Great Expectations: How Our Hidden Assumptions Can Help Or Hurt Our Plans For The Coming Year

‘Anyone making New Year’s Resolutions this year?’

It was a fun – and good – question as we sat talking over lunch.  As the conversation bounced around, hopes and ambitions for the year were shared.  Getting healthier, running a marathon, and so on.

I didn’t share my thoughts, largely because I’m still in the process of setting my goals for the year. But also because my thinking on how I go about that is still evolving.  Maybe yours is, too.

More specifically, I’ve really struggled with knowing what to prioritize given limits with time.  And then, to actually make progress on my goals in the middle of my messy, everyday life.  Ah, the gap between who we are and who we’d like to be.

Managing Expectations Lynn Friedman via Compfight

Further Down The Rabbit Hole

As I’ve reflected on all this lately, it’s occurred to me that there are many layers at play here.  Some of them, like needing a framework to guide us, are fairly obvious.

Other elements are not so clear, though.  Like identifying the assumptions we’re making, and the expectations we bring to the table as we set and try to meet our goals.  It’s taken awhile, but I’m coming to see that they have a powerful, unseen role on the goals we set, and, our efforts to achieve them.

So in today’s post, I’d like to share some of that journey with you.  I hope you’ll gain a few insights as you try to live more intentionally in the year ahead.

Just Follow The Formula?

For most of my adult life, I didn’t set goals or resolutions at all.  Most of the people who set them never seemed to accomplish them anyway.

Secretly, though, I felt badly for not attempting anything and knew that fear was getting in the way.  (Still a struggle.)

Three years ago, I was excited when I came across a goal-setting program from a well-known influencer. He’s a Christian, his ideas made sense, and his unbridled enthusiasm made me feel like I could achieve anything if I just followed his formula.

With child-like enthusiasm, I came up with ten goals for the year.

As December 31st rolled around, I had accomplished… [drum roll, please]… just two of my ten goals.  Let’s just say I didn’t watch the ball drop that year.

What went wrong?

Checking Our Assumptions

To be fair, a lot of it was on me.  I took on waaaay too much, as usual.  I often didn’t set reasonable next steps for each goal, and got overwhelmed when I didn’t make progress. And then (basically) gave up.

But part of the problem came from the assumptions that are baked into the system I was trying to follow.  (And many others I’ve seen, too.)

You may recognize some of these tendencies in your own thinking.  Although we ‘know’ they’re not true, they’re part of the cultural air we breathe, and often sneak under our radar where they’re bound to pull us away from God’s purposes and let us down.

  1. You can achieve anything you want if you just follow the formula.  The program I followed made it sound like you can do pretty much anything if you just take the necessary steps as you set, implement and track your goals.
  2. You can set any goals you want.  The program doesn’t encourage immoral behavior, but it never encourages us to run our goals through the filters of loving God or others, either.  By its silence on these things, it can allow us to be selfish, which is ultimately unmotivating and (I think) had a role in my fail for the year.
  3. Implementing your goals is all up to you.  After setting your goals, the program suggests a system to help you meet them.  Great idea, but nowhere does the program point me to the help I desperately need – and have – from the Lord. I felt pressure to be perfect.
  4. Creativity and individuality are optional at best.  Systems and formulas aren’t bad, but what works well for one person may not work well for someone else. Many goal-setting programs don’t adequately acknowledge this, which can lead to discouragement when they don’t prove helpful for us.

Again, I don’t want to blame someone else for not meeting my goals.  I’m just saying that the assumptions behind any system are really important.  They’ll have a huge impact not only on achieving our goals, but the kinds of goals we set, and whether we’ll meet them in a way that honors God and others.

Better Expectations

So, I’d like to offer four better assumptions, or expectations, that should help us live with intention this year.  With expectations that fit who we really are, and the world we actually live in.

So, what can we realistically expect as we try to live with intention in the coming year?

  1. We can expect serious resistance.  Unfortunately, achieving anything in a broken, fallen world is uphill sledding.  God says ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick’ (Jeremiah 17:9).  We’re surrounded by people just like us, and, we have spiritual enemies that are actively trying to help us fail (see 1 Peter 5:8). Recognizing why it’s so hard to accomplish anything will help us feel more normal when we struggle.
  2. We can expect God to redirect the focus, and balance, of our goals.  Because of the above, we may tend to set goals that are – surprise – focused on ourselves.  Or, centered around a few areas to the neglect of others.  For example, my natural tendency is to focus on work at the expense of my kids, fun, and rest.
  3. We can expect to receive God’s ever-present help.  In Colossians 1:29, Paul lets us in on the secret behind his hard work and success.  ‘For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me’.  God gave Paul everything he needed to do the work He called him to.  Whether we’re trying to pray more, lose 20 pounds, or, overcome a bad habit, we’re never alone – even when we feel like we’re on an island.
  4. We can expect to tap into the individuality and freedom God has given us.  As we plan for the year ahead, we need to embrace the freedom God has given us.  The Four Gospels themselves are a wonderful example of this.  While they each accomplish the goal of announcing the good news we have in Christ, each one has its own unique, distinct personality that reflects its author.  So, as you think about being intentional in the year to come, feel free to experiment, pull insights from different sources, and go about it in a way that fits you.  That may include the number of goals you set, which areas you’ll focus on, and how you’ll keep yourself accountable.

Another Year To Live For Christ

It’s exciting that God has given us another year to live for him.  God has called us to live with intention, and it’s important to understand the expectations and assumptions we’re bringing as we set goals and plan.  If we bring a more biblical outlook to that process, we’ll avoid a ton of frustration, and embrace all the freedom and creativity God has given us.

Your Turn: Of the four faulty assumptions above, which one do you struggle with the most?  How would embracing its corresponding ‘better expectation’ be helpful as you look at the year ahead?