Maybe the timing of this post is a little off. This time of year everyone is talking about New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not a big believe in resolutions…I don’t think they work for me. They work for some people, but not for me. You may be a little like me, in fact, according this WNBC/Marist College poll only 44% of adults are planning on New Year’s Resolutions this year.
Instead, I try to think about this question:
What one thing can I do today that will make the biggest different 120 days from now, or 365 days from now.
Answering that question helps me to leverage today for tomorrow. You see, I can't get my head around, "this year I'm going to exercise more & lose weight" It will never happen. I can only think about, "I'm going to exercise three times this week." I can't handle "this year I'm going to be a better person." I can only daily allow God to work on my heart through daily spiritual disciplines. Incidentally, according to the poll above these are the two most popular New Years Resolutions
Over the years I’ve come up with a list of things that I want to be about regularly that I think will pay off big 120 days from now. Of course, it may not be that on May 3 such and such will happen. But the value of the regular discipline of “one things” aggregates over time. Here are some of my “one things”:
Prayer & Bible Reading – I believe that my spiritual life is my life’s center out of which all personal development, discipline and horizontal & vertical relationships derive. This one thing pays big dividends over time, 120 days from now or 1200 days from now.
Scripture Memorization – This is similar to the first one but I’m committed (right now) to memorizing large blocks of Scripture. This does a number of things. It’s fantastic mental exercise which helps me to stay focused and sharp in other areas of my life. It also firmly roots me the Reality of what God says. Right now I’m using a method I wrote about here.
Exercise - This is a no brainer; regular exercise makes a significant difference in how I feel, think and act. Guess what, I’m not a very disciplined person when it comes to exercise. I’ve never had to do much to maintain my weight. But I believe that I feel better and think more sharply when I do. I don't exercise every day, but I try to shoot for three times a week.
Drinking Water - This may seem odd, but as someone with kidney stones I want to keep track of roughly how much water I'm drinking. I don't care about the totals, I just care about the trends.
Weekly Review/Daily Process-Inbox - This is something out of David Allen's Getting Things Done. In short, both daily and once a week I review all of my outstanding projects, to-dos, goals, etc.
Write/Blog - I've committed to blogging fairly regularly, not because I think there are oh-so-many people interested in what I'm writing, but because its good exercise. If you want to be a better writer you have to write. Blogging forces me, in a quasi-public way, to get out there and try to put my thoughts "down on paper."
Language Study – as a missionary in a foreign country there is nothing more important to my continued impact than my ability to communicate with the people with whom I live. At the same time, I set the bar for this pretty low. I want to spend 15 minutes every day studying language. That’s ridiculously low, you might say. But if you ask missionaries who are currently on home assignment in the US how much time they spend in the study of their adopted language few will admit to much. In fact, last spring I was busily scanning in language resource books so that I could bring digital copies home with me. One of my colleagues, who is the sharpest language learner on our field laughed and said good-naturedly, don’t bother…you’ll never look at them. Why? Because there is so much else to do while on home assignment. And she’s right…except I’ve determined that plugging away at the language for a short time every day will pay off when we return to Kosovo.
Professional Reading – This is a no brainer too, but one that many missionaries over look. Being mindful of one’s personal development pays huge dividends down the road. Here again I’m only looking to spend 15 minutes a day in professional development. To this point I’ve been pretty selective of what I think counts. For example, I just finished an awesome book called “The Arabists” by Robert Kaplan. It’s the story of how modern diplomacy in the middle east has been formed by the foreign service officers who lived there long term. It's an awesome book, but it doesn’t feed into my professional development, so I didn’t count it. Right now I count books (or podcasts) on missiology, theology, business management, finance management, etc. These are things that specifically hone the tools in my tool box or give me new tools all together.
Again, I’m not interested in spending hours every day; there is just too much to do. But by spending some time each day my mind is exposed to new material in ways that help me be mindful of my own development.
Of course it's great to have a list of regular disciplines. But how do I map my progress?
Last May I discovered Joe's Goals which has really helped me track the “one things” in my life. Joe's Goals allows me to make my disciplines regular, instead of daily. That way I don't get too hung up, too neurotic about them.
Joe's Goals gives me a handy graph to help chart these against time and also weigh them for importance. My daily devotions and weekly review are weighted at three points, water drinking gets only one. It's not a perfect tool, but it's very, very handy.
If you're still reading you can from the above graphic that I didn't hit too many of my "one things" over the weekend. That's true! We had friends visit from out of town and all my attention was on them, not on hitting the daily biggies. And you know what? That' just the way it ought to be! The "one things" are not my masters, they're my servants. Tracking my goals over a longer period of time gives me a larger context in which to evaluate myself. One weekend spent doing something else more important fits in appropriately. At the same time, when I began a new week today I was easily able to get back in the groove.
For my money, forget about New Years Resolutions. Focus on doing the things today, or this week, which will leverage your tomorrow.