*Adapted from Joyful Soul: A Promise Worthy of Trust on sale now:
AOFs, or Areas of Focus, is a term I use to describe the areas of value in one’s life. These are the areas where most of us want to feel a sense of joy and balance. There are five characteristics that can empower you to succeed in every area of your life that is important to you. They are: tenacity, discipline, goal-setting, approaching each AOF from a place of power and love, and eliminating fear. Let’s take a brief look at each of these.
Tenacity is stick-to-itiveness, the determination and will to persist, the refusal to quit, the promise to persevere in one’s purpose and press forward even when facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. A tenacious person firmly resolves to reach his or her goal no matter what stands in the way. Remember, a balanced and joyful life is at stake here! If you approach every goal you have for yourself with tenacity, you will find that doors open for you. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened” (Matt 7:7-8). This is a promise worthy of trust.
Discipline is the virtue of self-mastery. It is tenacity’s best friend. Discipline is practice, plus patience, plus persistence, with a purpose. Discipline means developing and repeating a positive, goal-directed behavior until it becomes a habit as you work patiently step-by-step toward an objective. Of course, to achieve a balanced life with discipline, flexibility is required. This means that you will need to exercise restraint if those around you are not moving at the pace you would like them to. So discipline also means maintaining order and control within yourself. Trust yourself, trust the process, work patiently and persistently and know that in good time you will achieve your goals. If you are purposeful, persistent and disciplined in your efforts, you will move forward—and as you do your self-confidence will grow.
This brings us to our next characteristic: Being a goal setter. Discipline and tenacity imply that you have both a plan and objectives to reach. So as we discuss each Area of Focus, it is essential that you set goals for yourself. And be sure to write them down. Extant research shows that when goals are written down, and when what is written down includes how and when goals will be met, they are achieved more often than when goals are not written down or when one fails to include both how and when they will be reached. Researchers aren’t sure why this is, but perhaps the reason is that writing our goals down keeps us accountable. This does not mean that you will accomplish every goal exactly when you say you will. There may be disruptions. You may suffer setbacks. Or God may have other plans for you, and if you are listening in faith, you will adjust. What it does mean is that you will have a baseline to work from, adapt, and fine-tune. So for each chapter in this book dealing with an AOF, write down concrete goals for yourself. This will make the whole process very real to you, and you can even chart your progress and enjoy each success on the journey. Be realistic during this process. Remember: Any movement forward is progress. Whatever your dreams and goals are, express them and set them into motion. Then stay in motion, and don’t become discouraged if you progress more slowly than you expected. I believe our goals are connected to our destiny. Our destiny reveals itself in our longing to achieve our goals, and we cannot find rest until they come to fruition. Your goals and your restless longing to achieve your destiny are gifts that make you unique. Don’t give up. Tap into your faith in God. Believe in yourself and your destiny. Take joy in the journey.
A Spirit of Power and Love
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7 NLT). These are beautiful and empowering words. Notice that the verse speaks of these gifts as something we already possess. God has given us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. It is no coincidence that these three spiritual virtues are given together. “Power” is the capability to act decisively to affect oneself and others, the capacity to effect change in the world. Power in this sense can be good or evil. That is why when God gives the gift of power, he gives it together with love and self-discipline. Love is the channel through which our power must flow to others, and self-discipline equips us to use our power wisely and with good judgment for the benefit of others.
But what if you feel disempowered? What if you feel that your shortcomings are too many or your weakness too great to act? Consider the example of the apostle Paul, whom God used to carry the message of salvation throughout the whole of the then-known world. In one of his open letters to the church in Corinth, he writes frankly of his weakness. He suffered a severe malady of some kind that made his already arduous work even more difficult. Three times, he says, he prayed for liberation from it. The response? The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor 12:9 NAB). Do not fear your weakness. God will work with you and through you just as you are.
When you acknowledge the power you have been given and the love you carry within you, something wonderful happens. You become aware of your effect on all the people in your life—and not just on those closest to you, but also those who are acquaintances or even strangers. You also realize how much you are capable of and how much you can achieve. Susan Jeffers writes much about this in her book, Feel the Fear, and Do it Anyway. Use her words, “I am powerful and I am loving,” and witness fantastic changes in your outlook on life.
Toss the Fear
As you work on some of these Areas of Focus, you may feel a sense of trepidation or fear that stops you from proceeding. Perhaps you are worried about how others will take to the new way you are living your life. This is a normal and natural occurrence. In psychology, we use a term called homeostasis which may help you to move past the fear and worry. Homeostasis describes what happens to individuals and those closest to them when they begin to make changes in their life. Inevitably what occurs is that those closest to the individual will attempt to move the person back to his or her original way of being. In other words, they will try to maintain the “status quo.” Homeostasis may also occur to the person making the changes. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you make a major change that will improve your life but it affects your children, they will naturally fight to keep things going the way they always have been, if there was a “payoff” for them. For example, if you decide that you are going to maintain a healthy diet and begin to present dinners of broiled chicken, green beans and brown rice to your kids instead of the macaroni and cheese they are accustomed to, they will most likely attempt to sabotage your quest for good health. They got a payoff when you didn’t take care of your physical health: macaroni and cheese dinners!
Most of us struggle with change, and if you are going to put your life in balance and be a joyful soul, you will be making changes. Lots of them. So be prepared for the pull you feel to go back to “life as usual” and also for the pull you might experience from others to bring you back there, too. It is interesting that homeostasis occurs when any change is made, positive or negative. So even if you are making things infinitely better for yourself and those around you, you may encounter resistance. Recognize it for what it is and move forward anyway. You and everyone you care about will be better off in the long run if you do not revert to your old patterns.
Think of some of your past accomplishments. Whether they were big or small, you most likely exercised the five characteristics mentioned above to succeed. I did not earn my black belt in Tae Kwon Do without applying tenacity, discipline, goal-setting, wise use of power, and moving past fear in my practice. In my life since then, recalling this accomplishment has inspired me to achieve many other goals. So remember a time you accomplished something through hard work and perseverance. Then recall how you utilized these five characteristics to help you do it. This will help you stay focused and determined in your future endeavors, thereby enabling you to succeed.
You Are on Your Way
So there you have it, a guide to use before we get started on tackling each AOF on the way to becoming a Joyful Soul, living a balanced life of fulfilled dreams!