Maybe fast isn’t the goal.

Maybe cultivating an intentional life means aiming for what happens over time—like the richness of relationships—rather than getting to the finish line.

When something matters to you, you don’t focus on how slow the journey is to get there; you keep moving forward because the path forward is worth it.

The world says do more, grow fast, be big, use these tricks, analyze, do it like those people, get ahead. But that’s not how good things take root.

Maybe, despite what everyone tells you, slow is richer than fast.
Maybe a slower pace will help your roots stretch deep and wide.

It’s okay to grow slow.

– Excerpt from Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life

——

Get your copy today.

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We don’t like imperfect starts, do we?
We want perfect right out of the gate.
But all plants grow through the dirt, and so do we.
Making a mess doesn’t mean you become one. – Cultivate

Feeling guilty about not making progress on your goals or not starting them at all?

February 1 can be your January 1!

Some guilt is good—it can spur us on to make good choices. But, there’s another kind of guilt that doesn’t help you or anyone else: imperfection guilt.

You know the feeling. You mess up and immediately go into I’m-the-worst-person-in-the-world mode thinking, Why can’t I just keep it all together? Why do I have to be so flawed? Why can’t I just do it ALL and do it all well? Why can’t I just be like so-and-so? 

Here’s the thing. We are imperfect. Me, you, all of us! And the truth is that all progress is imperfect progress. Good things grow through challenges and missteps and slow growth.

My peonies literally cannot bloom in the spring unless they go through many weeks of bitter cold in the winter. They grow little-by-little, and they grow through the dirt.

So, my friend, I propose we let go of the imperfection guilt and embrace the perfectly imperfect ground we’re standing on, right where we are. This is our GROWING ground.

Goodbye goal guilt.

Goodbye, quick fixes.

Goodbye, expecting overnight change.

Goodbye doing too much at once.

Hello little-by-little steps.

Hello trying new things (and redirecting when something isn’t working!).

Hello progress not perfection.

Hello slow rooted growth.

Hello bravery. Because it takes a lot of guts to live intentionally.

Hello knowing that our worth is not based on our performance. Who made up the rule that you had to make perfect progress on everything in January?

Hello doing this differently.

Hello what actually works.

One way to give the imperfection guilt the boot is to embrace the truth and tension of “and.”

Ready?

You can be a goal getter and embrace imperfection.

You can grow slowly and make significant progress.

You can make imperfect progress on a goal and still achieve your goal.

You can grow tomatoes in your garden and have weeds.

Are you with me here? What “and” do you need to embrace to move forward?

For me: I can do less and be more effective. More giving. More productive in the things that are important to me. More at peace.

January was a month of embracing these truths, digging into new habits, and setting out with a clearer direction. Anc clarity breeds action! I shared my Top 10 Tips for Getting Started on Your Goals, How to Get Unstuck, and in taking my own advice, I made some significant changes to how I use my time.

Here’s a recap of my January progress and what I learned:

Monthly Goals:

Seek God first. Before seeking answers or wisdom or comfort anywhere else, I tried my hardest to go to God first this month (instead of to my phone or snacks or to complaining) and I pray that continues.
— Add 2018 goal steps to the calendar. I took 30 minutes in January and added all of my goal starting steps from my PowerSheets to my iCal and my Things app. For example, doing my Cultivated Calendar prep each month (preparing for birthdays, holidays, milestones) is important to me this year to help me grow several of my 2018 goals. I created a one-hour time block on my calendar each month to do it. I also created a yearly recurring task on Things that pops up a few days before the new month to remind me what birthdays or milestones to prepare for. A little intentional forethought has already gone a long way for me!
— Memorize Study Aleph + Bet. This is one place I redirected! I realized I bit off more than I could chew with memorizing Psalm 119 and reading the Bible this year, so I’m studying it instead. This is do-able and also challenging, which keeps me motivated! More here.
— Prayer journal date. I’m trying something new with my prayer journal this year. I’m having a longer prayer date to write out my prayers for the month and pray them right then instead of waiting for times later in the month. It’s one big prayer session to kick the month off, and the two times I’ve done it so far have been fantastic! I bring my prayer journal to church every Sunday and to our Sunday afternoon Bible study, so I check in on my prayers and add new ones (and notes about answered prayers) then as well.
— Have a day “on.” So, this is new. And this was not an easy one for me at first, but I knew it was necessary. This is something that came out of feeling spread thin in December and wanting to prevent any burnout on my part for my family and my team. In helping to write new employment contracts this year, it dawned on me that I’ve never taken all of my own allotted vacation days. I’ve certainly worked hard to not grow too much at once and to have strong boundaries, which has been wonderful, but I’ve come to a place in my life where I need more (to use my word of the year) light space. So, two Friday’s a month, I’m taking a day “on”—not a traditional day off, but a day to spend intentional time with God, the kiddos, and to step away from regular work so I can be refreshed and refueled for Ari, the kids, homeschooling, and work. I’ve done it twice so far and it has been helpful. It’s certainly tricky for me though. I am trying my best not to use these days to get one more thing done or clean or organize, but to really make it about soul care and being my best for others. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes throughout the year.
— Pray over new hires. Yes, many prayers have been offered up and I’m excited to see where God leads us.
— Pray over 2019 product development. I’m writing the 2019 PowerSheets this week and have been praying over our production process. By the way, we just sold out of all of our 2018 PowerSheets this week, but more 6-month sets will be back in May to help you finish out the year.
— Finish clearing out the attic. I made progress here, but I haven’t finished. There are two more bins of old college books that I need to go through!
— Take 1 step forward on 2018 budget. My one step was identifying my “block” on this goal. What’s been causing my inaction: I haven’t had clarity on the end goal or exactly what steps need to be taken in general! More below in my February goals.
— Cultivate Calendar prep for February. Yes! You can catch the replay of my live class about this with Emily Ley here.

Weekly Goals:
— Re-creation. Yes, progress was definitely made here. More about this goal here.
— Pray over each of our children. Yes, I’ve been praying over them out loud most mornings and evenings.
— Read Traction with Emily. Yes, we have implemented most of the book so far and are about to dig into the Process chapter to start tieing it all together. If you have employees, I can’t recommend this book enough! It has changed the way we do just about everything in our company.

Daily Goals:
— Chronological Bible reading. I am LOVING this! I decided to do this differently this year and do what’s called a “Plan with Friends” on the YouVersion Bible app. There are about a dozen of us and it has been awesome to share our thoughts with each other as we read each day. Doing this with a small intimate group has been wonderful!
— Kiss Ari. I shared a little about this here, but yes, this goal is going well and I’m so grateful for how it’s affecting not only us but our kiddos who smile so big when we kiss! Joshua has started giving me kisses too. 🙂
— #RunLiftPraise. I have exercised every day, but no weights. You’ll see an update on this one in my February goals.
— Eat clean. Yes! Every January Ari does a fast of sorts where he doesn’t eat meat or sweets as a simple way to remind him to think about God more and rely on Him for comfort. I love this fresh start in our house every January.
— Cultivate better sleep. I’ve made progress here mostly through not looking at my phone after work.

The snow melting on the pansies. These little guys are tough!

On to February! This month is a bit packed, so I spent some extra time making sure my goals were clear and do-able. I’m so grateful for my PowerSheets or I would be going into this month feeling overwhelmed already. So often what leads to overwhelm is simply the unknown, right? We have so many thoughts and to-do’s swirling around in our heads. But, when we give them a place and sort through them, the overwhelm melts as we solve problems and see what needs to be done and what doesn’t. While there’s a lot to accomplish in February, I’m feeling ready because I have a clear picture of what needs to happen. And I’m excited for lots of fun things we have planned this month, too!

Monthly Goals:
First things first. Similar to my goal to seek God first in January, my top priority for February is to spend more time with God than I do with the world.
Prayer journal date. Already done (last night)! I have a recurring task on my Things app that reminds me to prepare my prayer journal a few days before the new month.
Prayerfully hire new team members.
Start seeds indoors + garden planning. More to come here!
Write the 2019 PowerSheets. Eeeeee! So excited about this!
2017 corporate taxes completed. Okay, not so excited about this, but I am staying focused on how I will feel when this is done. That motivates me to dig in and get it off my plate. Anyone have a fun way they celebrate getting taxes done?
Pray over the plan for books. I’ve been talking about the Gracie’s Garden book for a while and there’s another book we have in mind as well. I need God’s wisdom on when to start and what direction to take with both, so my goal for February is to pray about these two projects. Prayer is an action step—one of the very best you can take. 🙂
— Set strength training plan + start. If you’ve followed for a while, you know I used to be a personal trainer. I now work out at home with the kiddos in the morning. And I made some great progress on at-home strength training in 2017 using some simple free weights. I’d like to switch it up and am considering getting one of those over-the-door exercise band things. More to come here as I uncover the plan and start!
— Identify budget steps and goals. As I mentioned in my January update above, I have been stuck on this one. I realized that I have been stuck because the vision/goal and steps haven’t been clear to me. My goal this month is to identify clear goals with Ari and steps we need to take.
— March Cultivated Calendar prep.

Weekly goals:
— Write + study Gimel + Daleth (Psalms 119).
— 2 Days “on.”
— Undistracted + cultivated homeschool.
— Re-creation.
— Read Traction with Emily.
— Pray the Word.

Daily Goals:
— Chronological Bible reading.
— Soul care at night. This means spending time with my prayer journal, in the Word, preparing for the next day, or doing anything that doesn’t involve my phone. This may sound silly, but something that has helped me is turning on the digital fireplace on our Amazon firestick! Even a digital fireplace relaxes me for some reason. 🙂
— Kiss Ari.
— SLEEP.
— Pray over kiddos + family worship. Family worship is new and something that I’m excited about. I watched a video series by Donald Whitney that inspired me to give it a try. So far so great! While the kids eat breakfast in the morning, I read them a super short Bible story, we say a prayer, and then we sing a song. That’s it! It takes 10 minutes and they are loving it.

I’m getting so excited about garden planning!

Your turn! Do you have goals for February? What are you cultivating in this new month? I’ll pick one of you to send a special surprise box of goodies to from the Cultivate What Matters shop. I love sending real mail, and I love hearing your thoughts!

P.S. Did you know that 80% of the people give up on their goals by mid-February? Not us, my friends! To help us all make little-by-little progress forward, and not jump ship when we mess up along the way, we’re excited to announce that the 2nd-Annual Cultivate What Matters week starts Feb 12th! Mark your planners for a week of grace-filled goal-encouraging goodness. It was a hit last year and we can’t wait to dig in with you! Details to come.

 

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Need a fresh start in these first few weeks of the year? This post is just for you!

I’ve been breaking a lot of the traditional “rules” this week with my goals, and this is my invitation to you to do the same.

Let’s get you unstuck, shall we?! 🙂

I’ve chosen to grow slowly and take January to test the waters with how I’m acting on my goals. Who made up the rule that we have to make perfect progress on our goals right from January 1st? Who says you can’t try different ways to cultivate your goals—or quit things that aren’t working? Who told us we have to follow a plan that fits in a box? Here’s the truth: there are a million ways to grow a garden, and everyone’s soil is completely unique! In the same way, how you cultivate your goals will be unique too.

But, if something isn’t working, or you aren’t feeling motivated with your goals, try one of these five things:

1. Push through and give it a fighting chance. I’m gonna pull some North Carolina history out on you: the Wright Brothers. They changed history through their persistence in failure. It takes time to move from the stage where doing something new feels hard (which most things feel like when you are just starting them!), to feeling like you’re in a groove.

2. Consider that your goal might not really matter to you. If you are feeling unmotivated, get back to your WHY. Does the pursuit of your goal fire you up so much that you are totally okay with failure along the way to the finish line? I can confidently say this about all of my 2018 goals. No matter how many times you fall along the way, you are not gonna give up because this matters to you. Your goal matters now, it matters in the in-between, and it matters in the big picture. If not, this might be the reason you aren’t motivated! If a goal doesn’t matter to you, do not pass go, do not collect your $200. Cross it out and move forward to use your energy on goals that DO matter to you. (And don’t let yourself fall into the goal guilt trap here—learn from this and move forward!) It’s easy to fall into the New Year’s trap of setting goals that sound good or setting goals out of comparison. Come mid-January we wonder why our motivation has fizzled. Wonder no more! Go back to these questions to help you set goals that fire you up for the long-haul.

3. Break out of telling the same story. A little nugget from our sermon on Sunday: People often get stuck because they are stuck telling a story about why they are stuck. I’ve experienced this countless times! For example, when I wanted to quit my business, after months of uncertainty and feeling stuck, I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to move forward was to let go of all of my plans, my thinking, my fears, my hopes, my complaining in the wait (waiting is hard, isn’t it!?) and what I thought to be possible, in favor of listening. Maybe there was a better plan. Maybe there would be good things that would come out of my hard season. Maybe I had no idea how much I would grow and how good the changes that followed would be (I didn’t!). I was stuck telling myself the story about how I was stuck and it was blinding me from new possibilities. I finally surrendered (which is hard for those of us who like to be in control and know outcomes!) and could finally hear what God wanted me to do. I know this is easier said than done, but consider the story you are telling yourself about why you “can’t” do something or why you are stuck. Press into that a little more than is comfortable. I wouldn’t be writing you this post had I not pressed in, let go, and prayed on my living room floor that day.

4. Tell someone about your goal. Goals without accountability rarely work. Here’s what we’ve found to be true in studying thousands of women and how they make goals happen intentionally:

Community creates Accountability
Accountability creates Follow-Through/Action
and Action creates Results

If something is really important to you, remember: make sure you don’t tell a single person about it or you might DO something about it! 😉

Case in point: my goal to make 2018 The Year of Kissing. Ari peeked over my shoulder and saw this secret goal on my PowerSheets, so I had to spill the beans. I’m not too mad about it, though. He’s totally on board and helping me make it happen. He has even reminded me a couple times this week, “Wait, your PowerSheets say you need to kiss me!” I’ve been much more consistent with this goal since telling him all about it!

5. Redirect! If an action step, routine, system, or something you are doing to cultivate your goal truly isn’t working—and you know for sure that your goal matters to you—it might be an indication that you need to redirect! Redirecting is one of my favorite tactics in goal-getting. Simply try something different. A cultivated life is not about following a perfect plan; it’s about your heart. How you grow an intentional life doesn’t matter as much as WHY you do it. When you have that fact on straight, you will be willing to change and bend how you make it happen in order to cultivate your goal.

For example, my number one goal this year is to grow my faith by reading and praying through the chronological Bible again. In testing out my plan for this year, I realized I bit off more than I could chew in trying to read the Bible and memorize Psalm 119 this year. So, I changed it up! I’m still reading the Bible, but instead of memorizing Psalm 119, I’m writing each section out (just like we do in our Write the Word journals) after church on Sunday while Grace does her Bible class homework. This is a good, slow, yet intentional rhythm that I am confident I can keep this year. Because it’s do-able and also challenges me, it motivates me to dig in!

It’s okay to jump ship on things that simply aren’t working. You have permission to change things up!

Your turn! Which of these tips stood out to you the most and why? I’d love to hear!

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Friends, I’m here to lay down some truth for you today. Whether you’ve set goals or have yet to dig in, guess what?

Goal guilt be gone!

It’s never too late to start something good.

There is nothing magical about January 1, and hear me loud and clear here: you are not one bit “behind” if you haven’t started setting goals yet. Who made up the rule that you had to have the perfect plan in motion by January 1?? No one.

To help you start this new year well—without burning out by February like everyone else—I’m sharing my Top 10 Tips for Getting Started on Your Goals. Hint: it’s easier than you think.

Tip 1: First, set goals that mean something to you. This is tip number 1 for a reason. Before you get started on making your goals come to life, you’ve got to have some good goals! Traditional goal setting does not work for me. New Year’s resolutions last till about February 15th because they are typically goals created out of guilt or comparison. That’s not how I do goals. The way we’ve done goal setting for the last 7 years isn’t rocket science and it WORKS.

Cultivated goals set you on the right path. Cultivated goals have a clear why behind them that matters so much to you that it’s worth doing the hard work, taking some leaps of faith, and you can’t help but be motivated to make them happen. Uncover your good goals for 2018 in my FREE 5-Part Goal Setting Series. Plus, The Ultimate Goal Setting Giveaway in this series ends January 31st, so you have plenty of time to dig in.

Part 1: Let’s Get Started!
Part 2: Cultivate What Matters
Part 3: Choose a Word
Part 4: Uncover Intentional Goals
Part 5: Make it Happen – How to Set Your Goals

Tip 2: Break it down. So, you have a good goal (or several). Now what?

Break.

It.

Down.

Do you know why most goals sit around and go nowhere?

We try to do it ALL at once, instead of breaking our goals down into do-able (dance-able!) steps.

Here’s an example from my own goals. My number 1 goal this year is to read the chronological Bible again. Breaking it waaaaaay down (the lower you go the better, my friend), here are my starting steps:

  1. Open the YouVersion Bible app on my phone
  2. Search “Blue Letter Bible Chronological” in Plans
  3. Click “Start Plan!”

There you have it—I’m reading the Bible! 10 minutes a day, for 365 days, little-by-little, I’ll complete this goal. I do it first thing in the morning before I get out of bed because I want this. My why is clear. And, instead of trying to do it all at once or bite off more than I can chew, I’m breaking it down.

Your turn! Try this: take a blank piece of paper. At the top, write today’s date and your goal. At the bottom, December 31st and what you want to accomplish by then. The in-between is where you DANCE, my friend.

Break it down!

What has to happen to get that goal moving?

Name your three small but clear starting steps. You don’t have to know the whole plan—just write your specific starting steps and, in general, what has to happen after that. A bonus? Breaking down goals feels good because you experience tangible hope and momentum as you get those goals movin’!

Tip 3: Choose one goal as your priority. It’s okay to grow slow. In fact, it’s really good. The recipe for burnout is to try to make progress on ALL of your goals at once. Choose just one goal as your priority this month. That doesn’t mean you can’t work on others, but choose one to really sink your teeth into this month. If your goals truly matter to you now, they’re still going to matter to you next month, or whenever you choose to work on them. Grow slow and steady to give things time to grow well.

New homeowners like trees labeled “fast-growing” to fill in a space quickly, or provide shade to reduce the cooling bill. But fast-growing trees don’t have deep enough roots to last through storms and drought. Good things grow, and take root, little by little. And pruning helps plants be more fruitful.

Maybe–despite everything everyone tells you–fast isn’t the goal.

Maybe less is okay.

Maybe a slower pace will help your roots stretch deep and wide.

It’s okay to grow slow.

Tip 4: Embrace progress, not perfection. Little-by-little imperfect progress is still progress! The best part? It adds up. You don’t have to make perfect progress to accomplish a goal. In fact, you likely won’t! And you don’t need to have the perfect plan right from the start to begin a goal (we often get hung up there, don’t we!?). In fact, I encourage you to test out different systems and starting steps to see what fits you best as you begin a goal.

Just make sure you start somewhere.

For me, the month of January is my “testing” month. I’m getting my feet wet with my goals, learning what works and what doesn’t in establishing new habits, and genuinely embracing progress, not perfection. Remember, it’s okay to grow slow. You do not have to do it all, and accomplish everything on your list immediately. I know you may want to, but we miss so much when we race to the finish line. We miss the magic and ripening that happens in little-by-little imperfect progress.

Fall down 7 times; get up eight. You will get to the finish line!

Tip 5: Tend it to grow it. Imagine this. You plant a seed, promptly dump a bucket of water on it, and get frustrated the next day when there isn’t a full-grown blooming tree. We do that with our goals, don’t we?? Tend it to grow it. Even if you miss a few days of watering here and there, consistency over time is what counts. We have tons of Action Plan Ideas and Tending Tips on the Cultivate What Matters site to get you thinking and acting on those goals, tending to them little by little.

Tip 6: Embrace your season. No other tip gives me more freedom and joy in goal setting than this: we were made for seasons. Lose the goal-setting pressure by embracing this truth. You don’t have to set a goal for all of time. Your goals may grow and change as you do. Because of this, we do a Goal Refresh ever quarter in the PowerSheets. Whether you have PowerSheets or not, set yourself up for success and put the following four dates on your calendar right this second: March 25th, June 25th, September 25th, and December 3rd. Write “Goal Refresh” on those first three dates (Include a post-it note with these questions to ask yourself about each of your goals: Does this goal still matter to me? Why? Is there anything holding me back from making progress? What little-by-little progress have I made so far? Are there any goals I need to let go of, tweak, or add?), and join us for our free annual PowerSheets Prep Week starting on December 3rd to get ready for 2019!

Tip 7: Set yourself up for success. When you are growing something new, weeds are bound to pop up and try to suck the life out of what you’re growing. So, set yourself up for success and don’t let the distractions try to throw you off track on your goals! I have installed WasteNoTime for Safari (allows you to limit usage of certain websites), Ad Blocker Plus for Safari (removes banner ads that try to pull your eyes away from what you’re reading), and Newsfeed Eradicator for Chrome (removes your Facebook newsfeed and replaces it with an inspiring quote—genius!). These have been so helpful to keep me focused. For the last 8 years, I’ve also taken social-media-free weekends which help me stay focused on the people right in front of me. Have another distraction-killing tip? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

Tip 8: Put your goals front and center. One of the main reasons goals don’t get accomplished may seem silly, but it’s true (and I’ve fallen victim to this in years-past!): we flat-out forget about our goals. Out of sight, out of mind. We do whatever is habit instead. But, we aren’t going to let that happen in 2018, are we?! Have your goals out in the open and written everywhere and anywhere! Keep your goals front and center so you don’t forget where you’re going. If you are a PowerSheets user, put your monthly Tending List out where you can see it every day—I keep mine open on my desk at all times. My PowerSheets never get closed.

I just filled out my January Tending List last Thursday—there’s nothing magical about January 1. Last Thursday was the perfect day for me to dig in!

Tip 9: Cultivate your calendar. Want to know one of the most underutilized tools for making your goals come to life? Your calendar! Whether you use a digital calendar like iCal or a physical day planner, fill your calendar with what matters (your goal action steps, rest time, time for relationships) before it gets filled with all the other things of life. First things first, take a look back at your 2017 calendar and identify times you needed more margin, planned too much, or want to see change. We do this each year in our business and I did it for our family too! There were many holidays I didn’t do meaningful things for that I could have done something for (even something super simple) had I been more intentional in preparing. A little forethought goes a long way. It seems so simple, but it’s so rarely done: make what matters to you a priority and put it on your calendar! Watch my free class with Emily Ley on How to Create a Cultivated Calendar. Total game-changer for me!

Tip 10: Think outside the box. Instead of reading a physical Bible each morning, I’m listening to most of it on audio in the YouVersion Bible app (tip: try listening at 1.5x speed in the ESV or NLT translations). Get creative with how you make your goals happen. Make it work for you!

A Bonus Tip: Have fun! Accomplishing new things is hard work, and we like to balance that with intentionally letting ourselves laugh and having fun along the way. Ask yourself, “What would make me look forward to doing the hard work?” If you make it fun, celebrating your big and small steps along the way, you’re more likely to keep going!

Okay, it’s your turn! I’d love to hear your own tips and tricks for getting started on your goals, and staying on track. What helps you? What is your one focal goal? Any starting steps on your list or already done? I’d love to hear!

One lucky commenter on this post will win a Goal Setting Sticker Book!

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How are you feeling about 2018, friends? Excited? Overwhelmed? Ready to dive in? To help you with all of those feelings, I have all of our best resources in one post for you today!

Here are the most-loved posts this year on the blog:

  1. No surprise, this year’s Goal Setting Series tops them all! Get started here with Part 1.
  2. Embracing Change + An Interview with Korie Robertson
  3. Using Our Gifts + My October PowerSheets Goals 
  4. The Cultivate Book Cover + Film Reveal!
  5. 10 Lies and 10 Truths (and the first 3 chapters of Cultivate for free!)
  6. How to Start Writing a Book
  7. Gardening 101: The Story of an Unlikely Gardener
  8. How to Wear Your Hair Curly
  9. It’s not technically a blog post, but the most visited page besides the blog is my new About Page.
  10. And last, but certainly not least: We Gave Two Men a Box of PowerSheets

Here are the top posts from the Cultivate Blog too!

And now, a look back at 2017 from all of us at Cultivate What Matters. We are so grateful for this year with you!

WOAH that’s a LOT of stickers! 🙂 And that email number is crazy but so exciting. That’s the number of emails we sent to subscribers this year!

Here’s our music video, the viral unboxing video, and we’re hiring!

Happy New Year, friends! I’ll be back next with my Top 10 Tips for Getting Started on Your Goals.

The best is yet to come,

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