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10 Steps to Setting Life Goals

It all comes back to the reticular activating system.

That is one of our most-repeated mantras at National Community Church.  Let me explain what it means.  At the base of your brainstem lies a cluster of nerve cells called the Reticular Activating System.  We are constantly bombarded by countless stimuli vying for our attention, and it is the job of the reticular activating system to determine what gets noticed and what goes unnoticed. Like a mental radar system, the RAS determines what makes a blip. 

Here’s how it works.

When God gave us the dream of opening a coffeehouse on Capitol Hill a few years ago, I immediately started noticing everything about coffeehouses.  Before I had that dream, the only thing I noticed was the taste of my drink.  After the dream was conceived, I noticed everything from signage and seating to store layout and product branding.  The dream of starting a coffeehouse created a category in my reticular activating system, and I started collecting ideas.

That is why goal setting is so important.  Goals create categories in your reticular activating system.  Once you set the goal, you start noticing anything and everything that will help you accomplish the goal.  That is the way God has wired us.  The brain is a goal-seeking organism.  When you set a goal, it creates structural tension in your brain, and the brain will seek to close the gap between you and your goal.

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My Life List

On a rainy afternoon in 1940, a fifteen-year-old dreamer named John Goddard pulled out a piece of paper and wrote My Life List at the top of it.  In one afternoon, he wrote down 127 life goals.  By the time he had turned fifty, John Goddard had accomplished 108 of his 127 goals.  And they were no garden-variety goals.   

Milk a poisonous snake

Skin dive to 40 feet and hold breath 2 ½ minutes underwater

Learn Jujitsu

Study primitive culture in Borneo

Land on and take off from an aircraft carrier

Run a mile in five minutes

Go on a church missions trip

Retrace the travels of Marco Polo and Alexander the Great

Learn French, Spanish, and Arabic

Play the flute and violin

Photograph Victoria Falls in Rhodesia

Light a match with a .22 rifle

Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Build a telescope

Read the Bible from cover to cover

Circumnavigate the globe

Visit the birthplace of Grandfather Sorenson in Denmark

Publish an article in National Geographic magazine

John Goddard has not accomplished every goal he set.  He never climbed Mount Everest, and his quest to visit every country in the world fell a few countries short.  There were also some disappointments along the way.  His goal of studying dragon lizards on Komodo Island was thwarted when his boat broke down twenty miles offshore.  So Goddard hasn’t accomplished all of his goals, but I doubt that he would have accomplished half of what he has if he hadn’t set the goals in the first place.  After all, you’ll never achieve the goals you don’t set. 

When I first read Goddard’s list of life goals, I was inspired to come up with my own life goal list.  Every year I check a few goals off the list.  I also add new goals along the way. 

10 Steps to Setting Life Goals

These steps are described in further detail in my book, The Circle Maker.  I also list my 115 life goals.  But here is a list of ten steps.  You’ll notice that goal setting starts and ends the same way: prayer. 

Read the 10 Steps >>

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Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., a multi-site church and a leading fellowship in the nation’s capital. Meeting in movie theaters and Metro stops throughout the D.C. area, NCC is attended by more than 70 percent single twenty-somethings. Mark’s weekly podcast is one of the fastest growing in America. His book, In A Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars peaked at #44 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. He has just released his newest book entitled, Wild Goose Chase: Reclaiming the Adventure of Pursuing God. He and his wife Lora live on Capitol Hill. They have three children.