New Year Planning #2: How To Use a Personal Improvement Plan

Planning is a natural part of life. Whether it be traveling on your vacation, laying out a budget to live by, or even what you are going to eat this week; for those activities and more you must plan. We have all heard the adage, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” If there is such a high value on planning, why do so many of us leave our growth to happenstance? For every person, the reasons will be different, ranging from laziness to a sincerely held belief that it may not honor God to plan. While time will not allow us to unpack the various heart issues around why people do not plan, hopefully, you can see the value in planning to grow. Now, you just need the tools. This post will lay out a process for change. There are all kinds of other ways to plan to grow. This is just one way.

We’ll walk step by step to crafting a plan. I would encourage you to use either paper or a computer to write down your goals; trying to remember them will not work. In the following steps, I will also walk through a small part of my own plan to grow as a model for what this looks like. Lastly, before we get started through the steps, we all need to remember that this is a guide, not a god. You may need to change or deviate from the plan for a variety of reasons. As long as it is thoughtful and purposeful, then there may be good reasons to deviate from the plans that you lay. Military tacticians often quip that no plan survives contact with the enemy. There is a hint of truth to that, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t plan.

Step 1: Contemplation of Pillars

The first thing that has to be done in planning is to consider what are the large ideals that you believe that God is desiring you to grow in. These may be obvious to you, or you may need to spend time in prayer and consultation with others to figure out what they should be. In this section, don’t look for things that are ‘in the weeds’ but, instead, look for large patterns. You will need to limit yourself to the critical pillars of growth as you consider your goals. It can be easy to try to list every area of life that you are seeing needs to change, but you can’t boil the ocean in a day. I would recommend that you come up with three to five large goals that will carry you through the year. Lastly, I encourage you to attach scripture to your large goals. You may have particular verses in mind, and you may not. While I would encourage it, I would not say that it is required. You may not always be able to articulate the best verse, and you might need help in finding one from your pastor.

MODEL: Grow in walking by faith and not only looking to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Step 2: Establish Mid-Range Goals

Now that you have the pillars that you are going to use to craft the areas that you want to grow in this year, it is time to start breaking that down into smaller bite-sized goals. There will still be another layer of chopping before we are ready to work out our plan. In this section, we really need to delineate what we are trying to accomplish in our pillars. Essentially, I think of this section as creating a run-on sentence with the pillar to form a continual thought. It is with these mid-range goals that the evaluation of growth is really going to come into play. In this section, you are going to want three to five goals to start with. Don’t let the plan grow too large your first time.

MODEL:

  • rehearse passages that help increase my faith in God
  • do not grow discouraged when life does not go the way I think it should
  • take time to journal ways that God worked when I could not see Him doing so initially

Now, you don’t have to structure it this way, but these first two categories are going to essentially stay the same through the year. You may choose to replace goals as they are accomplished or as you see them not working well. But these will be more permanent.

Step 3: Create Short-term tasks

Lastly, we have the creation of short-term tasks. This is really where the majority of the weekly work is going to be done. This is where you give objective, verifiable steps that you can ask, “Did I do that? Yes or No?” and leave little room for ambiguity. These should be achievable things that you actually believe you can reasonably get done in a weeks’ worth of time.

You will look at one (or more) of the goals above and lay out tasks. The reality is – you will not be able to focus on all the goals that you have listed. You need to prioritize based on a variety of factors to focus on which ones need the most attention.

MODEL:

  • memorize 2 Cor. 4:16-18
  • share with spouse/accountability partner when I am struggling with discontentment.
  • rehearse the list of ways that I have seen God work when I was not able to see Him working.
  • write down a list of things that I can think on when I grow discouraged.
  • choose to think on what is true, right, noble, etc. (Phil. 4:8) when I find myself wondering what God is doing in my life.

Hopefully, you can see how practical and easy it would be to say, “Josh, did you write out the list? Did you share when you were struggling with discontentment?” There is little room to fudge the answer. It is either yes or no—and that is the point.

These tasks are going to be coming and going each week during your accountability time. I normally do not add them to the plan template. Instead, I put them in a separate section, since they are always changing. The template with Pillars and Goals on one-page, and Short-Term Tasks on the other pages.

Step 4: Share the Plan

After you have laid out your plans, it is time to share them. In my life, I share them with my family and my accountability partner (more on that in a moment). The reality is, we all have blind spots, and, after crafting a plan, someone may ask us to reconsider some of what we have written down. It is good to walk in the light. Growth is not just a private affair in Christianity. It is more like a group assignment that you work on consistently, and less like a personal exam at the end of a semester.

Step 5: Review the Plan regularly

Plans do no good if you don’t use them and check them. If you go through all of the steps of crafting a great plan and then it sits in your journal all year, you didn’t really accomplish much. In my life, I meet weekly with another guy in our church body. In our one-hour meeting, we seek to help the other person grow to become like Christ. The last post in this series will cover accountability and how to do it well. For now, and for our purposes, what needs to be said is that you must review the plan.

Lastly, if you are stuck on your plan, put it down and come back to it later. Sometimes the juices are flowing, and sometimes they are not. There is nothing wrong with coming back to something after you give it awhile. And, of course, if you are stuck…ask for help. I’m sure every Pastor that you know would be delighted to sit down and talk about how to grow this year.

Joshua M. GreinerJoshua M. Greiner
Josh has been on staff with Faith since 2010. He graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Political Science and from Faith Bible Seminary with a MDiv (2013), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a ThM In Biblical Counseling (2017) and is pursuing a PhD in Counseling from SBTS as well. He serves as the Pastor of Faith West Ministries. He is married to his wife Shana and they have four children together.