f you ask any of our friends, they will likely tell you that we’re planners. We like to know what’s going on and be prepared. So each year on or near our anniversary, we take an hour or two to look over the past year and plan out our goals for the coming years.
Whether or not things go according to plan, the act of planning itself is essential. It forces us to be strategic in what we do, to make tough decisions, and to push toward what we want for ourselves, rather than just settling for what lands in our laps. Here are four benefits of planning that you can experience too:
It makes you feel like you’re not spectators in your own lives
You’ll fight less
You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish when you try
Even if you fail, you’ll still make so much more progress with a goal
Each of us makes many decisions over the course of a year. Understandably, we sometimes struggle with knowing which choice is best. Especially with the big, life-altering decisions. “Do I take this job across the country?” “Should we buy a brand new car, or keep the one we have?” “Should I go back to school?” “Is it the right time to start a family?”
Many times there are no wrong answers, and you might get advice in favor of both choices from different people. But, if you have a clear plan, you can make those decisions more easily. For example, Jess and I recently got out of debt, and we’ve made a commitment to avoid taking on any more debt unless God directs us differently (2019 update). Jess is working through a graduate degree, and our goal is for her to finish classes in two more years. Combining the two of those means that we’re working as much as we can to pay for school as we go, and other nice-to-haves (like a newer car or a trip to Europe) will have to wait. Our goals make the choice for us clear, and though we may not like denying ourselves something fun, we both know we’ll be better off for it in the long-run. We’re in control as much as anyone can be, and we know that where we’ll be in five years will be worth the sacrifices we’re making now. Setting goals is about determining what means the most to you and working out an actionable plan to get there.
I’m reminded of an exchange in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
Without goals, direction doesn’t matter, but by knowing where we want to end up, the path quickly becomes clear.
Having a clear set of goals that you and your spouse both agree on in advance means that when an opportunity or decision comes up, you turn to your goals (and remember what achieving them will mean for you) and then you decide together if it’s worth the change.
An example of this came while we were pushing to eliminate the last of our debt. Jess found $400 round-trip tickets to London (yes, round-trip) and we quickly got excited about the possibility. Then we checked in with our finances and realized that buying those tickets (and the hotel and other expenses they would also bring) would delay our goal at the time of getting out of debt, and the freedom we would feel by not owing anyone anything.
London sounded great, but having no more student loan payments ever again sounded better. So we let the offer pass. It was hard, and there was definitely a feeling of sacrifice, but when we looked at our goals, the decision was easy. We didn’t fight. We didn’t even argue.
Proverbs 21:5 tells us, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.”
The benefits of setting and chasing goals aren’t usually obvious in the short-term, but as you look back over time, you’ll be amazed by what you have accomplished. Before Jess and I set our goals for the following year, we reflect on the past year in a section we call “Past Year Wins”. We list that before our goals for the future, so we can remember the huge strides that our focused effort has helped us to make in the past, and feel the motivation to keep on pushing.
A year and a half ago in January, we revised a goal from the previous June that we had set. The initial goal was to be debt-free in five years. We revised it to being out of debt in one year. Moving forward, that became our focus. In six months, we had paid off $19,000. In a year, we had paid off $28,000, and four months later, we had paid off the full $33,171.
You’ll note above that we didn’t meet our goal of being debt free in a year. It took a year and four months of cutting every spare penny. But had we made only the scheduled payments, it would have taken us seven years to pay off those student loans.
It’s okay not to meet the goal exactly–a perfect record isn’t the point. The point is to have a laser-focused intensity on what you and your spouse have decided is best for your family.
Overall, goal planning has become both essential and a blessing in our marriage. We’re in year three of planning and I wish we had started sooner. Looking back, the benefits are amazing, and we’ll definitely continue as we move forward! If you haven’t started already, I’d encourage you to start today. If you have, keep up the good work!
For tips on how to set goals with your spouse, check out this article.
Have you ever had a huge win from setting goals in your life or with your spouse? Tell us about it in the comments below…