7 Ways Introversion Works Well for Me as a Senior Leader

As a pastor too...

I remember several years ago reading an article, which suggested the majority of senior leaders think extroversion is necessary to be an effective as a senior leader. Obviously – and hopeful I am correct – I disagree. And, I think we’ve come a long way in our thinking. Thankfully.

In fact, I see benefits in being an introverted senior leader.

I also know people who can’t believe I can pastor a large church and be introverted. I’ve written before about the false assumptions of introverts. Introverts can be just as caring, loving and “shepherding” as extroverts. It’s a personality trait, not a heart monitor.

But, again, I see benefits in being a lead pastor and an introvert.

Here are 7 ways introversion works well for me as a senior leader:

I think first and speak later.

I don’t stick my foot in my mouth very many times. I’m not saying extroverts do, but I am saying that as an introverts I tend to choose my words very carefully. One characteristic of the personality is we don’t speak quickly. We choose our words more intentionally. Understand, I do say things I regret, but it doesn’t happen often.

I’m less likely to struggle with the loneliness of leadership.

This is a real leadership emotion, and I certainly have it some, but I’m very comfortable being alone in a room to my thoughts. Long runs by myself are energizing to me. I know many extroverted leaders who can get very lonely – and some days for them are very difficult, especially when they are in the midst of harder leadership decisions.

I create intentional moments.

My introversion forces me to be very intentional about my time interacting with others. I say continually to introverted leaders – introversion should never be a crutch or an excuse for not engaging with people. Leadership is a relational process for all of us. But, my relational time is very focused. I tend to make the most of my time. A calendar is one of my essential leadership tools. Sunday mornings I’m the most extroverted person in our church building. It’s strategic, intentional, and I enjoy it – because I truly love people – even though it is draining.

It’s easy to concentrate on the big picture.

You’ll seldom find me chit-chatting. It’s not that I don’t have casual conversations – I certainly do when I’m connecting with people – but communication for me is usually very purposeful. As a result, I tend to be able to be very big picture oriented. Very strategic in my thinking. I step back and observe everything often. I’m a deep thinker. Those are traits especially strong with most introverts. That has proven to be very profitable for my leadership and the teams I lead.

Processed randomness.

People often wonder if I know how to have fun. “Pastor you seem so serious” or “What do you do for fun?” I hear comments like this frequently. Those are usually people who only see me when I’m working and don’t know me very well. And, I do work hard, but I can sometimes be seen as the class clown too – by those who get to know me. Some of this comes through online. But when those times occur, they are usually intentional times. My work is caught up, I have done all the things I have to get done, and I’m ready to “come out and play”. This quality can be in extroverts or introverts, but for me as an introvert, they are more intentional moments than spontaneous.

I network intentionally.

I recognize the value of every conversation I have. So, I have lots of conversations. Every Sunday is a gold mine of networking opportunities. Plus, I meet dozens of people every week in the community where I serve. I enjoy meeting people knowing that people are my purpose – and I love people – I really do. More than this, I love how God wants to develop and grow people, and I see my role in that as a teacher. People are the reason for everything I do.

I tend to listen well.

People on my team usually have a very good chance of having their voice heard, because in any meeting setting, I don’t feel the need to be the one always talking. My introversion allows me to be quiet, sit back, listen, and reflect and offer input when and where most needed.

Sure there are struggles with being an introvert at times, but I have found it to be a blessing in my leadership. It is who I am – it is NOT a curse. Much of that has to do with how I manage my introversion in an often very extroverted world.

How does introversion make you an effective leader?

Understanding The Power of Caged Momentum

This is huge.

In church planting, I learned an important leadership principle. I’m not sure you can learn this one without being forced into it, so learn from my experience.

Let me illustrate it with a practical example:

Launching Grace Community Church was an 18-month process from the time I agreed to obey God’s encouragement to start a new church, we met with a group of interested people in our living room, and actually held a first service. (I had resisted His encouragement to plant a church for 10 years – but that’s another post.)

I met with a dozen or so couples who would eventually serve as our core team, but we first asked them to wrestle in prayer if this was what God was calling them to do. Then we waited months before we had our first meeting or they even officially committed to the vision. After this, we made them wait nine months before we ever met as a church.

It was a difficult season of waiting, but it proved invaluable.

Waiting to implement God’s vision for excited people – people inclined towards progress – was difficult, but the result proved an important principle about human dynamics and organizational development.

That’s a fancy way of saying waiting stunk, but it worked – in an incredible way.

It taught me the principle I like to call:

The Power of Caged Momentum

So we repeated it – often intentionally.

For example, although we knew small groups would be a major part of our mission, we did “test” groups with a few people for months before we allowed the entire church to join a group. We used this time to train leaders, but it also served the purpose to generate enthusiasm among those who had to wait to get in a group.

Telling a person or a group of people to wait for something they really want to do and are excited about builds positive momentum. When we did launch groups officially we had huge numbers sign up the first day.

That’s the power of caged momentum.

Here’s another time we saw this principle work for our favor.

We didn’t launch a student ministry immediately after we launched the church. We had children’s ministries, but nothing for youth other than our weekly service. We knew if we launched something it wouldn’t be very good. (And, my sons were two of those youth.) Some participated in other youth programs. Some did things together on their own. My sons even launched their own service in our living room.

But, when we did launch we had a large, successful gathering. That student ministry today remains highly vibrant – often defying normal percentages of student service attendance compared to Sunday morning church attendance.

That’s the power of caged momentum.

This doesn’t mean you always make people wait simply to build momentum, but you shouldn’t be afraid to either. The reality is we are often quick to rush decisions. We move quickly when we have an idea. We don’t always take time to prepare for the change, bring people along, and ideally build the momentum we need before launching something new.

Since learning this principle I have intentionally used it to build momentum in our church.

Of course, there is always the balance between waiting too long you lose opportunity (which is called opportunity cost) and moving too fast you don’t build enough momentum. I can’t solve this for you in a simple post. Your situation and experience will be unique to you, but the principle here is important.

The point is this – don’t be afraid to make your church, organization or team (or even your family) wait before they get to experience something great. The power of caged momentum may even make the outcome better than you were expecting.

Have you seen this principle at work?

The Difference in Popularity and Trust in Leading People

It's important to know...

In leadership, its important to know the difference in popularity and trust.

I’ve seen leaders – whether pastors, politicians or in business – try to take people places, even worthy places, and believe people would follow because they are popular as a leader.

Yet people didn’t follow – because the leader hadn’t developed enough trust in the people he or she was trying to lead.

Misunderstanding this one principle can dramatically damage a leader’s performance. (This is especially true for newer leaders.)

Many leaders assume they are trusted because they are popular, but many times this is not the case. The leader may be very popular – people genuinely like the person – but this doesn’t always translate into trust. People follow closest those they trust the most.

Popularity has some importance in leadership. It is easier to follow a leader we like personally. But, popularity may be seasonal and temporary. Popularity can be altered by current successes or disappointments. Popularity can cause followers to cheer or jeer, because whether it is good or bad, popularity is mostly built on people’s emotions.

Trust is what is needed for the biggest moments in leadership. Major changes involve trust. Times of uncertainty need established trust in leadership. Long-term success requires trust.

And, trust must be earned. Trust develops with time and experience. Trust invokes a deeper level of loyalty and commitment which helps people weather the storms of life together. Trust develops roots in a relationship which grow far deeper than popularity ever could.

Leader, know the difference between popularity and trust and don’t confuse the two.

Here is something else to know. Popularity often disguises itself as trust when people appear to be agreeing with you. And it may fool you into thinking you can do anything, because you are, after all, popular. But, if you are not careful, you will cross a line of people’s level of trust and see a backlash towards your leadership.

It will make you a more effective leader – especially when it comes to leading change – when you can begin to discern when you are simply popular and when you are truly trusted.

3 Ways to Help Creatives On Your Team Flourish

There are some lessons we only learn the hard way.

One of those for me has to do with working with creatives.

I used to think when leading creatives, the key was to free them to create. I gave huge blank slates, allowed them to dream, and gave them very few parameters of what I was thinking.

I’ve learned – the hard way – freedom alone for a creative can spell disaster. Nothing gets accomplished and no one is happy.

Please understand. I’m not a basher of creatives.

I am actually a creative. Not the artistic creative type, but an idea creative. I have millions of ideas.

And, it’s true for me too. I used to think I wanted and needed to be led with no boundaries. Wrong. It’s not a good recipe for me.

I’ve learned the tips I’m about to share the hard way by attempting to lead creatives — and attempting to lead myself.

Creatives don’t need freedom – or at least freedom alone – they need more.

Here are 3 ways to help creatives flourish.

Give clear lines of direction.

Give them a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish. Help them see what a win looks like. Help them draw a box around certain end goals or objectives. The clearer you can be of what you are looking to do the more creative they can be.

Grant the freedom to draw within the lines.

Here’s the freedom creatives love. Once the end product is defined, creatives like limited micromanagement and maximum empowerment. They want the freedom to fail and the freedom to dream. All within the broad – very broad – but defined boundaries.

Provide accountability along the way.

Creatives need someone to check in with them periodically. They like to be motivated and encouraged. Let them know they are making progress – they are doing good work.

Without any lines or accountability creatives don’t flourish – they flounder. Things aren’t creative. They are messy.

Creatives love freedomm but it works best sandwiched between clarity and structure.

When those 3 are combined – lines, freedom and accountability – stuff gets done – and everyone is happy.

(Actually I should clarify – mostly everyone is happy. If everyone is happy someone’s not leading – creatives or otherwise.)

7 Ways to Deliver Constructive Criticism

Which Actually Gets Heard...

There are times where someone needs to offer constructive criticism. In fact, the best leaders and the best organizations are made better by learning to receive, process and respond to criticism. No one particularly likes criticism, but when it is offered properly it can actually improve life for everyone – which is why we call it constructive.

You see things others don’t see. You have experiences others don’t have. As a leader, I personally value healthy criticism, even when it is initially hard to hear.

If you often have a hard time determining when criticism is constructive and when it is simply selfish try reading THIS POST.

The problem is often getting needed criticism heard. Working with dozens of leaders each year, I can testify much of the criticism received is never taken as seriously as it probably should be.

We all know there are times someone shares criticism simply to “blow off steam”. They are angry and want to express their displeasure. Some people are only known for their criticism. Some people share criticism simply out of selfishness – considering no one else in their complaint. In my experience, when it is determined one of these is the case, the criticism received is rarely considered as useful or valued by leaders.

How do you keep criticism which may be helpful – even constructive – from being drowned out by a perception that it is non-helpful criticism?

That’s what this post is about. You can have the best advice for someone, but if it’s delivered poorly, it will almost never be heard.

Here are 7 ways to offer constructive criticism which actually gets heard:

Recognize and compliment the good

My mother used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Make sure you take a bigger picture approach when offering criticism. Most likely you are criticizing something small in the overall scheme of the organization, so think of the good things which are happening or have happened in the organization. Think of the good qualities of the leader. Start there. Compliment first. Some even recommend the “sandwich approach”. You start with praise and end with praise with a little criticism in the middle. I wrote more about this approach HERE.

Be specific

If you are going to criticize, at least make sure the recipient knows exactly what you are talking about. Guessing almost always leads to misunderstandings. Don’t hint at your problem or cover it over with ambiguities. Passive aggression – which I have seen so frequently in the church – over all causes more harm than it does good.

Offer suggestions for improvement

If you are thinking there is a better way, share it. If you haven’t thought of how to improve the area of your criticism, spend some time thinking about it before you criticize. When you think, do so from the perspective of the organization’s vision and the individual vision of the leader. It’s going to be hard for a leader to accept criticism which doesn’t mesh with the vision he or she feels called to achieve. You certainly don’t have to be a “yes person” – agreeing to everything a leader does – but, if you’re seen as against everything or against the leader, it will be harder to receive what you criticize as being “helpful”.

Choose words carefully

Kindness goes a long way. If the person you are offering criticism to feels you don’t even like them or support them, they are not likely to hear what you have to say. Be nice. That’s a good standard anytime, but becomes a strategic move when attempting to offer constructive criticism. Also, don’t criticize people or make the criticism personal. Criticism will almost always be rejected if the person receiving it feels they (or the team they lead) are being attacked. Talk less about the who and more about the what.

Have a vested interest

It’s hard to receive criticism as being constructive from people who really aren’t interested in the overall vision. For example, if you tell me you’d “never attend a church like the one I pastor in a million years”, I’m less likely to value your criticism about the music we sing. (And, that’s happened – more than once.) If it’s obvious you love the vision, you’ll be more welcomed to critique the methods by which people are trying to attain it.

Be humble enough to admit you may be wrong

You might be, right? Unless it’s a clearly spelled out Biblical principle, then it is subject to interpretation. Yours might be right or it might be wrong. The willingness to admit this fact will go a long way towards your criticism being considered and valued.

Take the personal preference test

Check your heart for why you are sharing the criticism in the first place. Before you offer the criticism, ask yourself if you are really offering this criticism for the good of everyone or if this is simply a personal preference. It’s okay either way, but be honest with yourself and others enough to admit it. In fact, if you do this test appropriately, some of the criticism you think you need to offer you may decide you don’t need to offer after all. The less you are seen as offering criticism which only benefits you, the better the criticism you do offer will be received.

Do you want constructive criticism to be heard? These are simply some suggestions to hopefully help.

I’ve written numerous posts on criticism. Two of the more popular are 5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism and 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism.

7 Of My Favorite Compliments I Receive as a Pastor

Everyone loves compliments – me included. I received a compliment recently from someone who met me for the first time and it was so encouraging.

I met some visitors in the hall at church one Sunday. It was their first time and they didn’t know where the preschool area was, so I walked them there. (I actually took them in the preschool wing through the wrong doors, as I found out later, but I got them there. What do I know, right?) They didn’t realize until I got up to preach I was the pastor. The lady sent me an email the next week and apologized for inconveniencing me. I had actually told them that morning it was not a problem – I actually enjoyed helping them. Then she wrote, “I felt like you were just a nice person. I didn’t know you were a pastor!” She meant it – and I took it – as a compliment.

It reminded me of some of my favorite compliments I have received as a pastor.

Pastors, do any of these make you smile when you receive them?

Here are my 7 favorite compliments to receive as a pastor:

“You hang out just like a regular guy.” or “You seem pretty normal for a pastor.”

Well, thank you. It may be because I pretty much am a regular guy. I am full of mistakes, fears, frustrations and heartache. I’m called to be holy – “set apart” – but, so are you. This doesn’t mean, however, I don’t know how to have fun, can’t laugh, or talk about things you talk about – such as sports, families, current events, or life struggeles – which I have too.

By the way, as a normal, regular guy, I’m also capable of disappointing you. I hope I never do, but I am. It comes with being normal.

“I can understand you when you preach.”

Well, good I’ve succeeded. Of course, you could be saying I’m simple-minded, but I’d own that statement too. “Jesus loves me” still blows my mind. But, one of the things I strive to do is take a more complex truth and make it simple and easier to apply to someone’s life. When I hear a 6th grader takes notes in my messages and then I hear a person in their 80’s say I challenged them  – I know God is using me most effectively. 

“I liked your speech today.”

This is always said by a visitor who has seldom – if ever – been in church. I hear it frequently from internationals, but also from people who simply don’t know church language. I love it. It shows we are reaching people far from God.

“You were speaking just to me today.”

It may appear this way and I’m glad you took it personal. Sometimes I’m staring into the crowd – and, because my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be – I can’t see anyone well. It always amazes me though how God can take one truth and apply it to a dozen different people in their individual circumstances. So, if the shoe fits with today’s message, please wear it. Probably, however, it is God’s Spirit trying to speak to you. My question – will you obey what God’s Spirit says to do?

“Thank you for being transparent about your mistakes.”

Seriously, I try. Honestly, I don’t have a choice. When you’ve found yourself on the bottom so many times you certainly aren’t comfortable trying to be someone you’re not. To me, the real test of integrity, is living Monday through Saturday the life I claim behind the podium on Sunday. So, to do that means you’re going to hear evidence of how I’m not perfect when I preach. 

“Thanks for what your church does to help the community.”

Wow! Thanks! I hear this frequently when I attend community functions. This is certainly our goal. Thank you for recognizing one of our values is actually being accomplished. We love our community and we are here to serve! 

(Side note – Jeremiah 29:7 is a verse which challenged me years ago for how we do ministry. “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”)

“Where’s Cheryl?”

People are always looking for my wife on Sunday – mostly to give her a hug or a prayer request. I love knowing our church loves my wife as much – okay, being honest – more than me. I know so many pastors who wish their wives were more active in their ministry. I’m blessed. Also, if you do get mad at me, since I’m just a regular and normal guy, at least you’ll keep coming because you love my wife. She never makes anyone mad. (Not even me.)

What’s a favorite compliment you receive, pastor?

Do You Lead Leaders or Lead Followers?

At some point every leader must decide.

In my leadership experience there are two kinds of leaders.

There are those who are willing to lead leaders and those who will only lead followers.

Some leaders refuse to be leaders of leaders. Sadly I have witnessed many pastors who fall into “follower only” category, refusing to allow leaders to develop in the church. Their fear of losing control or power, being upstaged, or simply never learning the value of empowering others, causes them to keep laypeople from becoming leaders within the church.

This is not to say we don’t need to lead followers, because of course we do. Every leader has followers or they would be no one to lead. Some of the best workers in an organization and, certainly in the church, are those who care nothing about leadership. And, I would say, we don’t simply need leaders in the church – we need servant leaders. People who serve others expecting nothing in return are the best kinds of leaders and follow the example of Jesus.

Also true, it is hard to be a good leader until one learns to follow. At some point, however, those with the propensity towards leadership in any organization will want an opportunity to lead. This is especially true of younger generations of people.

And, when those who were once in a position of being a follower begin to lead the real leadership skills of the people in senior leadership are tested.

Leaders of leaders have to allow other people to develop in the organization. They have to give people freedom to dream and give new leaders a sense of ownership in their area of responsibility.

More so, they have to recognize and even hold as a value that as leaders develop the entire organization advances and everyone wins.

Leader of followers, on the other hand, try to keep followers from ever becoming leaders.

I’ll be honest, it is much easier to lead only followers. People will do what is requested of them. They are loyal and not usually as critical. They don’t challenge systems and traditions, processes and the way things have always been done.

As much as every organization (and church) needs loyal followers – if new leaders are not developed – if everyone remains a follower, however, not much will be done to take the organization to the next level. People will wait for existing leaders to do anything new. And, the organization (or the church) will be limited to the abilities of current leadership.

And, for those who question my often business-like tendencies (even though I have a long business background, which I believe God uses in Kingdom growth), we need only look to the example of Jesus; how He developed the disciples, sent them out, and appointed them as leaders. (Call them what you want – use another term other than leader – but they appear every bit a leader by any definition of leadership I can use.

The other side to leading only followers – when people with the propensity and desire to lead are stifled from realizing their full potential as a leader – they will eventually either leave the organization or cause problems within the organization. I have especially seen this take place in the church. The organization as a whole suffers because they are limited to the level of success which can be realized by the intimidated top leader who refuses to let other leaders develop.

If an organization (or church) allows people a chance to lead the organization’s potential for growth increases immensely.

At some point every leader has to make a decision.

Do you want to lead leaders or only lead followers?

Personally, I prefer to lead leaders.

7 Suggestions for a Leader to have a Better Weekend

Hint: It takes intentionality

If you are like me you love your weekends. T.G.I.F., right? In fairness, my weekends are shorter than some. My busiest day is usually Sunday. But, I love the weekend I have.

In my experience, however, if we are not careful the weekend passes so quickly we begin another work week feeling we wasted the weekend we had. Or we are so stressed by the week behind or the week ahead that all we do is catch our breath and we can’t fully enjoy the weekend.

This is true for everyone, but from my perspective as a leader this is especially a problem. For most leaders, we never feel our work is done. What we are leading – and even more who we are leaving – always weighs heavily on our mind. This makes enjoying our weekend even more important, though – so we can be prepared for the week ahead. We need quality down time to experience the best quality “up” time.

So, how can we help guarantee better weekends? Every weekend – or at least most. I have learned the more intentional Cheryl and I are about planning for it, the better weekends we had as a family when our boys are home and now as empty-nesters.

Here are 7 suggestions for leader:

Plan well on Monday

Set your week up for success. Plan what you can realistically do in a week and end the week with a sense of accomplishment. I use checklists every day and every week. I try to end my Friday being as “done” as possible.

Do hard things now

Handle the hard stuff as they arise. Try not to carry it into the weekend. Obviously this is not always possible, but many times it is. For example, don’t put off a difficult conversation you know you have to have until Monday if you can and should do it today. It will haunt you all weekend. Whatever the issue, bite the bullet and handle the tough issue, as soon as effectively possible.

Be honest with others and your schedule

Don’t feel bad about declining activities on the weekend. If you want to go somewhere then go, but if you’d rather relax – don’t feel guilty saying so. The quality of and your ability to say no always determines the quality of your life and ultimately your leadership. Say yes sparingly when accepting weekend appointments. Invitations sometimes sound good on Monday, but are less exciting on Saturday morning.

Attend church

This is an appointment I think you should keep. Obviously this one doesn’t apply to my pastor friends (except when you’re on vacation and then I do think it applies – I wrote about that in another post), and I know it seems self-serving to suggest it. You should know I’m certainly not being legalistic. This is not my nature or theology. It’s just that I’ve hardly ever heard someone say they wish they’d skipped church. But I’ve heard many who believe it gave them a better weekend. We tend to think the opposite, especially on a busy weekend, but God always seems to bless the time we give Him.

Do things during the week so you can have a true Sabbath

Even though it makes for slightly longer weekdays, try to accomplish many of the “chores” you have to do before the weekend. Try to have some unplanned time simply to do what you enjoy. Sometimes I have no choice. Some projects require my Saturday, but if possible, I’m going to worker longer weekdays to enjoy a lighter Saturday.

Keep a fairly normal sleep schedule all week

If you always have to “catch up” on your sleep on the weekends, or you spend your week tired because of the late nights on the weekend, you never gain a healthy rhythm for life. Be reasonably consistent in your bedtime and waking up time and you’ll feel better and enjoy a more productive awake time.

Share time with people you love

And, doing the things you love. The best memories center around time with people we love and things we enjoy doing. We certainly have to balance the two. When the family is running in many different directions you end the weekend feeling like you “missed” the weekend. This means you may have to limit activities you or your family commits to or do things your family can do together. This takes prior thought and coordination, but makes for a more enjoyable weekend.

Pastors, this list includes you, too. I originally wrote it for you and decided to expand it to a more general audience. Your weekend may look different, as it may for other leaders, but you need to protect it. I wrote THIS POST on how I protect my Sabbath.

What tips do you have for a better weekend?

12 Game-Changing and Tweetable Proverbs

Here’s a challenge you’ve likely heard before, but may need to practice again. For a month, read a Proverbs everyday. There are 31 Proverbs – enough to fill the longest months. If you’re reading this mid-month, start with the day of the month where you are at the moment.

Proverbs are filled with wisdom. They are practical – even if you are not a follower of God, but especially for those of us who claim to be.

Let me get you started.

<h3>Here are 12 Proverbs, which if applied to your life, could actually change the quality of your life.</h3>

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. – Proverbs 15:1

A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash. – Proverbs 15:14

Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success. – Proverbs 15:22

Greed brings grief to the whole family – Proverbs 15:27

Pride goes before destruction – Proverbs 16:18

Discretion is a life-giving fountain to those who possess it – Proverbs 16:22

Kind words are like honey— – Proverbs 16:24

Better to be patient than powerful – Proverbs 16:32

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven. – Proverbs 17:9

A cheerful heart is good medicine. – Proverbs 17:22

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. – Proverbs 18:13

Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes. – Proverbs 19:2

How could the relationships in your life, and your life, change if you placed a few of these nuggets into practice more often? Don’t we tend to perform opposite of these many times? How does that work for you?

Which of these most speak to you? 

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

I’m a reflective person. This time of year, when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

I think its a great exercise.

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so – get alone – and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating – sin can have an immediate pleasure – but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships – spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended – and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again – even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year – one decision – one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life – and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk – and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being – planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will – and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life – spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself. This can be a powerful exercise.

Try answering some of these questions and see how they help you start your best year ever!