New Year’s resolutions can be overrated. When we talk about New Year’s goals, it’s also important to talk about expectations. A number of years ago, I came across this blog by Seth Godin titled, The Paradox of Expectations. In the post, he elaborates on goals and expectations. According to Godin, “Low expectations are often a self-fulfilling prophecy. We insulate ourselves from failure, don’t try as hard, brace for the worst and often get it”
He goes on to say, “High expectations, on the other hand, will inevitably lead to disappointment…A good outcome that’s less than the great one we hoped for actually feels like failure.” I think this is worth considering. Over the years I’ve noticed that I regularly overestimate what I can do in the short term and underestimate what I can do in the long term.
That overestimation has, at times, produced disappointment. In fact, I rarely make goals that are number specific (we will grow by this many people by such and such a time). I know a lot of people that do this and have success with it, but for some reason it never works that well for me. I understand the rationale – goals give you something to pray for, shoot for, and work towards. If you aren’t aiming at something, you will miss the mark every time. I’m not saying don’t have goals. I think specific measurable goals can be important. I also know that when I try to put a number on things that are out of my control, I almost always come up short. Maybe my self expectations are unrealistic or maybe it’s because the goal came from selfish pride rather than from God? Maybe it’s because I didn’t seek to know His will first through prayer? Or maybe it’s because I just don’t know everything.
In the end, I’ve come to this conclusion: I want to receive vision from God in the place of prayer and set goals according to that – then carry that vision to completion, whether it takes one year or twenty years. That’s one of the reasons I fast and pray in January. I want God’s heart first. After many failures (which I’ve thankfully learned from), my desire is to produce fruit for His glory that can only come through abiding in Him (see John 15). If I pursue the vision the Lord has given me and put my all into it, I’ve succeeded. One of my definitions of success is knowing and doing the will of God.
It’s also extremely helpful to determine you “why.” Why do you want to accomplish this goal? As Victor Frankl, former Holocaust survivor said, “Those who have a “why” to live, can bear with almost any “how.”
Seth’s conclusion is worthy of our consideration:
Perhaps it’s worth considering no expectations. Intense effort followed by an acceptance of what you get in return. It doesn’t make good TV, but it’s a discipline that can turn you into a professional.
Obviously he is talking to the business realm, but I think there is a lot followers of Christ can glean from his observations. Expectations shaped by the will of God are healthy. Self-expectations rooted in pride and performance can be destructive. In the end, it’s our job to pray, discern God’s will, and give it our best effort. Then it’s God’s job to bring the increase.
I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6 NLT).
Don’t grow weary while doing good, for in due season you will reap a harvest if you do not lose heart (Galatians 6:9 NKJV). Do your best to know God, seek His will and then carry it out with all your heart.
How have you fared with goals and expectations? Have you found them to be a help or a hindrance? How do you define success?