Principles are the Key to Setting Goals that Are True to You

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We can share the same principles with others, but choose different ways to live those out. Principles must come before applications so that you can make the best choices for you and set clear goals. Understanding your own goal setting principles is great way to take your life in the right direction — for you.

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Years ago as a young mom and recovering perfectionist, I found myself inundated with a range of (often conflicting) ideas as to how to parent, how to make my home, how to do life. Over time it created more complex tasks on my to do list than were actually unnecessary.

Thankfully, I learned a truth that helped me keep my head above water. Principles are different from applications.*

There are lots of ideas out there about what we should do, how we should create behavior change and what specific criteria we should follow to be a good wife, good mom, good homemaker… blah, blah, blah. 

It can get overwhelming weeding through them, especially when you’re looking to set effective goals that suit your personal life and don’t conflict with your own abilities and values.

Being able to tell the difference between a principle and an application of a principle is important, especially when setting personal goals.

  • It helps you decide what to do.
  • It helps you decide what not to do.
  • It helps you shape opinions and choices that suit you in your season of life with your personality and circumstances.

Understanding your own goal setting principles is key to setting attainable goals that you even want to reach in the first place.

sea gull on a stone wall with ocean and marsh in the distance.

Principle or Application?

Let’s look at some examples of how principles and applications differ.

Some women choose to breastfeed their babies. Some choose to bottle feed. These are both applications of a larger principle: You should make sure your baby is well-nourished.

In some families, the man of the house does the bookkeeping. In others it happens to be the woman. The greater principle: It is good to pay your bills and try to save money for the future.

Some people enjoy going to the gym; others like hiking and biking. The principle at hand: Physical movement is good for our bodies.

I think that universally we can agree on these principles:

  • You should make sure your baby is well-nourished.
  • It is good to pay your bills and try to save money for the future.
  • Physical movement is good for our bodies.

But we can vary widely in how we decide to apply these principles to our lives. One woman’s general goal may be to breastfeed exclusively for 2 years, while another woman may choose something very different. Both are feeding their babies.

The principles may be the same and even the specific objectives, but the plan of action you choose on a personal level will differ from the next person. Each should find her own groove!

Principles come before applications – and people will differ in the applications or methods they choose to live out those principles, ergo, their goals will reflect their individual differences and long range plans.

In the past when I’ve been setting goals for the future, I’ve often started with a vision board (big idea!) or made a list of new skills I wanted to learn or things I wanted to do (small ideas!), but I’m finding that the most important features of goal setting, especially for important goals, is to be clear on your values, the principles you want to live your life by.

After all, the goals/dreams/systems you develop or strive toward are really applications of a bigger principle.

colorful blue bird on a branch in front of a wooden fence.

What are your guiding principles for life? for the year?

To set actionable goals for yourself, it’s a good idea to be clear on your principles. In some ways, I think it’s what Tsh is describing here in her Rule of Life.

A principle can be defined as “a rule or belief governing one’s personal behavior.” We develop our principles as we grow and mature, and we tweak our goals overtime as a way to apply those principles, through both short-term goals and longer ones.

This past month, I dug into my planner for 2024 to flesh out my fundamental principles for myself.

As a regular habit, I like to focus on eight areas of life that are important to me and set my own goals within each: 

  1. personal health
  2. spiritual/intellectual growth
  3. marriage and family
  4. home
  5. finances
  6. hospitality/friendships
  7. work
  8. travel

This year I found myself articulating some of my principles in my planner as relates to these areas of life. That’s the blue writing. The black writing is a brainstorm of ways I hope to apply those principles, which I’m working into different types of goals.

The wording of my goal setting principles is still up for editing, but here’s how I’m thinking about them now:

principles and goals on ipad, listed as priorities.

personal health – I am thankful for my body and what it has accomplished. I want to enjoy its capabilities until my 90s.

spiritual/intellectual growth – I can learn new things and build positive pathways in my brain. (neuroplasticity and a growth mindset)

relationships and family – My family is the most important thing in my life: our marriage, then our kids.

home – I want home to be a place of peaceful energy.

finances – Between our jobs, God has provided all that we need. I want to be a good steward of this.

hospitality/friendships – Doing life with others is fun, brings meaning and joy, and can be a means of pointing others to Jesus.

work – I love my work and being creative, so much so that I can become obsessive. How do I honor God with my work?

travels – God’s world and the people He made are amazing. I can learn so much from them.

Having my principles right there in front of me helps me to make decisions and develop achievable goals and systems that help me be true to myself and what I really want. It’s the best way to knowing what type of goal to set in the first place. 

As I went through the process of articulating specific goals for this quarter, really understanding these principles was the first step. I can then set goals, knowing very clearly what’s most important to me. 

Successful goal setting requires a dedication and a desire to getting across the finish line. If your principles are clear at the start and your goals in line with what you value, then you’re more willing to put in the hard work to meet those goals.

* I first came across the concept of principles v. applications in the era of magazines and online forums, in the days before “social media”. Basically, the late 90s, early 00s. In my memory the article was about principles v applications, but the article has since been fleshed out into a book, The Fruit of Her Hands by Nancy Wilson. An entire chapter is devoted to principles and methods, methods being another word for applicationApplication, however, is the word that I’ve remembered and referenced for the last 20+ years.

More Thoughts

What works for you?

Leave a comment below and let us know what works for you.

woman writing in a notebook, with text overlay: principle-driven goals, what matters most to you?

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