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The joys of setting goals

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Setting goals moves our brains into the future and lets us see things a little more as we would like them to be.

Setting goals moves our brains into the future and lets us see things a little more as we would like them to be.


A few years ago, we downsized a little and recently sold our big, old family home where we raised all of our kids. And some of the kids were not too thrilled about it. To ease the blow a bit, we did two things.

First, as we’ve written before, since most of the furniture wouldn’t fit in the smaller place, we had an auction. We put a bid number on everything and hired a real auctioneer — top hat, gavel and all — to auction it all off. We gave each of our grown children $40,000 in Monopoly money. This way, we figured, they could bid on what they wanted, and we wouldn’t be in the difficult position of giving something to one child when others wanted it.

We had a great time. Two of our sons who couldn’t attend were on the phone, bidding remotely. It took most of the day. Some things that we thought everyone would want didn’t get a single bid — like the old, nicked-up, round kitchen table — and other things we didn’t think anyone would spend their money on were hotter than pancakes.

The old “repenting bench” that kids were sent to when they were fighting — they couldn’t get off until they figured out what they had done wrong and said “sorry” with a hug — went for a higher bid than almost anything else. When we asked Noah, who won the bidding, what he was thinking to spend nearly half of his bid money on an old, rickety bench, he said, “Hey, I spent half my life on that thing!”

The other thing we did to ease the pain of selling the old house was to earmark part of the proceeds for a big, adults-only vacation in 2014.

Since that trip will be one of the rare times when we are all together, we decided to each set some “by vacation” goals — things we hope to do individually and as separate families before the trip. By sharing our goals with each other, we give one another the chance to be individually and specifically supportive, and to pray for each other in our efforts to reach these goals. And of course, sharing a goal with those you love increases your chances of accomplishing it.

It's been so interesting to see these goals come in and to see the different ways that different minds think about the future and about what they want to do with it.

Many have recognized that to be meaningful, a one-and-a-half-year goal has to tie into longer five-year goals. Others have set shorter, monthly goals to lead to the “by vacation” goals. And still others have reminded us that the most important goals are not about money, advancement or accomplishment, but about relationships and family, and that goals set by a married couple can be stronger and more compelling than individual goals.

We’re realizing that some of our children and their spouses are, in many ways, better goal-setters than we are, and that some of our grandchildren, as young as 7 or 8, are pretty good goal-setters themselves.

The bottom line is that the thoughtful process of setting goals is fun. It makes us think in a unique and imaginative way. It moves our brains into the future and lets us see things a little more as we would like them to be. It causes us to categorize our lives. Some of our children set career, physical, mental, financial, social and spiritual goals. Some separate “achievement goals” and “relationship goals” and “character goals.”

Many of them have become masters of differentiating between goals and plans. Goals are things they want to have accomplished or achieved or places they want to be at some exact future date. Plans are the steps or disciplines or practices they put in place to get there. For example, a goal might be to pay off college loans by the end of 2016 and the plan would be how much to budget and pay each month. Or the goal might be to read all of the standard works before the vacation and the plan would be the daily and weekly schedule that would bring that about.

There is always a little element of fear associated with setting goals — the fear of not achieving them and thus highlighting our failures. But almost all seem to agree that they get further and live more fully and more deliberately with goals than without them.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who are in demand throughout the world as speakers on parenting and life balance. You can visit them anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.ValuesParenting.com.