We’re coming up on December, and it will seem inevitable: We must examine how the year went, how we’ve done, how far we’ve come.

Most of us will be disappointed. I know I will be.

I will see my list of goals, of things I had wanted to do in 2019, and they will not all be crossed off. Some (like weight loss, cough) will have seen no progress.

I did not make these goals and then forget them, hoping they’d accomplish themselves by the end of the year. I reviewed regularly, adjusted, and made mini goals throughout the year. Each interval I tried to make progress.

And yet. For one reason and another, still there is not the progress I would have liked to see.

You too?

So what happens next?

I am always tempted to look at my motivation and troubleshoot from there. I just need to want the goals better, want them more. Maybe feeling a little more desperate will work.

Yes, sometimes feeling desperate is a tactic we choose. If we feel our pain point, perhaps the motivation will last and we will change.

However, it won’t work.

Rather than dig around introspectively, examining our motives and ginning up emotion to motivate, we would do better to troubleshoot our process.

My problem with not losing weight wasn’t that I didn’t want it badly enough (although I probably didn’t). My problem is that I did not do what I knew would work. I didn’t follow through.

If, then, I focused on how I felt about my current state and how I felt about my goal state, I would be engaged in emotional manipulation of my own self. That’s not going to work.

But we do it to ourselves so often we hardly even notice anymore. We associate the negative emotion with forward momentum, even if that momentum has never stuck.

Last time we got the house clean, it was in a cranky frenzy. And when we were calm and joyful, the house got messy again. So we associate getting the house clean with stress and frustration.

Next thing we know, we find we have to get the house clean and so we go back to our old standby motivation: frustration and desperation. It might make us mean and cranky, but it gets the job done.

Sometimes I feel like I have to be wound up tight to make any headway on a significant goal.

Like, I have to lose my temper to motivate the kids

I have to be fed up in order to clean.

But how we work toward our goals is actually more important than the goal itself. The how is the heart, and it’s the part that God cares about.

When we reject our temper, our frustration, our emotional manipulation, we are not rejecting progress. We are rejecting our own self-sufficiency; really, the temper, frustration, and manipulation is a signal that our self-sufficiency is already not working.

The truth is that the state of our house, the number on the scale, the time we have for projects, is not ever going to be static. These aren’t goals that we reach, check off, and are done with.

The state of our homes, the state of our selves, the state of our schedules will always be in flux as we use all three to glorify God. We aren’t supposed to get them to some magical point at which life becomes easy.

Rather, with them, we serve others and glorify God.

When we say, “I can’t even x,” we might think of that as our point of breakthrough. “I can’t even” will get channeled into zealous “progress.”

Progress that comes that way, of course, will not last. We will swing back into our old patterns as soon as the frustration spends itself out. We don’t want to live in that state. We shouldn’t live in that state.

Therefore, we must not need or wait for that state in order to get a move on.

Feeling “I can’t even” is not the breakthrough moment, it is the block that we can and must break through, even if it looks insignificant.

It will look insignificant because it won’t be working into a frenzy.

Instead of waiting for or even cultivating an emotional frenzy to motivate, we need to choose a small habit – one small habit – and make it consistent.

It’s not flashy, and it won’t give us the payoff of huge visible progress in the short term. But we should know better by now anyway: that visible payoff after the frenzy doesn’t last.

However, small habits are the gift that keep on giving. They don’t require emotional energy. They don’t require much time. They just do the thing and move on.

Focusing on the next small habit seems frustratingly insignificant, but the small habits are what stick and what last, where the results of our “motivation” binges do not.

Perhaps for next year instead of putting a static state on our goal list: keep a clean house, be this weight, have this outcome, we should choose small processes that will, eventually, move the needle and give progress.

Instead of reaching for an end, we should examine our process and refine it. The process is the movement forward.

Troubleshooting the process will give lasting, reasonable, consistent progress, whereas getting worked up over the destination really doesn’t help us in the long run.

Here’s my challenge to you:

Take a goal – an end-point, destination goal – you had for this year or that you were thinking about for next year. Maybe it’s even a life goal or it’s just a Christmas season goal. Take one goal you feel strongly about right now.

Brain dump the actions that go into getting to that goal.

Choose one that you can reasonably do consistently.

Make doing that action consistently your goal instead of the endpoint.

Leave a comment with that small action goal – writing it out is one small practice that helps us commit and gain clarity.

I will do the same.


  1. Over the last several months, I’ve been coming to a similar place as you discuss here Mystie. So dead on correct. One I’m working on currently:

    I will bring in everything from vehicle completely each time I get home.

    (No leaving that one bag of perishable groceries, or the bag of extra bits from our most recent adventure, etc. until “latter”)

  2. I will buy salads for days that I need to travel for work and on days that I am home I will have a protein shake and a healthy granola type bar. So basically just need to keep those items on the grocery list and I should be good!

  3. So true, Mystie. The single biggest contributor to my household maintenance this fall was my new habit of running the dishwasher every night (even if it wasn’t–gasp–100% full) and then emptying it before breakfast. It’s so firmly established now, I can’t imagine why it took me so long to embrace it! New habit: folding all laundry the day it’s washed. Ahem.

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