Are your goals harmful to your health?
Recently, I completed my doctoral work. It was an arduous journey—physically and emotionally draining. Life doesn’t stop because you’re tired. Juggling the many “hats” I do, burnout was no laughing matter. Merriam-Webster defines burnout as “an exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged strests or frustration.” That was me.
I think we’re obsessed with goals. We read gads of leadership books about how to be “successful.” Recently, I read an article about how Richard Branson, Tim Cook, Bob Iger, and Tim Armstrong became successful—they awoke at 5 am. I thought, “I get up at 3 am—guess I’m doing it right!” Hashtag—Fail.
Success isn’t about cramming hours into a day. Reaching goals should be easier.
So, I researched goals and burnout. I dove deep. Out of the oceans of reasons, I was seeking a life-preserver—something to bring balance during the waves of life.
I discovered a parallel between the imago Dei (image of God) and the missio Dei (mission of God). God created man to work—pre-fall (Gen. 2:15; Eph. 2:10). Work is not a curse, but a blessing.
Man is a creative leader—like the Creator. Place hammers, nails, and wood in a room with monkeys and maybe—if you’re lucky—you get bent nails and broken wood. But with man, you get something creative! We were made for work and to have “dominion” (Gen. 1:26). Man was created for working-leadership.
So why burnout?
How come when we reach our goals, we’ve sacrificed relationships, health, and faith?
A man once questioned Jesus about which of the commandments was the greatest. Jesus responded, “The most important is … you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater” (Mk. 12:29–31). God’s command was unified, but we separate them. We burnout because we fail to strive for our goals—healthily.
Mark Strauss validates, he writes, “[The] four distinct features of personhood … do not represent separate components of human life, but function as a [unified whole]. Loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength has at its foundation and motivation in the transforming love that God poured out on us. The natural response to this overwhelming gift of love and grace is to love others with the same kind of self-sacrificial love God has shown us.”
I’m a big fan of tools—the right one makes the job easier. So, I developed a tool. The Health Before Goal, tool.
The Health Before Goal tool emphasizes the categories of the great commandment: spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational. When we focus on our goals, instead of our health—if—we reach the goal, we have sacrificed an area of health (spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational). If we seek health before goals, we reach our goals healthily.
As the imago Dei, we are spiritual beings. When we put anything before God—we’re setting ourselves up for spiritual failure. We’re sacrificing our soul, for success. When we focus upon God first, our spiritual health matures and flourishes—the imago Dei aligns with the missio Dei.
Application? Focus on quiet time for prayer, reflection, reading the Scriptures, prayer journaling and walking, fasting to place the spirit over the flesh, and devotional reading.
The next logical step is emotional health. Life is exhausting. Archibald Hart advises, to “Pay careful attention to developing an awareness of your limits … take a good Sabbath rest at the end of every day.” No one likes a grouch.
Application? Fast from social media an hour before bed, get adequate sleep, meditate, prioritizing your schedule, and practice short nap-taking.
Until a little over 100 years ago, man traveled by foot. God created man with physical activity in mind (Gen. 2:15). A moderate amount of exercise benefits: increased strength, feeling of well-being, reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, blood sugar levels, reduced body fat, anxiety, depression, and an overall balance of life.
Application? Try walking, running, lifting weights, or cardiovascular activity a few days a week for overall heart health.
Man needs healthy relationships. When goals become priority, people do not. Stepping on others may get you to your goal—but at what cost?
Application? Jesus commanded us to, “love one another” (John 13:34). Simple.
If you focus on the four areas of health, in order, you’ll achieve your goals healthily.
 Merriam-Webster Online,“burnout,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/burnout.
 Marcel Schwantes, “Richard Branson and Tim Cook Wake up at This Ungodly Hour (And You Should, Too),” Inc.com, July 15, 2017, accessed September 14, 2017, https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/richard-branson-and-tim-cook-get-up-every-day-at-t.html.
 Mark L. Strauss, Mark (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 542, 545.
 Archibald D. Hart, The Anxiety Cure: You Can Find Emotional Tranquility and Wholeness (Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 124.
 E. Topol, “Exercise for Your Heart Health,” Cleveland Clinic, October 2016,
Photo source: istock
Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, revitalization pastor, national director of operations for New Breed Network, and leadership coach. Matt holds a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission reproducible disciple-making strategies. Matt also writes for Church Planter Magazine and interviews well-known evangelical leaders on his discipleship podcast, The Wretched & The Wrecked.
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