Tips and Tricks

Stop Wishing, Start Doing | A Plan for Setting Goals that Actually Works

I never wished to run a marathon. It was not my aspiration to have a sticker on my car that reads “26.2”. I will say to this day that I was conned into the whole thing by my dear friend and partner in ministry, Loren. She first talked me into running a half marathon, and then flat out told me that we were going to tackle the whole thing. This was almost 12 years ago and at that time, I had difficulty saying no to things, so that’s how I wound up running the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon.

No, I never wished to do my first training run with a massive head cold in 30-degree weather. I never wished to call running eight miles my “short run” of the week (seriously, that’s insane). I never wished to run in the rain, snow, or crushing heat. What I did wish for was this: I desperately wanted students that I knew through the ministry of Young Life* to experience the best week of their life at Young Life camp, and I wanted to be part of making that possible for them. Running the marathon was how we fundraised to help ensure that our friends were on the bus to camp that summer. All of the hours spent running, sweating, and sometimes crying were necessary to reach that goal. For the record, while I no longer run or wish to run, I did come to love my time training. It was a sweet time of fellowship and joy that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. It was also a lesson in discipline and working for results instead of expecting immediate gratification. In order to cross the finish line, a first step had to be taken. A plan had to be formed. And then feet had to hit the pavement, turning plans into action. There were no shortcuts, and the work was hard, but the ending was so sweet. We ran (jogged?) past the finish line and a month later we took kids to camp to hear the best news ever – Jesus loves them.

Often, the things we wish for require something of us that is uncomfortable or even scary, and the process may be one we would not choose (like a marathon!). Many times it is easy to disregard our dreams because life is busy and our focus is on simply getting through to the next day. But what if we took the dreams that we have and determined to put actionable goals in place to see them come to life? One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. Slowly, methodically, consistently. There will be good days and bad days (we had good runs and bad ones!), but the goal isn’t to continually climb upward without falling, the goal is to look back over time and see that the hills and valleys of the journey were leading you upward to your end goal all the while.

What we wish for our lives does not necessarily have to be life-altering or dramatic, though it can be. It always requires initiative on our part though; a point in time where we decide that we are going to stop saying “someday” or “I wish” and start doing. What follows are my top five tips for putting action to your dreams and goals. I hope they can encourage you to stop wishing, and start doing!

Make a Dream List

This is some of the best advice that I have ever received. Take 10-15 minutes to indiscriminately make a list of any and all things that you want for your life. Do not think past this point. Only consider all of the dreams and thoughts hiding in your heart and, for this exercise, ignore the many reasons you shouldn’t desire something or the thoughts about why it is impossible. Often, we have suppressed dreams and goals and we simply need to acknowledge them again so we have the opportunity to consider if they may be possible. This is healthy and cathartic.

Assess Your Dream List

After you have made your list, (only after, not in the moment!), take each item one by one and assess whether or not it is something you have the capacity and ability to pursue at that time. If you are a Christian, this is the time to submit these dreams to the Lord and spend time in prayer over them. We may have goals and dreams that end up being unreachable, or that need to be put on hold for a season of life in order to make space for something else more important. For example, you may have four kids under four, so perhaps going to grad school isn’t a venture you can tackle for awhile. That’s okay! Maybe this is your time to join a mom’s group and form deeper friendships, or to commit to researching grad schools for when your kids are a little bit older. The point is that you acknowledge your dreams and goals and give yourself the opportunity to decide what makes sense in the moment, and what you can look forward to in the future.

Make a Plan

Now that you have reviewed your dream list and determined which goals you are going to tackle, it is time to formulate a plan! This is crucial. Without a plan, life can get in the way and it is easy to end up back at step one in no time at all. Is your goal to be as healthy as possible for your family? Determine what you need to be successful. A gym membership? A cookbook? A therapist? Maybe you want to change careers. Perhaps your plan begins with researching companies and educational requirements in your desired field.

Whatever your goal, make a plan and write it down. Be sure it is detailed and give yourself deadlines (“I will research ten grad schools by next Friday” or “On Tuesday at 9am I will drive to the gym and purchase a membership”). The more specific you are, the more likely you are to follow through.

Confide in a Friend (or friends!)

Share your goals with your people! This requires vulnerability and may be uncomfortable, but it is vitally important. When we share our dreams with others, we gain both accountability and a team of people who are cheering us on. Do you want to start a business from home, save for a trip to Europe, abandon your lucrative career to pursue an entirely new path, or expand your family through adoption? Tell your friends! I guarantee that they will be in your corner and they may even know of resources to help you along the way (they might even con you into doing a marathon)! Give them permission to follow up with you on your self-made deadlines. If you know that someone will be checking in, you are more likely to successfully meet the smaller goals that lead up to your bigger end goal.

Expect Setbacks

Before my wedding, my sister-in-law told me to expect that three things would go wrong at the ceremony and/or the reception. She was not being pessimistic, simply realistic, and she was right! At least three things did not go as planned, but since I had the mindset that the day would likely have some bumps, I was able to handle them with laughter instead of stress. The same goes for the plans we have formulated as a means to see a dream realized. Life happens – kids get sick, we get sick, an unexpected move occurs, or a project at work limits our time for a season. If we expect setbacks, we will be less discouraged by them and more likely to pick up on our plan again once we are able.

Finally, to quote Earl Nightingale, “Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”** 

Wondering where to start? How about a FREE PRINTABLE? Happy dreaming, friends!

*If one of your life goals is to impact others, we cannot recommend Young Life highly enough!  


Hand Lettering Image by Sarah Boulware of @letterseed

stop wishing start doing setting goals

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