Goals for the New Year: Focus on Improvement, Not Perfection

By Jonathan Lewis on December 14, 2017

A new year is quickly approaching, and many of us start thinking about hopes and goals for the months ahead. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to start imagining all sorts of lofty achievements and aspirations that will create a perfect life for my family and me.

And what happens? Inevitably we fall short, get overwhelmed or discouraged, and give up. Then the year goes by and we realize we’re in roughly the same place at the end as we were at the beginning.

What’s the problem? Focusing on perfection instead of improvement. Let me give you an example to explain what I mean.

Suppose I were to ask you to rate the quality of your marriage right now on a scale of one to ten (one is terrible, ten is amazing). Now let’s say you give you and your spouse a rating of six—your relationship is relatively solid, but could definitely use some work.

What’s the natural reaction at this point? For many of us, it’s probably to start making a list of all the areas we need to work on. Communicate more. Plan fun dates more often. Get on the same page with the finances. And so on and so forth. The list would grow, and by the end, we’d be more depressed over what’s wrong with our marriage than we would be encouraged by what’s right.

But suppose we were to change our perspective? Instead of making a list of everything we and our spouse would need to do to take our marriage from a six to a ten, suppose we prayerfully wrote down just one or two things that would move us from a six to a seven?

In other words, don’t worry about hitting a ten right now. Focus on moving up just one step. Guess what? You’ll end up with a much more manageable list (just one or two things), and instead of feeling depressed, you’re much more likely to feel ready to get started.

And here’s where the magic really starts: once we start moving and see a little bit of improvement, our motivation to keep going skyrockets. Progress is highly motivating.

We can implement this kind of thinking in any area of life: marriage, parenting, our walk with God, household management, organization, finances, and so on. Unless some area is in genuine crisis and needs major intervention right now, we can simply focus on getting to the next rung on the ladder. We don’t need to be at the top tomorrow.

As you think about the upcoming year, consider this approach to setting goals. Make a list of the major areas in your life, rate each one, and then prayerfully consider the one or two actions you can take or habits you can develop to move them up just one step.

In other words, focus on improvement, not perfection. It’s a lot more manageable, and guess what? With God’s help, you actually can improve! You’ll never hit perfection on this earth, but we can all grow. And that’s what it’s all about.