According to the de facto Mormon liturgical calendar, it is the time of year to talk about goal-setting. Most Mormon discussions of goals make me want to poke myself in the eyeball with a fork–a reaction I initially did not understand, since I set goals for myself all of the time. But after thinking about it for a while, I figured out a few reasons why the standard Mormon discourse on goals and goal-setting aggravates me so much.
Goal-setting is not a requirement for living the gospel. Goal-setting is not an eternal principle; it is something common to this particular time and place and culture that might be a helpful tool for some people. Abraham did not take a stick and write out his goals for the year 2014BCE in the dirt. (Although if he did, and one of those goals was “Do not give wife to foreign ruler,” and a camel scratched it out, and Abraham forgot about it, that sure would explain a lot.) It is perfectly possible to grow closer to Christ without setting goals, but you wouldn’t know this if you listened to many LDS people talk about it.
Your goals should not require the abrogation of anyone else’s agency. A missionary setting a goal to baptize five people this month is asking God to override agency. A missionary setting a goal to talk to a different person about Jesus every time she gets on a bus is not.
January 1st is probably not the best time to set new goals. First off, you probably haven’t put much thought into planning them, what with the Christmas chaos. Secondly, you are probably out of your routine, also because of Christmas. Third, you are probably still in vacation mode on January 1st, and there is no way you are going to be at the gym at 6am if you didn’t get home until 1am the night before. We don’t have to follow the culture on this one; set your goals and start your goals whenever it is best for you and leave the New Years’ resolutions to the pagans.
A goal is not (necessarily) a plan, but it needs one. It does you no good to say “I will read the entire OT in 2014″ unless you figure out how much you need to read per day, when you are going to read it, how you are going to get back on track if you miss reading for a week because you had the flu, etc. You need a plan, or the goal isn’t going to happen.
Aim low. Really low. The goals that I have been most successful with were the ones that were very modest–so that I could actually stick to them–but they ended up having large cumulative effects over time. I think our LDS discourse often makes the setting of very high goals almost into a test of faith (“if you really believed the promises in the scriptures, you’d commit to reading from the scriptures for three hours per day”); that sets you up for failure. I’ve also heard it suggested that we set goals we know we can’t reach, because doing 75% will be pretty good anyway. The people who suggest this apparently don’t have much experience working with perfectionists.
That’s it. Rant over. Good luck with your 2014 goals, or not.