“People are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren’t getting very far. They, in essence, are pushing a rope with all of their might.” 

Dr. Stephen R. Covey

“Begin with the end in mind,” “Sharpening the Saw,” and putting “First things first,” three of Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Habits, can help us to get what we want. Before we can plan a route, we need to know where we want to go. According to Boundaries, a book by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, it is our responsibility to identify and take ownership of our feelings, values, and priorities. Once we choose what we want to accomplish or experience, we can explore where we are and the steps that will take us to our desired destinations. 

Decide What You Want

It is easier to get what you want when you know what it is. I can take steps to go after a particular job, relationship, or car, but things are fuzzier when you want something that is not blue, leather, or heavy. Focus on what you would like instead of thinking about what you don’t want. Once we notice a behavior we would like changed, we can positively define what we would prefer to see instead. Appreciating and giving feedback about things we like can lead to our experiencing more of those things. If I feel ignored, I want more attention. 

When things do not go the way we want them to, we can look for what Michele Weiner-Davis calls “positive exceptions” in her book, Divorce Busters. We can look for what is different about the times that things go well and do more of what works. Finding clarity about what we desire helps us to make choices to help meet those needs. We can examine how we want to behave and how what we do influences others. 

Create a Detailed Picture

When we look at our lives, it is important to see the whole picture. One way to begin the process of understanding our desires is to create a collection of images called a vision board. My vision board, a fluid document that I frequently update, is filled with 33 pages of text and pictures of what I want. It is divided into sections such as personal, family, work, financial, home, and travel, and each category begins with a summary statement. I visually created my ideal in every category, and I listen to upbeat music while I read the text. Stephen Covey refers to the process of attending to important areas of our lives as “Sharpening the saw.”

Some people will find it difficult to begin. You might picture a time or place where you felt happy and make a list of the elements you most appreciated. Dream big! There are no limits on what you can be, have, or do. At the same time, it is important to believe the goals are attainable, so several of my statements contain wording like “I’m in the process of, I’m more consistently feeling, I am prioritizing, I am creating, and I am becoming.” 

Put First Things First

In order to accomplish our goals, we need to make sure we do what is important without getting distracted by other things. I put “First things first” by arranging my schedule to include regular activities that match my highest priorities. This year I volunteered with a nonprofit and sewed blankets for hospitals. I helped out in my daughter’s school classroom and worked with animals with my teenager. I mediated on behalf of BYU for community members. I did weekly work training. By consistently attending to these priorities, I found meaning and felt satisfaction.

How do you start? Figure out what you want (not what you should do or what someone else wants you to do). Make a list of possible actions that will take you in that direction. Consider which ones you would like to try first and make adjustments until you find what works for you. It feels good to get what you want. Start small. Start simple. Start now. 

How Does This Relate to Families?

My family recently considered moving, and I spent time looking at neighborhoods and houses. I made sure all of my priorities for a house were updated in my vision board. I asked my husband and children for feedback on the floorplan and rooms of the house. After communicating about our shared needs and desires, I had a much more accurate picture of a house that would work for us than I had before. It started with what I wanted, and it grew into a useful template for a future home for our family. This process of gathering information and helping all of us understand what we need and want can help with planning vacations, how we spend our free time, how we allocate our budget, the kinds of activities and responsibilities family members participate in, and other important family decisions. 

In conclusion, it is worth our effort to examine our priorities and focus our time, energy, money, and attention on the most important things. Individual and family clarity, followed by appropriate action, will help us reach our goals.