Saturday, December 29, 2018

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on setting appropriate goals

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) served as a Seventy from 1976-1981, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until his death from cancer in 2004.
"Progress is measured by milestones. What many good people lack are markers that might tell them how they are actually doing. Goals can become a ritual or a fetish, but in the right measure they can give us some much needed reference points. No wonder some seem discouraged! Minus such milestones, we often feel 'minus' in our lives. 
"The regular setting of short-term as well as long-term goals is a helpful discipline. Most of us have grand, long-term goals, but we fail to support these goals with specific, short-term goals. I have what I call my 'Almost Agendum' of things that, too often, I intend to get done and want to get done. Indeed, I 'almost' get these done. Now, by selecting just one such goal per week, there is more momentum and specific achievement. Commitment is causal, not casual, and a drifting discipleship is not real discipleship.
"Isn't it interesting how many rich resolves we lay down at the edge of sleep, failing to take them up again with wakefulness? How many specific things go undone because forgetfulness covers what a pencil and paper could have made into a prickly reminder? In this vast zone of good intentions, we house our 'almost adventures,' some of the great experiences of our lives that nearly happened. We say, of course, we are weary. Often this is true. But aren't we glad Jesus mounted the cross even though he was indescribably weary?
"Goals, to be most helpful, need to be or include (1) personal or individual goals, (2) specific goals (a vague goal is no goal at all), and (3) a specific timetable for accomplishment. Then there are these added elements often neglected: the goal should be (4) written (it is less apt to be forgotten and can 'vex' us properly); (5) 'registered' (if appropriate, with certain others who can urge us on to its accomplishment); and (6) do-able or attainable.
"I find that goal setting, when done this way, leads to goal achieving. The chronic failure to achieve goals lowers self-esteem. Show me a failure to achieve a goal, and usually I can show you the violation of one or more of the above criteria. Imposed goals, vague goals, and unrealistic goals tend to produce only partial successes and outright failures.
"Can we be serious about eternal progression and be casual about regularizing personal improvement? Most of those who feel inadequate do not lack direction, but velocity. The regular achievement of desirable goals can give our lives momentum, a very important thing, but without overanxiety."
- Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple, pp. 32-33

Many of the books of teachings of general authorities are compilations of their conference talks and other public addresses. But Elder Maxwell wrote many books that contain original material, all in his profound and deeply thoughtful style. This book Deposition of a Disciple was released just as I started my mission, and I had a copy of it with me that I studied and marked up during those two years. It contains many wonderful insights, such as this section on goal-setting.

It's important to have "milestones" along the path to help us recognize progress. Elder Maxwell suggests that short-term goals can help provide those checkpoints as we work towards our broader goals. But we need to be dedicated to working on them:

Being committed to our efforts to grow and progress is such an important key! I appreciated Elder Maxwell's counsel on six ways to make goals more effective. Goal-achieving is so much more important than goal-setting, and the right approach and principles can help bridge that gap for us.

And we must recognize the linkage between our current progress and our expectation of eternal progress. We can take steps to increase our velocity:

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

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