Do you sometimes find yourself wondering where your day has gone without having gotten anything meaningful done? Or have you ever worked on a project and found yourself changing direction halfway through? It’s devastating to work hard at climbing the ladder toward success, only to discover the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall!
If you’re feeling a little lost in life, you’re not alone. When we go with the flow for a while, we tend to drift. Here are some proven ways to focus your time and energy on things that matter, so you can make your days more meaningful and reach your long-term goals.
Set goals — and then build a path to them
In his landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey talks about “beginning with the end in mind.” Clearly defining our vision and purpose in life will help us move toward all our goals. One way to do this is to imagine what you would want to be remembered for when you pass away. On a smaller scale, you can think about your 10-year plan, or even your 5-year plan. On a micro level, this could simply mean starting each day with a few intentional goals and pursuing them with purpose.
It all begins with defining the outcomes you want — for a day, a week, a season, a year, or longer — and then simply build a path toward that goal. Defining your outcomes can mean something as simple as creating a detailed agenda for your business meeting or as complex as turning a passion into a career.
Setting goals and intentionally pursuing them seems like a simple tactic to living purposefully — and it is. But it’s all too easy to get consumed by the small day-to-day tasks of working and living, and distractions abound. If we’re not careful, years can slip by without some careful reflection on where we’re headed and spending the precious time we have in our one and only life.
Define your mission
If you’re interested in doing some deeper reflection to find direction for your life, think about creating a personal mission statement — a clearly defined articulation that you live your life by. To discover your mission, take a journey inward. What is most important to you? Assess the values you hold most dear. What beliefs would you give your life for?
A personal mission statement provides purpose and direction, but it can only serve as a compass for navigating life when it reflects the deepest parts of who you were created to be. It should capture the best parts of you — it’s an articulation of what makes you feel most alive. A good mission statement focuses on the person you want to be (your character), as well as what you want to do (your long-term contributions).
Here are some ways to approach the self-reflection needed to define and articulate your mission:
- Recall the times you have been at your best — what was that like and how did that make you feel? Also consider when you’re at your worst — how and when does that happen? These are clues to discover the unique configuration of gifts and desires God planted within you. Ask yourself: What type of person do I want to be, and how do I want to be remembered?
- To help you write this mission statement, you might also consider the people who have influenced you. You can think of three to five people who shaped your life indelibly, and then think about their best qualities. What about them or their work resonated with you? Is that something you want to emulate?
- Also consider your long-term goals. Think about what you want to have accomplished in 10 years, or even 30 years. You can even do an exercise where you imagine what your 75thth birthday is like: your family and closest friends are gathered around to celebrate your life. What would you want them to say?
- Remember to take this practice to prayer. The One who created you knows you best. Dialogue with Him will put you in touch with your deepest identity.
Take time to write down what is most important in your life as surfaced by these prompts, then craft your conclusions into a mission statement that helps you intentionally pursue the best of what you want to be. Refer to it in times of stress and assure yourself that this mission statement represents the best in you. As your life evolves, your mission statement will also evolve to help you adjust your direction and deepening self-knowledge, but your overarching values will stay consistent.
Let your values lead you
It’s never a bad thing to feel a little lost. That feeling is a recognition that we need guiding light. It’s a nudge that we need to take some self-reflection to better discover who we are, and where God is moving in our lives. Clarity on those questions comes in terms of identity and values — rarely in the concrete terms of a direction or decision. But when we know ourselves better, it’s much easier to see where we need to be going — and what might be getting in our way.
Dr. Covey famously said, “Your most important work is always ahead of you, never behind you.” Beginning with the end in mind brings out the forward-thinking planner in all of us, so that we always have an end goal when we are pursuing greatness.
This post is part 2 in a series on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Read about the other habits here: