You wouldn’t accomplish much in a day if, every morning, you got into your car and drove away—without a destination in mind. Likewise, it isn’t productive to just wander down the road of marriage and family life. You’re far more likely to get where you want to go when you target goals and adopt strategies to achieve them.
Numerous studies show that people who plan specific, reasonable, and challenging goals are more likely to succeed than people who have only a vague sense of direction. This is as true in married life as it is in the business world. Yet I find that many parents who are business professionals—people who plan, set budgets, and periodically evaluate their progress at work—do not use these successful techniques in their homes.
Why do goal-setting couples normally enjoy greater success in their marriage and family life? Because planners have concrete objectives that they can envision and pursue. They are more apt to make wise decisions that further their goals. Nonplanners lack vision and are more easily side-tracked. Furthermore, a family plan facilitates growth and minimizes the need for crisis management.
Setting a Course. My wife Felicia and I have experienced the benefits of goal-setting for over thirty years. At the start of each new year, we pinpoint areas that we especially want to work on: two areas in our own relationship, plus two areas each for children.
With our four older children, who are now adults and on their own, we have come to play more of a “coach” role. But we still feel a genuine responsibility to help them determine their own goals and encourage them in their marriages, their personal and professional development, and their relationship with Jesus.
While goal-setting has not made us into the perfect family, we have found it an important tool for building our life together. It encourages us to seek God’s plan, builds a sense of partnership and teamwork, and brings fruitful results.
As this new year begins, then, I encourage you to sit down with your family and formulate a plan. By following just a few simple steps, you can set and pursue some very achievable goals for 2017.
The Seven Steps
1. Invite each family member to take a week to think about and write down two particular goals they would like to implement. Explain that these goals should enhance the person’s individual development, build up their relationship with Jesus, or improve family relationships.
For example, a spouse might want to focus on the household budget, develop better family traditions, or find ways to bring more fun and intimacy into their marriage. Children’s goals might target some of the areas where we have set goals with our children over the years: school performance, honesty, hard work, sports, friendships, shyness, skill development.
2. Set a couple of dates when you can compare your lists. Choose a place where you won’t be interrupted, and allow enough time for discussion.
Spouses should meet first to set their marriage goals and discuss their thoughts about the children. Then, get together with the whole family. (You can also meet individually, if a situation is sensitive or requires more privacy.)
Give the children a chance to express their two goals for the year. You may be surprised. About 50 percent of the time, my children have targeted the very areas that Felicia and I felt they needed to address.
3. At your family planning session, go through the items on your individual lists. Take turns presenting your goals and explaining the reasons why each one appears on your list. Listen carefully and respectfully to every family member’s ideas, explanations, and positions. Men’s and women’s goals can differ quite a bit. These differences need to be respected—even cherished.
Now, select two goals per child to implement in the next year. In this process, each family member should be given veto power and the freedom to exercise it. Plans will come to nothing unless there is agreement; parents and child must be able to commit to a goal, or it will not be achieved. But each child must have two goals to work on at the meeting’s end. You can’t veto everything!
4. Each goal needs an action plan—an outline of the measures to be taken for realizing it. What will you do? When? How often? Where? What will it cost? Who will do what? Think it through and get as specific as you can. The clearer you are, the better. After all, you may have to restate the plan over and over again in the coming year. This has certainly been true for me.
5. Once you’ve agreed on the whats and hows, it’s time to draw up a master list. Put your goals down on paper, along with the action plan. Spell out each individual goal as clearly as possible, and make sure not to undertake too much.
6. Monitor your plan periodically. Felicia and I evaluate our goals together every month or two. As circumstances require, we modify them. Occasionally we have also scrapped plans that were not working out the way we had hoped.
7. Celebrate your successes. By the end of the year, I hope it will be possible for you to say, “We did it!” Whenever you achieve a goal, congratulate one another on a job well done. Before you know it, it will be 2018—time to set some new goals.
Now is the time to prepare that future success. This new year, why not resolve to follow this seven-step plan to a better marriage and family life? Ask the Lord for wisdom, and set some attainable goals for your life, marriage, and family. As Scripture tells us, we can use our minds to make good plans, trusting that the Lord is with us and directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9).
Joe Difato is the founder and publisher of The Word Among Us magazine.