It’s that time of year again. Time for me to make my list. No, not my New Year’s “to do” list of resolutions, but one far more significant - my “not to do” list.
Call it my New Year’s non-resolutions.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, our problem isn’t the “what I need to do” piece – that comes easy. We all know what we would like to be different. What eludes our thinking is what has been keeping us from pursuing the various resolutions in the first place. Most of the time, it is because of something we are doing.
This is far from original to my thinking. Though I have followed this simple discipline in one form or another intuitively for years, it was an address by former Stanford professor and current author and business consultant Jim Collins that put it into direct application form. He later published those ideas in his bestselling book, Good to Great (2001).
Think of reading. Many would like to resolve that in the coming year they will read more. Those who are savvy about themselves know they will need to sharpen that up a bit and be specific: “I would like to read twenty-five books this year.” Some will go further and categorize the twenty-five books into categories, such as five books in history, five in biography, and so on.
But those who will actually read twenty-five books this year will tend to be those who accompany their resolution with an accompanying change in lifestyle. It isn’t enough to simply want to read more; you have to also decide to spend less time on the internet, or watch fewer DVD’s, or limit yourself to American Idol and season four of Lost, but no more.
There are only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. Time is finite, which means something has to give. It’s not about whether you can read more, exercise more, pray more – it’s whether you will decide to invest your time accordingly. You have the time – it’s simply a matter of reallocating it toward what you most want to do, and be.
A great deal of our lives – the people we want to become, the impact we want to make – is tied not simply to desire, but whether we will exercise disciplined ambition. Desire is simply longing, or wishing. Ambition has to do with such desire becoming focused on an objective, and thus resulting in someone driven toward a particular goal. Discipline has to do with a management of life which results in self-control, orderliness and efficiency.
In truth, desire alone is little more than a dream. Ambition, by itself, can be little more than a “loose cannon” of activity. And even the most disciplined of lives often result in little more than structure, achieving little or nothing at all.
We need a hunger for something more for our lives, and through our lives, for this world; we need an ambition that refuses to be satisfied until we reach our full potential, and chase God through every opportunity we can imagine; and we need to exercise the kind of discipline that exerts the necessary life-change to see those opportunities realized.
So let’s make our annual, New Year’s “to do” lists. Desire, and even ambition, will lead the way. But if you want anything on your list to happen, add a good dose of discipline. Which means that along with your “to do” list, you’ll make a list of another kind.
A “stop doing” list.
James Emery White
James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Other’s Don’t (2001).
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