published Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Roberts: Motivate self with projects, not goals


by Dalton Roberts

The wife of TV minister Robert Schuller noticed that he became unmotivated after his 70th birthday. She told him to write down his goals for the next 20 years of his life. As soon as he went to work on it, his vigor and vitality cranked up. He became his old self.

She correctly diagnosed that he had started feeling old at 70, and thoughts of death and decline began dominating his consciousness. When he realized he might still have 20 years to do things he loved to do, it restored his zest for living.

Goals help some people to be productive, but having goals has never helped me. I must think in terms of projects. A goal is something with no bones or meat on it, but once you turn it into a project, you immediately start putting meat and bones on it.

Like writing my autobiography. I had yakked about it for years, but one day I set up a file on my computer and also set up a regular notebook to start editing it. In a short time, I had 14 chapters written. I am now roughing out the rest of the chapters.

If you have spent years talking about goals and doing little to accomplish them, I suggest you turn those goals into projects.

Never let anyone else set goals for you. To bring forth your best efforts, goals or projects must be your own.

When I was playing a songwriters showcase at Balsam Mountain Inn in Balsam, N.C., a retired military man got all fired up about the book "A Purpose Driven Life" and went around asking people if they had read it. I told him I had not read it but could guess how it went. I said, "The author spells out his spiritual goals and urges you to adopt them."

As much good as the book seems to have done, this approach would not work with me. Spiritual goals are our most important goals in life, and I must define them for myself.

I do know what a great favor Mrs. Schuller did for her husband. As devoted as he has been to his work, he is still a human. When a person hits the 70 mark, it is completely human to start worrying about the end of your life and preparing for your death instead of your further life.

It prompted me to do a will, which I recommend for any age, but I had to come up with some new ideas for projects. I remembered that when someone asked Thomas Merton what he would do it he knew the next morning would be the last day of his life, he said, "I would plant a tree."

As long as we are here, we should devote some of our time to projects that will outlive us: children, pets, people -- any good cause. I have told my son I want my ashes put in a hole where a tree is being planted. My afterlife project is to help a tree become strong and tall. And it will be just fine if someone wants to hang a bird feeder from it at some point in time.

It proves we can do the good things we enjoy doing long after we have shucked the mortal coil.

Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.

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