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With the New Year officially upon us (Happy New Year!) it’s time to begin asking that giant question: How am I going to make 2013 a great year? Even if 2012 was one of your best years ever there is always room for improvement, right? Conversely, if 2012 wasn’t exactly a banner year you have the opportunity to do things differently in the coming months.

I believe New Years has such an allure for us because it’s the season for us to assess, change, and look forward. The hitch is how to move forward and avoid the March trap of “Well, there’s always next year…” You can read literally hundreds of blogs on this topic. But, you happen to be reading this particular blog so with that in mind, I have five tips to put you in a good place this time next year.

Set some goals. For years I never set goals and my professional and personal life suffered because of a lack of focus. Ultimately, goals give us direction. It’s like setting a GPS and following the turn by turn directions to the destination we desire. Goal setting is a bit tricky though because we often don’t follow a goal setting procedure. To reuse the GPS analogy, without setting the right kind of goals we try to arrive at our destination without actually making the drive. I’m a huge fan of the SMART system of setting goals. SMART goals are: Specific, Meaningful, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. You can read more about that system here. If you set goals with this mindset your chances of succeeding at the right kind of goals is greatly improved.

Find a hobby. A couple of years ago I was having lunch with a friend. He asked me, “Dave, what are you doing for fun?” I was shocked at myself because I didn’t have a ready answer. I realized I had allowed all the unpleasant realities of my life to take over and my margin was practically nonexistent. This is not a good place to live. If you can’t answer the “fun” question then please, do yourself and the people you love a giant solid. Find a hobby. You even get to pick one. As long as your hobby doesn’t become an addiction to avoid life I think you’re safe with picking something that you actually enjoy and carving out some space to make it happen.  Which segues directly into tip 3…

Balance. Admittedly, this is hard. At least it is for me. With the demands of work, family, carving out space for hobbies, and making sure each is getting the correct amount of time is the old scenario of spinning plates. One method of evaluating the balance of your life is to take a week and track your time. Yep. Pen, paper, and write what you do in 15 – 30 minute intervals. My guess is that you’ll be surprised at the deficiencies in certain areas. However, don’t feel too bad at these discrepancies. We all have them. Instead, take your new found realizations and turn them into action plans. I had an acquaintance who was spending nearly five hours a day playing World of Warcraft. His response was, “I work really hard, this is my downtime (hobby)” Okay… I’m glad you have a hobby you enjoy. But this isn’t a hobby, it’s an addiction. Seriously. He was initially hurt and refused to talk to me for weeks. Thankfully, he came to his senses and created balance in his life. His wife and kids are glad he did.

Live in the now. One of my Strengthfinders strengths is context. Context is evaluating the past to understand the future. The dark side of this strength is the propensity to allow my past mistakes and failures to beat me up. Like, back alley getting jumped by thugs beat me up. It’s not pretty. Ask my wife. She’ll back me up on this. We learn from our past. Our mistakes are giant potentials for growth. But don’t let your past keep you stuck from living in the present. One of my favorite verses from the Bible is Revelation 21:5 …Behold, I make all things new… I don’t believe this is just referring to the new Heaven and Earth. I believe that word is for us today, now, in the present. It’s called redemption and it’s the best. If you’re having a tough time letting go of your past take it from someone who shares your struggle: Keep giving it to God and let His forgiveness and redemption wash all over you. God has a huge purpose and plan for your life. Onward.

Make space for God. One of our pastors used this line in last weeks New Years message. I love it. I resonate with it so deeply because in my quiet times I often wrestle with feeling as if it wasn’t productive or meaningful. But making space for God frames it a bit differently. A former spiritual director said it this way: Keep showing up. Just show up for God and let the Holy Spirit do His work. Yes, there is obedience in carrying out what God tells us to do. But I have the strong sense that many Christians get caught in the trap of feeling like they aren’t doing enough so they end up not doing anything. God loves us, immensely, and wants to spend time with us. So just show up. You may be surprised at the outcomes as you pursue consistent relationship time with the One you loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

So there you have it. Dave’s five tips for a fantastic 2013. In writing these though, goal setting pen in hand, I realize that these five tips are huge for me as well. May God richly, richly bless you beyond your wildest imaginations in the coming year.