WELCOME

Welcome to my dfree® blog. I hope these thoughts will help someone think new thoughts and take new actions toward their financial freedom. The proverb says that "the borrower is slave to the lender." (Proverbs 22:7) I have dedicated the rest of my life to helping people obtain spiritual and economic freedom.

31-Day TEST

Introduction

Whenever I experience something positive, I always try to share it with others. The challenge for me is that I know so many people that it can be difficult to figure out just how to do that. A few years ago, I had the marvellous experience of leading hundreds of people through a 31-day process of self-discovery and personal improvement. This year I have made some decisions about my own life that require a similar 31-day personal journey. The benefits that I have derived and the feedback I received from the first experience drives me now.

That does not mean that I want you to simply watch me walk. I have created some personal goals and have set my sights on some new levels of personal success that are a bit scary. But I want to share my process with you and help you do exactly the same thing for yourself. Trust me, it will be worth it.

To begin this process, I have updated some content that I shared a while ago and I will disseminate it as widely as I can. I have been blessed to accomplish more than I had ever imagined. But I have not died yet — which means there are still new levels for me to attain. And the same is true about you. I invite you to become a part of this 31-day journey from King Day through Black History Month and transform your own life!

Why pay for some high paid consultant or attend some costly seminar to understand and pursue your options? Take advantage of FREE information that can help you change the outcomes in your life.

The first step is to subscribe to this blog. I will be submitting daily content starting January 18, 2018. The second step is to begin thinking about who you want to be on August 1, 2018. This strategy will help you get there. The third and final step is this — be prepared for life changing decisions. It can be hard to upgrade our lives and to become the people we always dreamt of becoming. But it is not impossible. So, let’s get started on Day #1.

Sign up or follow by email (right column) to receive my blogs as they are submitted. Follow me on twitter at @dbsoaries. And I will be with you every day during the 31 days. Also, I have some special treats. We will have some live conference calls to discuss our progress, Google Hangouts to hear more information and Q&A to answer special questions that you may have. We will host special online clinics to discuss financial questions and much more.

So – sign up today – walk with me – spread the word – get your friends to hang out with you – and let’s make the remainder of 2018 better than the year that we have already had.

Subscribe to this blog right now! Thanks.

31-Day Makeover Day #1 – Now or Never

I am at a stage in my life when it is critically important for me to have a very specific plan for my future. In many ways I have some now or never items on my list of dreams. The truth is that this is not really new. What I mean is that every season in life is critical and every dream should be approached as a now or never undertaking. I wish I had learned that earlier in life.

That is why I decided to dedicate this 31-days to an updated personal strategy and an intense preparation for a life makeover. It is also why I decided to share my journey and my process with others who want what I want – results in their lives that they have never seen before. Welcome to our 31-Day Makeover Day #1!

Every journey begins by defining the destination. The road to success begins with setting goals. And goals that have real value have a timetable and schedule included. I have always achieved more when I have given myself a deadline. In setting deadlines, I have always considered the fact that there are only two possibilities as it relates to the future: either I will be here after a certain date or I will not be here. It sounds very simple. But putting the future into that frame always positions me to hope for the best, prepare for the worst and set goals for both. A goal without a deadline is just a dream!

I have learned that it is possible to accomplish tremendous success in 31 days. In the past I have lost a lot of weight in 31 days; I have had surgery to remove cancer from my body in 31 days; I have written a book in 31 days. 31 days is 744 hours. That is a lot of time. Spent wisely and aimed at a specific goal, we can all achieve great results in 744 hours!

This month – for the second time in my life – I have decided to pursue some new goals and to share my process with anyone who would like to do the same. Today is Day #1 on our new 31-day journey. And the task today is to set a goal for August 1. Remember –either we will be here on August 1 or we will not. To prepare for the possibility of not being here we should “get our houses in order.”

The other possibility is that we will be alive on August 1. Since most of us plan to be here, we should be asking ourselves at least one of these questions: Who will I be on August 1? What will I have on August 1 that I currently don’t have? What will I accomplish between now and August 1?

A proverb says that the journey of a thousand mile begins with one step. The first step for us to paint a picture of ourselves – at least write a sentence about ourselves – and describe what and who we will see when we look in our mirrors on August 1.

Today the task to is become as focused as possible on who we want to become. The clearer our vision for ourselves, the easier the strategy for getting there will be.

Action items:

  1. Make sure you are prepared for the unlikely event of an early departure.
  2. Identify at least one thing you will start doing, have in your possession or complete by August 1.
  3. Write your goal, place it in a sealed envelope and have someone mail it to you on Day 28.

Let’s go!

 

31-Day Makeover Day #2 – A Complete Life

Whenever I take my car for servicing, the service staff always checks a complete list of items to ensure that all of the vital parts of the car are in working order. Even if my concern is limited to a particular part of the car or if I simply want my oil changed, those responsible for keeping my car in working order insist upon checking everything on their list. They understand that if the entire car is not functioning properly, the one part that may be having difficulty may just be the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” I have learned to allow them to take much more time than I had planned to check my entire car every few thousand miles.

I have learned that this same approach is useful in my life. If my car needs a complete check up on a regular basis, then my life deserves at least what my car deserves. I will probably not have my car for the rest of my life, but I will have my life for the rest of my life! So, I have been giving my whole life a check regularly.

This sounds a bit overwhelming and, at first, it was for me. But I was making the mistake of trying to improve my life by focusing only on the area of my life that had the greatest need. That seemed to make so much sense. But what I learned was that while the area of need was getting all of the attention, the areas that seemed to have had very little need were getting no attention at all. By the time I had fixed the needy area, some other area was in need. And the cycle seemed to never end.

I spend most of my spare time helping people understand and improve their financial condition. And the first objective is always to get out of debt. As long as I was drowning in debt, I could never save, invest or donate money. But simply focusing on finances is really not an effective way to solve our financial challenges. We have to consider every aspect of our lives.

I ultimately discovered that the best strategy was to invest in setting goals and improving my whole life rather than just the one area that gave me the most concern. This meant that I had to organize my life into a checklist of areas and have a plan for each. The system that I have embraced divides my life into five categories that capture the elements of my complete life. Those categories are: 1. Personal; 2. Intellectual; 3. Vocational; 4. Financial; 5. Spiritual.

To address one of these areas without working on the others is to develop an unbalanced life. The entire checklist guarantees that I am building a complete life. As we proceed this month, I will help you build a complete life using this 5-category summary of life.

Action items:

  1. Make a general list of the areas of your life that are important to you.
  2. Assign each of the items on your list to one of the five categories that I mentioned.
  3. Identify which items are the ones that you will address this month.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #3 – Passion

Before I say any more about goals, I want to pause to say a word about passion. Someone asked me the other day how they could find their passion. I had to think about this for a while because I felt as though I have known my passion all of my life. The reason I want to describe passion is because I believe that the goals that we have the best chance of achieving are the ones that grow out of our passion.

This word passion is used so often that I was tempted not to use it at all. But it is such a powerful concept that, properly understood, it could direct you for the rest of your life.

My passion is helping people. That is also my mission. If I look back over my life, I can describe every season of my life as having been full of events and activities that all relate to an effort to help other people. There were times when I was more effective helping people than at other times. And there were times when I enjoyed helping other people more than at other times. There were even times when I tried not to want to help other people! But I grew to learn that this is who I am.

And the various projects I have led – the different jobs I have held – have all been pursuant to my desire to help other people. The big question for me was how to balance my passion for helping people with my need to take care of my responsibilities and myself. This can be a tremendous challenge for most people. Too often the things that we love to do and the things that we get paid to do seem to be worlds apart. If that reality lasts long enough, we tend to ignore the things we love to do and we become enslaved to the things we do to survive. At that point, we don’t even want to be reminded about our passion.

But finding and knowing our passion is critical to our mental health and our quality of life. A person who never finds her passion is someone whose life is dedicated to the fulfilment of someone else’s dreams! Passion is the fuel for the engine of a fulfilled life!

Here is your passion – whatever you would do every day if you did not need any money; what you enjoy doing so much that you would do it enthusiastically if someone awakened you at 3 a.m. without warning; something you are willing to practice doing although there is no reward to be achieved from doing it; something that makes you feel connected to the purpose for which you were born.

What is your passion? We do best what we love the most. God has created each of us with something on the inside that causes us to feel unfulfilled until we get it out. For me it was helping people through speaking and creating solutions to problems. For my brother it is playing music. What is it for you?

Action items:

  1. What would you do if you needed no money at all?
  2. Whose life best resembles the life you would like to live?
  3.      If doing one thing every day of your life would make you happy, what would that be?

 

31-Day Makeover Day #4 – Mission

I was wearing a brand-new suit and preparing to leave home for the airport. My trip was to Chicago to attend the annual fundraiser for Operation PUSH, where I served as National Coordinator. We expected 10,000 people to be in attendance. Just as I was about to grab my suitcase, my telephone rang. It was my brother calling me. The two words he spoke marked the beginning of the rest of my life. My brother simply said, “Daddy’s gone!”

My dad had been admitted to the hospital a few days earlier to undergo tests. Today those same tests would not require being hospitalized. But back then my dad had to actually be put to sleep and have the doctor cut him open to look inside his colon. The tests had been completed and I had visited with my dad the night before. He was doing fine while I was there. So when my brother told me that dad was gone, I told him that he had probably been transferred to another room. “No,” my brother replied, “Daddy died last night.” We later learned that the anesthesiologist administered too much anesthesia and it induced a heart attack that killed him. My father was 47 years old. And he was my best friend.

The pain of my loss paralyzed me. And I was overwhelmed by the responsibilities that were now mine as the oldest of three children – the youngest being my 8-year-old sister. This was the darkest day of my life.

Everyone has a dark day. Divorce, criminal conviction, job loss, home foreclosure, business failure, illness, betrayal and death are just a few experiences that can stop us in our tracks. When we are stopped by events or circumstances, we can momentarily lose our passion. Sometimes it is actually longer than momentary. Some never get it back. Here is what I learned after my father’s death.

It was my job to write my dad’s obituary. As I wrote, I described his accomplishments. But I also felt compelled to describe his character, his beliefs and his faith. It became clear that it was not enough to include information about what he did during his life. What became more urgent for me was to let people know who he really was – what he stood for and believed in. In the end, I wanted people to understand that his mission was to be a man of integrity and character and that he had fulfilled his mission.

It was at that very moment that I realized that I didn’t have a mission. Without a clear mission I would perhaps remain stuck in my pain or just always be busy doing projects for the rest of my life. With a clear mission I would stay focused on my purpose for being alive. When we cannot feel our passion, we can still see our mission!

Action items:

  1. In 25 words or less write your personal mission statement.
  2. Write a draft of your own obituary – what you would want read at your funeral?
  3. Ask someone close to you what he or she thinks your mission is and compare it to your own mission statement.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #5 – The Difference Between What and How

Now that we have begun to give serious consideration to our passions and our missions, we can begin the process of setting our goals. Someone has probably begun to wonder if I am who he or she thought I was since all they wanted to know was how to get out of debt. I have said many times that money is what we use to help us reach our life goals. Debt is one of the barriers that get in our way but getting out of debt really happens in conjunction with taking control of our entire lives. The way we see and manage life determines the way we understand and handle money. We will definitely discuss finances this month. But only after we set the proper framework for the discussion.

Goals are important because they assign specificity to our dreams. All humans dream and many dreams can come true. Of course, some dreams are pure fantasy. But even our fantastic dreams have kernels of possibility in them. Example: I had a recurring dream as a youth that I could fly! This was probably inspired by my love for television shows like Superman. And, of course, those dreams were completely ridiculous. But in my adult life I have earned so many miles and points on airline frequent flyer programs that I have taken many free trips by using airline rewards. I have never grown wings or worn a cape, but I have done an above average amount of flying. I have spoken in every state in the country and on every continent except one. So, dreams can be taken seriously and even preposterous dreams can inform our goals.

A goal is a target – a specific intention to accomplish something. Ideally what you want to accomplish is consistent with your mission (see Day #4). When I was a child, the president announced that America would become the superior nation in conquering outer space. That superiority was the mission. Then we embarked upon the goal of putting a man on the moon. Achieving this mission would represent the superiority that we sought. Many tasks had to be accomplished in pursuit of that goal and I call those tasks our objectives. Some people reverse the use of the terms goals and objectives. It doesn’t really matter how you use the terms as long as you know the difference between your what and your how. I call my goals my what and my objectives my how.

When we confuse our what with our how, or when we allow our how to become our what, we risk abandoning our what when our how is disrupted. If reaching a particular destination is my what, and driving on a certain road is my how, if the road is blocked because of construction, I don’t turn around and go back home. The route that I was taking was not my what – it was my how. So when my how – the road that I was taking – was blocked I simply looked for a different road – a detour – to get me where I was going. I kept my what and changed my how.

That is why goals are so important. And written goals are critical to achieving success. When I started creating written goals, my life began to soar. And this month my personal makeover starts with updating my written goals, keeping in mind to begin with my list of whats before I develop my hows.

Before we separate our goals into categories, let’s consider our mission and just list the goals that we have pursuant to the mission.

Action items:

  1. Make a list of your goals.
  2. Make sure all of your goals are whats and not hows.
  3. Separate the new goals from the old goals.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #6 – Reflection

If you have been participating in our 31-Day Makeover since Day #1, it could be a bit overwhelming already. Focusing on our own well-being and ourselves is strenuous work. It should not be that way. The old adage is that self-preservation is the first law of nature. So it should be natural to identify our passions, update our written goals and choose what strategies we are going to use to reach our goals. But it is not natural for many of us. And the reasons are very real.

First, we are bombarded by non-stop, attention-grabbing messages from marketers who seek our patronage and our loyalty. I can’t count the number of television commercials that I see, radio ads that I hear, newspaper and magazine advertisements that I read, and web-based promotions that fill my inbox.  Our consciousness is saturated with commercial noises that fill us with thoughts about everything other than our own welfare.

Then, our lives are so busy. We spend so much time commuting to work, working at work, preparing for events, attending events, meeting people, preparing to meet with people, learning and using new technologies, responding to family challenges, doing things for other people, and of course, shopping.  We just don’t have time or make time for ourselves. Later this month we are going to spend a day or two discussing time.  When we do, I will show you my approach to mastering time. Using time properly and strategically is the key to personal success. It’s how we harness our passion (Day #3).

So before we introduce any more steps in our process, let me invite you to take the time today just to reflect and review.  We began by identifying one goal that we sought to accomplish by August 1 (Day #1). It seems like a long time ago – but it was only last Monday! I hope you wrote it down, placed it in a self-addressed, stamped envelope and asked someone to mail it to you on Day #28. If you didn’t do it yet, now is the time to get that done.

We have also begun writing more of our goals. Although it would be nice to have placed all of them into specific categories, we just want to make sure we have some written goals by now. Look at your goals – make sure they all describe a what and not a how (Day #5). If you have placed each goal into one of our five categories, we will review each category next week and decide if they are in the correct category.

If you have prepared your draft obituary (Day #4), review it and make any changes that you want to make. If you have not done this yet, don’t consider this a morbid activity. We are all going to leave here some day. Steven Covey once said that we should begin with the end in mind. The Psalmist asked God to teach him to number his days. That kind of advice has helped me for the last 20 years. You will benefit greatly by attempting to do it.

All I am saying is that today I am pausing to reflect on the commitments and plans I have made this week. I invite you to do likewise. Next week will be very intense as we consider our five categories of goals and how they intersect and interact (Day #2).

At the end of the first week of creation, God is described as having rested. God never needs rest. It may be better to understand God as having reflected upon everything that God had made. That is what Day #6 is for us – a day of reflection. Consider all of our action items to date. And get ready for more work.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #7 – Age

One of the self-imposed barriers that slows us down or even stops us is our age. And I’m not referring to any particular age. I just know from personal experience that we allow our age to convince us that it is not the right time for us to pursue or achieve a particular goal. So, it’s not really our age – it’s our perception of ourselves in light of our age.

I remember a very wise man telling me that I needed to write a book. When he told me that I balked at his suggestion and told him that I was too young to write a book. I felt like I had insufficient experience to be sharing my opinions about anything with anyone. And besides, I thought, who would want advice from someone who had never really accomplished anything? I liked the idea – but I felt that it was the wrong time because of my age.

Then CNN informed me that it was going to do a 90-minute documentary on me, my church, and our work to help families facing financial hardships. Specifically, they planned to put my dfree® strategy on full blast, hoping to motivate other churches to do similar work. The host of the show, Soledad O’Brien, shared the news with me and, after she did, she stared straight at me and sternly said, “And you better be ready!” The translation of her admonition was that I had to be ready to help people after they saw the documentary and they needed answers to their questions about dfree®. And ready meant that I had to write down and document my philosophy, my strategy and program. It meant that I had to write a book. My response was this – I am too old and too busy to write a book.

You see what happened to me? First I was too young to be an author, then I was too old. The truth is that I was too something else. I was too insecure; I was too afraid; I was too lazy; I was too undisciplined; I was too anxious; I was too ______________________. You name it and I was too it! And I was using age as an excuse.

 

Then, I had to come to my senses. No one who has done anything great has been the ideal age — because there is no ideal age. In fact, greatness occurs either at an unlikely age or at a time when the great person just ignored their age. Jeremiah thought he was too young to be a prophet; Abraham and Sarah thought they were too old to bear a child; Jesus ignored that he was 12 and hung out with the teachers in the temple. Stevie Wonder became a star when he was 12 and is still a star 50 years later; Ronald Reagan started being president at 70; Martin Luther King, Jr. told the world that he had a dream at 34 years old. A woman named Mother Stewart went to Haiti to start a school while she was in her 90’s. A young man in my current church started a YouTube page and had 500,000 viewers when he was 16 years old.

So I wrote my book – probably 25 years later than I should have. And here it is!

Say Yes To No Debt: 12 Steps To Financial Freedom

Please forget about your age and decide what you want to accomplish and who you want to be three years from now. I know I am stretching you. But it is easier to start in the distant future and work our way back than it is do the reverse.

Of course, there are some things your age will not allow you to do. But age is no excuse to have no goals at all. No one is too young or too old to take control of their future and pursue a few dreams.

Action items:

  1. Make sure you have not cancelled any dream because of your age.
  2. Try to place three goals under each of the five goal categories (Day #2).
  3. Find someone who is your age and doing something great.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #8 – Help Me, I’m Stuck

This is the second time I have led others through a month-long makeover process. But this time something different has happened. I did not anticipate encountering so many people who are totally stuck. One person wrote me and said that they couldn’t see past their current situation to even set a short-term goal of seeing themselves on August 1. What a remarkable admission and unusual honesty!

There is no way I can post what I planned for Day# 8 without responding to this comment. Besides – I am sure there are others who feel the same way.

I have been in that very place. I have been so stuck and so stressed about being stuck that I could not dream, plan, or envision anything ever being different. I was once in such bad shape that in the middle of a speech I was giving to some students I stopped speaking, apologized for how bad I was and promised to return some day when I got my act together. Nothing could be worse for someone whose dream was to be a public speaker! Here is how I got out of that very deep valley.

 

First, I had to admit that I was where I was. There is no way to move beyond your present position or condition without honestly admitting where you are. That applies to any situation we encounter in life. It may be debt, family relations, health, habits, faith or anything else. It makes no sense to act and think as if everything is all right when it’s not. No amount of motivational materials, dynamic sermons or positive thinking is a substitute for looking in the mirror and admitting that you are stuck. You don’t have to broadcast it to others – but you at least have to tell yourself the truth. I made a list of everything in my life that needed to change. Everything.

Next, I had to think hard and recapture my dream. Everyone has had a dream. It may require going back to fourth grade when you were in love with your teacher, your principal or your pastor. Or it may be when you were in seventh grade and dreamt you would be president of the United States. But every one of us has had at least one dream. When you remember what it was, the memory alone – or I should say the act of remembering –will change your mental state. That may have been your last positive thought – and it may have been completely outlandish – but your future depends completely on your ability to look away from your problems, your failure, your mistakes, your challenges, your barriers, your tragedy, your disappointments and even your past sins. You need an internal reason to feel better about your external possibilities. And there is something inside of you that may be dormant but it is not dead. Think hard and remember.

Now allow that experience – allow that moment of recollection – to be the springboard that you need to begin dreaming again. If you could dream one time, you can dream again. It may not be the same dream. But it may surprise you that a childhood dream may have been more accurate than you thought. Especially if you realize that your dream may have been a how and not a what. Think about it. Suppose you dreamt of being the president. It was probably because of what you thought you could do as the president. Even if your chances of becoming president now are zero, the chance to do something significant on some scale is not far fetched at all.

If you notice, for just a minute your mind left your problems and you took a one-minute break from feeling stuck. I remembered that I had dreamt of being a successful public speaker. But at that moment I didn’t have money to get my car fixed, I couldn’t break a habit that I thought would kill me one day, and I felt like a complete hypocrite because everyone who knew me thought I had it all together. I had to start over. To do so, I had to dream again.

Once I started to dream again, I started making very short-term plans – like three hours at a time. I didn’t project where I would be in three years or one year or six months or even three months. I had to put myself on a plan that projected three hours at a time. Yes – three hours! Someone said that the way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I had to rebuild my life one bite at a time.

If you are having a problem seeing past your problems, you will have to dream small dreams and set goals in three-hour increments. Perhaps you need to open some unopened mail – or call three creditors to arrange a new payment plan – or call an attorney to review your options – or find two people you can trust with whom you can share your troubles. But do something new – something bold –  something proactive – something responsible – something helpful – something positive – something concrete – within the next three hours. And then do it again during the following three hours. Then you are on your way somewhere great –  traveling three hours at a time.

Then pray – ask God to give you the strength, the insight and the good sense to do something meaningful within the next three hours. And while you pray, please know that many others and I are praying with you and for you. At the end of the next three hours, thank God for allowing you to live and breathe for the previous three hours realizing that someone didn’t make it through those same three hours. If you do make it, God allowed you to make it for a reason. Your present test will be the basis of your future testimony.

God bless you as you begin to dream again.

P.S. This two-minute video clip may help you. If it does, watch the rest of the message and share it with others.

 

31-Day Makeover Day # 9 – Personal Goals

Now we are going to zoom in and begin creating or refining our goals. Every study concerning goals has had two identical conclusions: 1. People with goals achieve more than people without goals; 2. People with written goals achieve more than those with unwritten goals. So the first challenge is to write your goals, if you have not done so already. If you have written goals, it’s time to determine whether they are in their proper position. These actions alone place you in the top six to ten percent of the people in the world!

The reason I use five categories for my goals is that it is a manageable number. I have seen some systems that use seven categories. I felt like seven was too many. Others use an approach that puts all goals into three categories and that seemed too few for me. So I have been using my five categories for years and it works for me. The important point is to have written goals that can all fit on one side of one piece of paper in enough categories to describe an entire life for a defined period of time.

If this is all new to you, it will take some time to develop. But congratulations for getting started.

I always begin with personal goals since these goals are the ones that will determine if I have what it takes to reach and sustain the others. Of course, it is true that all of our goals are personal. But what I have learned is that some goals are more personal than others.

Certainly the desire for a new job, the need for more money, an interest in new information and a commitment to more prayer are all personal goals. In fact, the very process that I am describing assumes that each of us sets goals for ourselves that are separate and distinct from other people, groups or organizations. In order to maintain our self-esteem, our sense of purpose and our pursuit of accomplishments we must have our own personal goals. It is very difficult if not impossible to have healthy relationships with others without having goals for ourselves. But it bears repeating that some goals are more personal than others.

 

Within the goal setting process I distinguish between personal goals and other goals because without such a distinction we can lose sight of some very basic realities. Everyone that I know has a type of personal goal – to lose weight, to stop smoking, to work out, to break a bad habit or something. These types of goals address our character, our personality, our development as a person, our humanity.  Personal goals in this context are those goals that are for you about you and pursued because of the type of person you want to be. Without a specific written commitment with a timetable attached these types of personal goals are often pushed to the sidelines or the back burner and they are virtually ignored while we pursue the big-ticket items.

This is why we see people who seem to be successful in very impressive ventures finding themselves stumped by some personal flaw that they cannot get under control. What is often so tragic is that many people close to such folks can see the threats of their personal flaws and they often refuse to confront or assist the person.

It is when we place our personal goals, our very personal habits, our attitudes and our relationships alongside our financial and other goals that we begin the process of giving them equal status and equal attention. These goals are probably so personal that no one even knows they exist except you. But when you accomplish them, you know that you have become a better you.

Action item:  Identify two or three goals that are so personal that you may not be able to share them even with people close to you. And write them down.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #10 – Intellectual Goals

Now that we have gotten started identifying personal goals, we can proceed to our second category goal – intellectual goals. But first allow me to share my personal goals with you.

  1. Maintain my current weight.
  2. Begin a new daily routine that includes at least one hour of writing.
  3. Better manage a key personal relationship.

These are examples of what I mean by personal goals. These are areas of my life that I can address without any help from anyone else. They also represent some whats that can be approached in various ways. The hows will come later. And these could be one- week, three-month or one-year goals. They happen to be my goals for the 31-Day Makeover. Okay, enough about my personal goals.

I have three earned degrees from three wonderful institutions of higher learning. But the most important knowledge that I have acquired was not acquired in any school. I appreciate my education and I gained significant knowledge from most of my professors and all of my schools. But formal education is not the only way to gain knowledge or expand one’s intellect.

 

That perception is one of the barriers to expanding and reaching our intellectual goals. When we consider subject matter that we would like to access or even master, we are often discouraged because we have neither the time nor the money to go to school. But going to college or enrolling in a formal academic program represents a how and not a what. Put another way – going to college is one way to accomplish an intellectual goal but it is not the only way to get there.

As long as we are alive we should maintain a list of subjects about which we would like to learn. There may be some language that we want to learn to speak – some technology we would like to master – some part of history we would like to learn about – some dish we would like to learn to prepare. This list should not simply be in our heads. If it is, we will die with most of the items on our list unattained. Rather, we should place our intellectual goals – the list of things that we want to know before we die – in our overall goals. After we make a commitment to them, then we can decide how we are going to accomplish the goals.

Today there are unlimited, accessible ways to learn. There are free online-courses, there are books we can read about everything, there are lectures and workshops we can attend, and there are people who are smart and who love sharing what they know. Even commercial television has some shows that are great sources of knowledge about things that really matter. There is always an affordable way to gain knowledge of any subject. There are still libraries that lend books for free. I like YouTube. There are videos that cover every subject I have ever needed to know more about. I also have fallen in love with iTunes University – free courses on every subject taught by real college professors all over the world. I have listened to lectures and taken online courses about philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, religions and communications all while walking on my treadmill in the morning. Not only am I expanding my intellect but also I am actually accomplishing two separate goals during the same time period.

Action item: The key is to decide what you would like to know that you currently do not know now. Then write down the three that you would like to learn before all of the others.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #11 – Career Goals

I recently met a woman who gave me two different business cards and both cards were hers. Before I could ask the question, the person’s friend offered this explanation: “One card is for the job she has to do and the other card is for the job she loves to do.” I understood exactly what the friend was saying. There was a time when I was in the exact same situation. I had a job that I had to keep because I had to pay my bills. But I hated the job. The only good thing about that job was that I received a pay check every two weeks. But every day that I went to work I knew what my dream job was. I did not go out and print business cards. But I did make up my mind to pursue my real career and to get paid for doing what I love to do.

That is what it takes in setting career goals. It involves describing our life’s real work and not simply settling for a job just to pay the bills. The first question to ask ourselves about what kind of work we should be doing is this: If we did not need any money, what kind of work would we do? Or try this: What do you love doing so much that you would do it without any compensation? Most of us would initially say that we would do anything for the right amount of money. But that may not be true. I just told a professional athlete that they did not seem to be happy playing their sport. Many well-paid people are miserable and many low-wage earners love what they do.

I have a friend who loves cleaning cars. He takes pride in it – he longs to do it – and he will come to your house if there is a car there for him to clean. As a result of his love for this work, he cleans cars better than anyone I have ever met in my life. That is because we do best what we love to do most. So that is another question we must answer before settling into a vocation or profession: What do we love to do more than anything else in the world? There is no guarantee that we will get a job doing what we love right away. But we are more likely to find or create a job that we love after we identify what that is and then spend some time doing it somewhere – even if it begins in a volunteer role.

We must also ask ourselves what we do so well that someone would be willing to pay us to do it. My sister-in-aw organizes offices and paperwork so well that people are willing to pay her to do it. My friend who cleans cars can earn hundreds of dollars every day cleaning cars. Our economy is based on supply and demand. If you know what you can supply, finding out where it is needed is the key to your employment.

So – when developing our careers – our vocational, professional or employment goals – we build on our passions, stay in touch with our dreams and do what we must until we can do what we love. These action items will help you shape your career goals.

Action items:

  1. List one task that you love doing so much that you would do it without being paid.
  2. What is your dream job?
  3. What is the most important step that you must take to get closer to your dream job?

 

31-Day Makeover Day #12 – Financial Goals (Part 1)

Too many of us are in survival mode as it relates to our finances. I hear so many people describing their desire to simply hold on to what they have or to “make ends meet.” That is exactly how I used to live. In fact I was even worse. I was paying last months bills with next week’s check and dodging bill collectors. One day I decided that I was not going to live that way for the rest of my life. I learned that I had to set some financial goals in order to develop a financial strategy.

Most of us will need help in establishing our financial goals. We all have dreams and there are financial implications attached to our dreams. But a goal is much more concrete than a dream. A goal is something that a reasonable plan can be executed to achieve. I can dream of buying a castle but when I have that as a goal, I better be able to explain to myself how I am going to do that. It helps to have a certified financial planner help us in developing our financial goals. But even before we solicit the help of professionals, there are some things we can do for ourselves.

 

In my book, Say Yes To No Debt: 12 Steps To Financial Freedom,  I outline four steps to financial freedom. The first step is to Get Started. That means that it is important to stop dreaming and start planning; to stop talking and start taking action on our financial status. To begin there are two important tasks to undertake. First, keep a record of all of the money you spend in a 30-day period. At the end of those 30 days, take a look at the list of expenditures and circle the ones that are not absolutely necessary for your survival. All of the items that will be circled represent money that can be used to help you reach your financial goals. Next, obtain a copy of your credit report. Free copies of our credit reports can be obtained once a year from Annual Credit Report. There are three main credit reporting agencies that contribute to your credit score. A free copy can be obtained at this website and your inquiry does not impact your credit score. I actually get my report from each of the three once a year, but I get a report every four months from each of them. By staggering my requests I am able to keep up with what’s happening with my credit more frequently at no cost. Our credit reports not only reveal our credit history but they also reveal information about our credit and our identity in general. Identity theft is a growing problem and our credit reports often inform us about unauthorized attempts to use our personal information.

Financial goals describe where we would like to be financially by a certain time. Obviously, the shorter the time, the smaller the goals. But financial goals are more than numbers. They also reflect our values. The purpose of money is that it be used for a purpose. Some purposes have more value than others. After we make sure our basic needs are covered, the way we use our money and the purposes for which we accumulate money reflect the kind of people we are and the kind of legacy we will leave. My grandmother was born in 1901 and when she died in 1981, she owned multiple homes that were all debt free. She left an inheritance for her children and her grandchildren. My goal is to do at least as well as she did.

Setting financial goals is so important that I created a workbook that is a companion to my dfree® book: dfree® Lifestyle: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom. This workbook provides a step-by-step process that will help you create a spending plan, identify your spending leaks and create a timetable for getting out of debt.

It does not matter how much money you currently earn. You can begin the process of building your financial future by properly managing your financial present.

To be continued tomorrow.

Action item: Estimate how much you spend in an average week and begin to compare your reality to your estimate.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #13 – Financial Goals (Part 2)

We will never get ahead financially until we get out of debt. Debt erodes our ability to save; debt eliminates our ability to accumulate wealth; debt can lower our credit scores and make it harder to access capital for investment; a Biblical proverb (Proverbs 22:7) equates debt with slavery!

I learned this the hard way. I was one of those people that assumed that debt was normal and acceptable. That all changed one day when I heard a preacher say that we should purchase our cars with cash. I thought the man was drunk! As I sat and listened to him, he explained that we were paying more than we should for our cars when we add the interest payments to the principal payments. I did the math and realized that on a three-year car note, I was paying $4,800 in interest on a $20,000 car! And that was with an 8% interest rate. Some people are paying as much as 28% interest on auto loans!

More important than the money I was spending was the fact that I had never given it a moment of thought. I felt completely normal doing what I was doing. And, unfortunately, I was normal. Americans generally use borrowing as a means of purchasing cars and almost everything else. While that is great for the banks and the finance companies, it eats away at our financial capacity. And we feel as if we have no choice. I realized that I did have choices and that I had to change my attitude about money.

And that is what I am asking all of us to do – to change our attitudes about money starting with debt. Of course, none of us is going to become debt free in a day or two. But if our attitude is that it is preferable to be free of all debt, then our goals and our decisions will reflect that attitude. We will stop charging items on our credit cards that will take years to pay off. We will not feel like we need a new car as soon we make our last loan payment. We will treat debt as a temporary condition and really devise a strategy to get out of debt. My workbook offers a comprehensive strategy to do just that! You can order it right now: dfree® Lifestyle: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom.

Not all of us are like I used to be. I spent my way into debt. But people are in debt for a variety of reasons: some due to medical expenses; some due to prolonged unemployment; some due to divorces; some due to student loans. It really doesn’t matter how we get into debt. What matters is how we plan to get out of debt. The challenge is to hate debt so much that we make getting out of debt our priority.

When we are debt free, we can open businesses, invest money, donate generously and live stress-free lives. That is the next step as we establish our financial goals.

I have created a free resource that you can use to set your debt reduction goals and celebrate your success. It is the Billion Dollar Challenge and I am inviting all of us to pay off one billion dollars in debt together and then to shift that money to investments that will help us rise financially.

You can join the challenge today; there are no fees or charges involved: Billion Dollar Challenge.

Action items:

  1. Make a list of all of your debts.
  2. Set a date when you would like to be debt free.
  3. Obtain my workbook and use it to start your debt-free process.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #14 – Financial Goals (Part 3)

Setting financial goals can really be a difficult task. It costs so much to live, and we seem to have so little control over our incomes. For many of us the goal is simply to survive. But some people seem to break out of the survival mode and really make a good living.

The point is this: having financial goals does not guarantee that we will be prosperous. But not having financial goals makes it almost certain that we will be on a financial treadmill for the rest of our lives – moving but going nowhere.

I have never taken any formal courses in finance, budgeting, business or investing. In fact, most of what I have learned has come from failure. But I discovered that it is never too late to get started with financial planning.

Like our other goals there are two basic ways to set financial goals. You can either start with those small steps that you can take immediately (example: saving one dollar a week) or you can start by projecting where you would like to be in three years (example: $3,000 saved). In the first approach the savings goal grows out of the small steps you plan to take – saving one dollar a week. That means that you will have fifty-two dollars saved in a year ($1.00 x 52 weeks). If that amount of savings does not satisfy you, then try $1.50 or $2.00. The objective is to have a concrete goal that is attainable. The second approach to a savings goal will back you into a plan. A goal to save $3,000 in three years means that you will have to save an average of $19.23 every week ($3,000/156 weeks). If you can save that much every week, then your goal is realistic. If you can save more, your goal can be increased.

In my workbook I show you how to find the money you will use to start your savings, pay off your debt or begin to invest. Click here to order the dfree® workbook. It’s only $9.95!

This level of specificity and planning is how we take control of our finances and our lives. Some people call this intentional living. Once we start living this way, we will find that goals become clearer and much more attainable.

It is tempting to immerse ourselves in economic analysis, reciting the evils of past injustices, lamenting the unfairness of various aspects of the economy and brooding over the tough challenges that we face today. I found that at the end of those exercises I was still faced with the reality of having to pay my rent and handle my other responsibilities. So, I chose taking action over spouting philosophy and the results in my life have been rewarding. I am urging you to do the same. Sure – we must understand the systems that surround and influence us. But analysis and understanding do not pay the bills unless you are a professor paid to teach ideas! We each need a financial strategy that is built on financial goals that we must set for ourselves.

Action items:

  1. Make a list of all of your debts from the smallest to the largest.
  2. Set your debt reduction goals.
  3. Set a goal to have an emergency fund of at least $3,000 cash.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #15 – Spiritual Goals

When considering spiritual goals, it is important to begin by distinguishing between religious and spiritualReligion is the system that we embrace in pursuit of or in response to our beliefs. Spirit is that intangible, internal reality that defines the essence of who we are as humans. We should never forget that we are not bodies that happen to have spirits inside; rather we are spirits that happen to have bodies that we wear for a few years. That is why our spirits affect our bodies much more than our bodies affect our spirits. When our spirits are low or weak, our physical capacity is diminished and we are vulnerable to physical ailments. But when our bodies are weak, it is completely possible to have strong and vibrant spirits. We need to set goals for our spiritual strength and capacity to undergird and complement the other areas of our lives.

Our fears, our stresses, our hopes, our self-esteem, our patience, our vision, our temperaments, our joys and our sorrows are all examples of areas of our lives related to our spirits. Our religious lives should enhance our spiritual lives and contribute to our development of our spiritual strength. But everyone – regardless of our religious views – has a spirit. A body without a spirit is a corpse. A spirit can live eternally long after our bodies have ceased to function. When we get to heaven, our spirits will get new bodies. We should not neglect our spirits.

There are many different ways to build upon one’s spiritual foundation. Our spiritual goals should describe what kind of spiritual character we would like to possess. In many ways our spiritual what comes very close to our spiritual how. This is somewhat different than the other categories of our lives. For instance, one may have the spiritual goal to be a more prayerful person. Prayer is the means by which humans remain in contact with the Divine. The benefits of prayer include securing more certainty about life’s purpose, approaching decisions with Divine assistance, maintaining a greater sense of humility and possibility by remaining connected to Divine power, submitting to Divine will rather than only pursuing one’s own desires. These are all valuable whats to desire. But what is interesting about the spiritual goal of prayer is that the how to reach the what includes prayer itself. There are things we can do to become more prayerful — like reading books about prayer, listening to talks about prayer and hearing the prayers of others. But the way to become a more prayerful person necessarily requires participating in prayer itself. One cannot simply have more money if one’s goal is to have more money. But if we want more prayerful lives we can get there by simply including more prayer in our lives.

Having spiritual goals will make the difference between lives with success and lives with quality. It was Jesus who said that it does not matter if we gain the world and lose our souls.

Action Items:

  1. Name three spiritual goals that you will pursue.
  2. Describe how your life will be better as result of achieving those goals.
  3. Identify someone that you believe has attained the goal that you seek and find out how they became who they are.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #16 – Fine Tuning Goals

We are halfway through the month. Some of us are amazed at how much we have accomplished. Some of us are amazed at how fast the time seems to be traveling. But we are all two weeks older and our behavior during the last two weeks has determined our status today. That is how life works. Either we die or we keep on living. And we are alive — hopefully doing some new things, thinking some new thoughts or pursuing some new dreams. The major accomplishment should be a new appreciation for goals.

Before I begin to describe how to manage the process of reaching goals, I want us to review what we have done and to spend some time analyzing the results.

I have stated that we are much more successful when we have written goals. I have also stated that our written goals should be divided into five categories in order to have a snapshot for complete life. Those five categories are: Personal, Intellectual, Career/Vocational, Financial and Spiritual. I have spent the last few entries offering brief descriptions and examples for each of these categories. The objective is to write down two or three specific items under each category in order to flesh out the outline of our goals.

This strategy assumes that we can fit all of this information on one side of one sheet of letter-size paper. Whether we are planning for three weeks, three months or three years, there is value in being able to see our entire lives on one side of one sheet of paper. When we do that, we are able to see our goals in proximity to each other and analyze their potential impact on each other. This is vitally important!

It is critical to remember that great goals can conflict with each other if we are not careful to consider the goals as a whole. A friend of mine once shared with me that she had the goals of paying off all of her debt, going back to college as a full-time student and quitting her job in order to have time for school. These were all great goals, but it was not feasible that she would be able to quit her job and pay all of her bills also. But she had never considered the conflict that existed between those two admirable goals. She had actually created a plan for failure.

And this happens much more than we might imagine. Good people with meaningful goals fail to consider them as a whole and end up accomplishing very little without ever realizing why it happens.

So, let’s write down our goals. If you have never done this before, I suggest that you start by focusing on a few weeks or months. After you analyze the goals you have written, you may discover a need to modify a particular goal because of its impact on another goal. Then you will be ready to develop a strategy for accomplishing your goals.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #17 – It’s About Time

There are three statements that people make about time that drive me crazy.

  1. “I don’t know where the time goes.”
  2. “If I just had more time.”
  3. “I try to manage my time.”

 

Let’s consider each of these statements:

  1. Time goes where time has always gone – into the past. The truth is that all of us really do know where time goes but when we make that statement, it means that time is moving forward while we are standing still. It seems like my sons turned 18 years old in less than 18 years. But when they did turn 18, I was not surprised. They had been 17 years old for the previous 12 months! Anyone that finds themselves making this statement about time will also find themselves accomplishing less than they could in the time that they have.
  2. We are not going to get any more time. Period. It is a ridiculous statement and one worth deleting from our verbal repertoire. The implication is that we would do something great or achieve greater success if we had more time. The key to winning is figuring out how to best use the time that we have. Seeking more time is a waste of time.
  3. We cannot manage time. Time does not stand still – time is a fixed reality – time belongs to God. The idea of time management sounds catchy and cute, but one cannot manage time. We manage our lives and we use time in the process. I have learned to consider time one of my most precious commodities. Before I owned any securities – before I owned any real estate – before I had any financial capacity – I realized that I was a wealthy person because I had a huge supply of time. I would rather waste money than waste time. One can always get more money – but we can never get more time.

So rather than bemoan how quickly time moves or wish for more of it, the most productive response to the fact of having time is to develop a strategic and effective use of time. The way I recommend doing this is to make a chart that outlines one week of one-hour blocks of time. The purpose of this chart is to fill in the blocks that correspond with times that you do regularly scheduled activities. (You can exclude the hours that you are normally sleeping.) After you completely insert activities for everything you normally do, you will see empty boxes that are unassigned. These are the times that you can begin to fill with activities that will help you reach your goals.

The only way to accomplish our goals is to invest sufficient time in pursuing our goals.

Action items:

  1. Estimate how many hours you spend per week doing your various activities. What is the total?
  2. Create your time chart and compare the actual hours to your original estimate.
  3. Identify how much time you are spending on activities directly related to your goals.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #18 – Setting Priorities

I don’t think I have ever had just one important responsibility to manage. Not only has my entire adult life been an exciting journey of interesting projects and stimulating positions, I have found myself having multiple responsibilities and roles occurring simultaneously. How this has been a recurring reality in my life is the subject of a different conversation. But as a result of it happening quite frequently, I have found myself having to answer this question perhaps more than any other: “How do you wear so many different hats?” Somehow the concept of “wearing different hats” has become the symbol of choice to characterize different aspects of busy people’s lives.

But this characterization has always troubled me a bit. The idea of wearing different hats always conjures images in my mind of having different personalities or different identities. And I have always worked hard to be the same person in whatever role I was in. Once a foreign diplomat expressed intrigue when he learned that I had served as Secretary of State of New Jersey while simultaneously serving as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Somerset, New Jersey. His exact remarks were these: “So much for separation of church and state. You were the church and the state at the same time.” And so many have asked me that same question about those years of my life.

Or the question is sometimes put like this: ”How do you balance all of your roles?” To the “hat” question my response is always the same: “I only have one head and so I can only wear one hat!” My point in that answer is that I never considered the challenge to be the wearing of different hats. Rather, I always believed that the task has been to wear the same hat in different places. The priority should always be to be authentically oneself and unashamedly authentic in every environment we find ourselves. Once we start changing hats, I am afraid that we will get caught being one type of person in one place and a different person in other places.

But the balancing question is fair. It seeks to probe more deeply into the process of handling multiple roles with integrity. One need not be in two important public roles to have this challenge. We all have multiple tasks, role and goals to juggle. And, therefore, we all need a process for effectively managing those tasks and roles. The key word for developing this process is priorities. If we have a systematic way to determining our priorities, we will be able to follow Steven Covey’s (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) advice and spend most of our time working on matters that are important but not urgent.

I discovered that I had been using a process that I never realized I was using for setting priorities. It is a bracket process – like brackets for an athletic competition. I describe this in Chapter 8 of a wonderful book Roadmap to Success. This approach to priority setting functions like a sports tournament where players or teams are placed in brackets. The winner of the first round goes on to play the winner within their section of the bracket and so on. When we have multiple roles, we have multiple activities competing for our time and attention. Before we begin, if we place our list of possible commitments into brackets we can see which one wins over the other by determining which is most important. If we do this in writing, it does not take more than a few minutes to have a written list of things to do with their ranking in the order of importance. You can then assign time to each task as needed and experience stress free pursuit of multiple goals. And you will only need one hat!

Action item: Try using the bracket approach to determine what your priorities are for the rest of this month.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #19 – Are Your Goals Big Enough?

I have achieved all of my 31-Day Makeover goals during the first 18 days of the month. What a blessing! And what a surprise! I had some pretty big goals in some very critical areas of my life. But I didn’t do it alone. Not only did I have you and many others walking with me, I also had help from a great team of people that assist me with my life and work.

The feedback that I have received from so many people that are walking together this month has been such an encouragement that I have literally felt the love, appreciation and support. It is true that “two are better than one.” It is much easier when we know that we are not walking alone. More on that subject later.

The completion of our goals and our time charts has been the focus for the past few days. I hope we have all taken those tasks very seriously. I also hope you were able to identify and list your priorities.

My personal priority is to help people with their financial lives. But, as I have previously stated, it is important to approach one part of our lives by addressing our entire lives. People who are sloppy handling their money are usually sloppy in other areas of their lives also.  Gaining control over our lives is the prerequisite for gaining control of our finances. The rest of this journey will assume that we all have some concrete goals in the five key areas of our lives. Take the time to do that if you have not already. And if you have, please review your goals and be certain that they are big enough to meet your needs.

There are twelve days left in 31-Day Makeover after today. While there is no magic attached to Day #31, it is important to set goals, create deadlines and celebrate small victories. This one-month exercise is a step into a future of creating long-term plans. But we have to begin somewhere.

So, what do we do if we find ourselves achieving our goals ahead of schedule? First, we celebrate! Thank God for the strength and the victory! Next, we must assess our goals and make sure they were big enough. It doesn’t help to set goals that are too small. But, in any case, it is time to set new goals. I may rest for a day. And I did rest for a few hours. But there is still more to do.

We will spend the rest of the month considering some of the necessary ingredients needed for success. Get ready.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #20 – Control What You Can Control

It is amazing how much progress we can make if we really begin to focus on ourselves and create written goals that we are committed to reaching. There are certainly events and circumstances in our lives that we just cannot control. But if we take control of those things that we can control, we will be in a better position to manage our way through those things that we cannot control.

Three years ago, when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it was a very intimidating moment. However, because I had changed my lifestyle at the beginning of that same year – walking at least four miles every morning, drinking plenty of water, eliminating the consumption of sweets – I was able to anticipate and experience a speedy and complete recovery after my surgery. Often the problems that we could not avoid are made worse by our having failed to prevent the problems that we could avoid. This discovery has been liberating for me.

With the remaining days of this month, I will share more of the principles and practices that I have learned about creating and reaching personal goals. I have been sharing this process with you even as I am updating my own personal goals. And I gave myself a deadline of Day #31 to have completed my own revised plans for the next few years of my life. And as you know I have been blessed to have a tremendously productive month.

One way to have a vision for whatever length of time you are planning is to answer this question: “When I look in the mirror on this date _______________ , who will I see?” That is really the question our goals seek to answer. “By August 1, who will I see – or who will others see – when we look at me?” The more we ask and answer this question, the more likely it is that we are making the most out of our lives.

For some people this whole discussion is uncomfortable because it feels like we are placing too much emphasis on our individual needs and wants. Many people are uneasy hearing and thinking about themselves as much as I suggest. But the reality is that we are not in a position to help others if we have not addressed our own needs and potential. On every airline flight that I have taken I have been instructed that in the case of an emergency to place the oxygen mask on myself before I attempt to help anyone else. The sense behind that advice is this: If you are not all right, you will not be able to help other passengers make it to safety.

I am simply trying to show you how to place the oxygen mask on yourself to better position you to be able to help others.

It is now Day 20. Who will you see in the mirror 12 days from now?

 

31-Day Makeover Day #21 – Live Outside of the Box

One result of having goals that are too small is that we accept less in life than we should and less than we deserve. The key to winning the battle against this mediocre and unproductive living is a commitment to living outside of the boxes in which we find ourselves. And there are plenty of boxes to consider.

The most influential box is that of popular culture. What people expect us to do– what we think we are supposed to do – what the culture says we should do –  can all easily become self-imposed pressures that can kill us! The forces of cultural, social and even religious expectations are so strong that we can forfeit our individuality and our right to choose without even knowing it. I am not an advocate of abandoning tradition simply for the sake of it. Nor do I condone thumbing our noses at the beliefs that have sustained us through the years. But it is important for us to carve out our own strategies and not let group think become a substitute for our personal responsibility to make independent choices.

This means that the newest and most popular styles or lifestyles may have to be rejected if we are to realize the potential that we possess to accomplish our goals. Too many people live within boundaries set for them by others rather than setting their own boundaries based on their own beliefs and goals. Only God’s boundaries should matter as we establish our own moral boundaries.

Another box that we may have to consider leaving is our family box. When young David was preparing to slay Goliath, it was his oldest brother, Eliab, who tried to discourage him from going forward. David’s brother only saw him as the little shepherd boy that he knew. He did not see him as a giant killer. Because our family members know us best, they can be the very people who see no future for us beyond the past that they know. If we let them do so, they will keep us in their little boxes and we will never outgrow their perceptions of us. It was a good thing David refused to stay in his family box. All of Jewish history might have been different had he stayed in the box. He would have never slain Goliath.

The most difficult box to escape is the box of our personal fears. Whether it is the fear of speaking in public, the fear of making a commitment or the fear of personal failure, all of us have fears. There is no universal way to overcome a fear. For each of us the approach is different. But there is one thing that is the same for anyone who decides to overcome a fear. The only way to overcome a fear is to confront and engage that which we fear. Fear cannot be thought away – prayed away – smiled away – cried away – or wished away. Fear must be confronted by forcing ourselves to do that which we fear until we no longer fear it. Otherwise we will live in the box of fear for the rest of our lives.

Our boxes are only as strong as we allow them to be.

Action items:

  1. Identify a cultural or social box that has the potential to undermine your success.
  2. Identify a family box that you have to be careful to avoid.
  3. Identify a fear that you need to overcome.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #22 – Don’t Get Tricked Into Giving Up

Most of us have difficulty completely embracing motivational messages. Despite the popularity of many best-selling motivational books and the success of so many well-paid motivational speakers, the fact is that the evidence of so much failure around us often undermines our total belief in the positive and motivating messages we hear. Too often a great speech, a great book or just a motivational moment functions like a meal that we eat and we find ourselves hungry soon after completing the meal. There are people who were excited about starting their 31-day journey a few weeks ago who dropped out, lost interest, became distracted or who have just given up on the possibility of being somewhere new by August 1.

How does that happen? What causes us to be totally committed to something one minute and just a few minutes later we abandon our commitment? What makes us cool down so quickly after having such passion for a particular pursuit? I have found that this happens for either one of two reasons. Either we never truly committed in the first place or we were tricked into believing that what we desired was either not possible or no longer desirable.

I used the word tricked because the greatest threat to our goals and dreams is deception. That may sound strange because we have been programmed to believe that opposition is the greatest threat to success. But opposition is what actually makes us stronger, superior and successful. True greatness excels over opposition. Without opposition there is no way to know that greatness exists.

No – it is deception that undermines our dreams and our destiny.  When we are deceived, we become convinced that our goals are unattainable because of some circumstance or occurrence. When we are deceived, we become convinced that there is something better than our goals. That is why it is so important to write our goals – to meditate on our goals – to pray about our goals – and to budget our time to make sure we are using time in pursuit of our goals. It is so tempting to allow distractions, discouragement or derailment to cause us to conclude that our goals are not worth the trouble or have become out of reach. Every great person that I have ever studied had to press through obstacles, endure some degree of hardship and stay focused on his or her goals.

Babe Ruth was both home run king and strike out king. That means that whenever he missed the ball, he kept swinging at the ball! He didn’t give up. If Lebron James had allowed his missed baskets to convince him that he should forget about basketball, he would not have become a superstar and MVP. If Helen Keller had allowed her deafness and blindness to convince her that she was not important, she would not have become the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe College. If Nelson Mandela had allowed his incarceration in prison to convince him to give up, he would have never become President of South Africa. These are but a few examples of people who were not deceived by their circumstances or their failures. Each of them knew what they wanted and were determined to let nothing get in their way.

So, don’t be deceived or discouraged. You have the right and the potential to reach your goals. It’s time for you to really do you!

 

31-Day Makeover Day #23 – Friends Matter

When I first joined Facebook, I found it interesting that the designation for contacts on the popular social media site was that of friends. The more people became my so-called friends on Facebook, the sillier I felt having so many people who were willing to call themselves my friends. When my number of Facebook friends reached 5,000, I received a message from Facebook telling me that I could not have any more new friends unless I deleted some of my old friends.

Initially, this was a challenge. “What would people think,” I wondered, “when they realized that I had deleted them?” But after I reviewed many of the names on my list of Facebook friends, I realized that I really did not know many of them personally. In fact, after more careful observation, it appeared that many of these folks were not only unknown to me but had postings and profiles that suggested I may not want to know them at all. So, deleting certain Facebook friends did not pose a problem at all.

Then I realized that there were people in my life that I did know and who I should probably consider deleting as friends also. It is very hard to pursue goals while maintaining friendships with people who have no interest in the goals that we are seeking. Not only should we delete those who are our friends but who have no interest in our goals, but we should actively seek relationships with people who are attempting to accomplish goals similar to ours. Often, loyalties to certain friends undermine the likelihood of our successes and accomplishments.

Those of us who are trying to change results in our lives are always better off having a few good friends who appreciate and support our efforts than hundreds of so-called friends who are doing the exact opposite of what we are trying to do. It is so much easier to exercise, lose weight, stop gambling, read books, worship God, get out of debt, invest money and generally improve our lives when we are trying it with other people.

We should not wait for others to get started. But we should realize the value of having others on our team. I have learned that it is very helpful to write a short list of real friends – share my goals with those people – and ask them to support my efforts in some way. Carefully chosen people who partner with you in pursuit of your goals can be more valuable than money.

Action item: Make your list and then recruit your team.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #24 – A Real Friend

Proverbs 18:24: A man (person) that has friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (AKJV). Once we concede that we do need friends, this Proverb warns us that in order to have and keep friends we must ourselves be friendly. It is so easy to ignore our responsibility in friendship and simply focus on the benefits. But if everyone wants a friend and no one is committed to being a friend, then we have a serious problem.

For the past few years I have maintained a personal goal of being a better friend to some very specific people. I am embarrassed about how long it took to make this a priority. But I have been blessed with so many friends – and I mean really good friends. There came a time when I had to assess whether anyone considered me as good a friend as I considered so many.

In my commitment to become a real friend I learned that:

A real friend checks on a friend just to see how the person is doing.

A real friend encourages a friend when they are not doing so well.

A real friend sticks close to a friend when the friend is in deep trouble.

A real friend tells a friend the truth in love.

A real friend supports the friend when it is no longer popular to do so.

A real friend makes it easy for a friend to help them.

A real friend does not put a friend in jeopardy.

A real friend takes advice as well as he or she gives advice.

A real friend prays for his or her friend.

A real friend is as happy for a friend as he would be for himself.

A real friend hurts just as much when a friend is in pain as she would if it were her.

A real friend helps a friend reach goals.

A real friend is hard to find and harder to be.

Let’s not stop with finding good friends. Let’s work hard to be real friends.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #25 – Plan to Do Nothing

The idea that we must use time effectively and have a plan that occupies every minute of every day does not mean that we are always busy with tasks. Many people who see me from a distance or who receive my advice about linking time to goals often assume that I advocate perpetual activity. But those who know me well know that while I am a firm believer in planning the use of every hour of the day, that includes planning to do nothing.

Gordon MacDonald wrote a book some years ago, Ordering Your Private World, and in his book he made a distinction between being “called” and being “driven.” That distinction helped me understand that it is not healthy to pursue even laudable goals in a way that ignores personal needs, responsibilities of relationships and the need to be reflective. This is what he called being “driven.” So many people are so driven to reach goals and attain success that they ruin their own lives and destroy the lives of those who are close to them. The alternative understanding offered in the book is that we are all “called” to a purpose and that calling should embrace self-nurture and maintaining healthy relationships. Passionate pursuit of a mission that is all consuming need not conflict with personal growth and reflection.

When we develop our time charts or our personal schedules the key is to actually schedule time for that. If we use every minute of every day for tasks, we leave no time for thoughts or plans about those tasks. If we are completely consumed with helping others, we run the risk of doing too little for ourselves.

If one were to look in on my schedule, one would notice three types of do nothing times. The first is time to do nothing important or significant. This is time that I watch movies, read books or magazines or participate in some leisure or recreational activity that has nothing to do with my work. These activities give me a mental break. The second is time when I do nothing physical, but I spend time reflecting and planning my work. This is time that I make plans for the church, my businesses, my family or myself. During this time, I appear to be doing nothing but I am really doing nothing that others want me to do – like responding to their needs. In my business there is always something I could be doing to help someone else. The third do nothing time is literally spent doing nothing at all. Some might call this meditation and sometimes it is. But, during this time, I rest my mind and my body without going to sleep. And all of these times are written onto my schedule to protect my schedule from appearing to have available time for doing something. In that sense I am doing something by doing nothing. This protects my do-nothing time by making a commitment to it.

These times are in increments of hours, days and weeks. But making such a commitment can help protect us from undermining the truly important aspects of our lives by passionately pursuing great goals and ignoring our basic needs.

Action item: Check your schedule and make sure that you have made some plans to do nothing.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #26 – Personal Mission Statement

Every great company or organization has a mission statement. This is a brief statement – usually no more than a few sentences – that succinctly describes its purpose for existing and what it seeks to accomplish. This statement functions as a guide for all corporate or organizational activities and explains why any particular task is being performed.

The best advice I ever received was to write a mission statement for my life. It is fine to have goals that commit our lives to certain outcomes by certain dates. But those goals exist within the context of our life’s mission.

This is not as easy to do as it sounds. And the exact words may be amended or refined as the years pass. But being able to describe our lives in a few words can be one of the greatest accomplishments we may ever achieve.

What is your life’s mission?

Action item: Try to write a personal mission statement in 25 words or less.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #27 – Stuff Happens

I have spent this entire week in California and for some reason I have had earthquakes on my mind.  The thought of experiencing an earthquake is quite intimidating. I remember when we had a mild earthquake in New Jersey – about two years ago. Someone tweeted that they had moved to the east coast from the west coast precisely to get away from earthquakes. Then there was an earthquake on the east coast!

That is how life unfolds. Stuff just happens. And the point of remembering that fact is to factor the unexpected into our plans. This has been a sobering lesson for me to learn. If I allow myself just enough time to get to my meeting, I have left no room for traffic on the road. If I am not careful when going to the airport to catch a flight, I will not leave enough time for long security lines into the terminal. If I do not properly insure myself, I will not be prepared for accidents or other occurrences. If I spend every dime that I earn, I will have saved nothing for a rainy day or a jobless season.

It is not likely that many of us were completely prepared for an earthquake on the east coast. After all, the last earthquake in our parts of any magnitude was 1897. So, we can excuse ourselves for not having had earthquake insurance (not that we could have even bought it). But the same cannot be said about apartment insurance, long-term disability insurance and certainly not life insurance. Earthquakes may come every one-hundred years but death happens every day. How can we plan and make no plans for the one thing that is certain to happen in our lives?

What if our plans are undermined by events beyond our control? Are we prepared for the unintended? I have learned to expect the unexpected by hoping and praying for the best but planning and preparing for the worst. We cannot control what happens, but we can control how we respond if we are prepared.

In my book, dfree Lifestyle: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom,  I have included a fairly comprehensive discussion about preparing for things that can happen and Minimizing the Stress in our lives.  Being prepared for the stuff that may happens makes it easier to pursue those things that we want to happen.

Action item: Review your insurance coverage and set goals to appropriately prepare for the expected.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #28 – Make Failure Work For You

Failure is inevitable for those who attempt to do something. Some believe that it makes no sense to create goals or make plans because they are intimidated by the possibility of failure. Others have experienced so many failures that they assume that they will always fail at whatever they try. But properly understood, failure is the path that we travel to our success. It is how we respond to failure that determines whether we benefit from failure or are destroyed by failure.

I had to overcome the fear of failure just like everyone else who has attempted to do great tasks. One of the most important realizations that I had was that the only way to avoid failure was to do nothing. Then, of course, that would have made me a complete failure since failure is not missing the goal –  failure is having no goal at all. Failure is not losing the fight – failure is not having anything for which to fight. Dr. Benjamin Mays, former president of Morehouse College, said that the only thing worse than not reaching our dreams is not having dreams for which we are reaching. So, anyone who seeks to avoid failure by doing nothing has already failed!

So how do we make failure work for us? First, we realize that failure simply reminds us that we are normal. Everyone that we know has failed at something. Second, we realize that our failure did not kill us. The fact that we are still alive after we fail means that there is something worse that could have happened to us than failure. And finally, we consider the reasons that we failed and factor them into our strategy during our next attempt.

Don’t give up – August is almost here. Keep building your plan and do not let the fear of failure stop you from going forward.

Action item: Identify a personal failure and what you learned from that failure.

 

31-Day Makeover Day #29 – Keep the Faith

One day one of my sons taught me an important lesson about faith. While I was shaving in the bathroom, my oldest son told me that he needed money to take the train to New York and to have lunch while he was there. After we negotiated the amount that he needed, I agreed to fund his venture of the day. I was sure that he would come back into the bathroom where I was shaving to confirm our agreement. But contrary to my expectations, I received a text message about 20 minutes later informing me that he was almost at the train station and that he would need the money that I had promised to get on the train in a few minutes. Besides wondering how my dad would have responded had I left our house without saying goodbye, I appreciated the lesson my son had taught me about faith.

In his 21-year-old mind the commitment that I had made to him required no further discussion. Without having any of the money that I had agreed to provide my son had gotten dressed, left the house and made his way to the train station. He was so sure that I would keep my word that he commenced with his plans as if he had already received the cash. That is what I call faith!

Faith is when we proceed with our plans without any empirical evidence that our plans are possible. But our belief that our plans have gained Divine approval and that they represent exactly what we should be doing with our lives should propel us into the execution of our plans even before we have what we need to accomplish our goals.

I once spent an entire summer in church speaking about getting to the next level. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant for my own life, but I was committed to getting to the next level myself even as I served my members. Little did I know when I ventured into this uncharted teaching territory that God would use my younger cousin to contribute to my work and take me to my next level.

Faith is having the capacity to take action even before knowing that the action will yield results. Faith is setting goals even though present circumstances suggest that nothing better will ever happen. Faith is forging into the future although everything about the past argues against it.

Some people have challenged me about having faith in God. Sometimes they will say “How do you know there is a God?” In response I will say, “How do you know there is not a God?” Faith is choosing to believe what you believe even if it makes no sense to others.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Former Congressman and Pastor Adam Clayton Powell was famous for saying “Keep the Faith, baby.” I agree. Keep the Faith!

 

31-Day Makeover Day #30 – Plans Are Not Enough

We are now two days away from the end of the month. For those of us that made a commitment to be at our next levels by August 1 that means that we are two days away from blast off. The most important lesson that I have learned about planning to grow or expanding in life is that the process of planning for growth creates growth itself. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that the most powerful contribution made by the Civil Rights Movement was the positive impact it made on the psyche of black people. Once a person decides to refuse acceptance of the status quo and initiates efforts toward something better, that person has grown and improved already.

In my book, I describe debt-free living as starting when we make a commitment to debt-free living. St. Paul said that we should be transformed by the “renewing of our minds.” If we have begun to think about the future differently, then the future has already changed for us.

But planning and thinking are not enough. We must create specific steps that we must take to begin traveling toward our goals. This will require going back to the goals we have created for ourselves and making sure these are actually the goals that we plan to pursue. Each of these goals requires steps that we are going to have to take in order to get there. These steps become our process – and getting there does require a process.

Then we must complete our time charts to make sure that every hour of the day is spent intentionally and is aligned with our goals. One of my key mottos is this: “If you want something you have never had, you must do something you have never done.” Make sure you included in your plans doing at least one thing that is new for you. It may surprise you but it will not take long for you to have something new also.

As one great philosopher once said, “Just Do It!”

 

31-Day Makeover Day #31 – Prayer Changes Things

Today ends our 31-day journey that we have taken to prepare for a new beginning in August. Some people wait for special occasions to make new commitments. While birthdays, New Years and other such notable occasions lend themselves to reflection and projection, I believe that every day is a notable occasion and therefore every day lends itself to having new visions and making new plans.

There was no particular reason that I chose this period for a 31-day journey. However, my preaching this year has had the theme “Why Smart People Do Dumb Things” and in response to so many requests from my members for more specific advice I decided to share through this blog tips that I could not include in my sermons. If you would like to hear the sermons they are available at the church’s website (free of course) www.fbcsomerset.com or by podcast through iTunes.

The most important activity to remember as you attempt to move ahead and improve your life is prayer. As I stated earlier this month, there is a spiritual aspect of life that is both unavoidable and central to who we are. Prayer enables our physical existence to actually give way to our spiritual existence and focus completely on our spiritual Source. Prayer not only summons God’s assistance with our pursuit of greater things, but prayer also reminds us that we are not equipped with all of the resources that we need to become the people that we have the potential to become. The old folks used to say, “prayer changes things.” What I have learned is that the first thing that prayer changes is the person who is doing the praying.

I will be praying for those of you who have travelled with me this month. I will pray that God will bless your plans, your dreams and your goals. And I will pray that you will remember to pray for yourselves.

Action item: Write and let us know how you’re doing on your journey and who you are on August 1. Stay connected!

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