a weekly goal instead of a daily one and then gradually build upon that habit throughout the year. Consider inviting a friend to keep you accountable too.

The world in 2020 is not going to get any simpler, but how we set goals and grow can be—not to mention spiritually transformative. So how are you going to reorder your goals in 2020? How about asking God what he desires for you first? I’m praying the Holy Spirit will work in you, transform you, and bring you closer to him this year and always. Cheers to your walk with God in 2020 and beyond!

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Karen Foster works at InterVarsity’s National Service Center in Advancement. She lives just outside of Madison with her family and dog, Ernie. She loves running with her dog, coffee, reading, and being out in nature as much as she can.

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