Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

A life of celebration (setting clear goals)

[This is the fifth post in the series Plan2Change, about the possibility and process of personal growth. Check out parts 1 2, 3, and 4]

“When I was growing up I always wanted to be someone. Now I realize I should have been more specific.” Lily Tomlin

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with goals my whole life. Sometimes they look at me disapprovingly—judging me for my failures. At other times they evade my grasp (and I swear I hear them laughing).

But recently, things are changing. I am learning to set better goals. And now they are something other than elusive and judgmental; they are a reason to celebrate.

Todd Hryck (Creative Commons)

Todd Hryck (Creative Commons)

Last summer, after three straight years living overseas, we took the family for a visit to America. To be honest, I was afraid. During our first year in Bosnia I lost 30 pounds without any effort. During a short two month return trip to the land of plenty, I re-gained half of it. I was happy with my current weight and afraid I would take too much of America back with me after the summer.

So I set a goal. I wanted to return to Bosnia exactly the same weight as when I left. I called it Operation Zero.

Now, I wanted to do this without missing out on all the wonderful food America offers. Farm Burger. Chick-fil-a. Bar-b-que ribs. Fried chicken. How could I eat and stay the same weight?

I decided to start running. I only needed to run as much as I ate.

My first day back in the States I weighed myself. That became my benchmark. Throughout our four month visit I kept tabs on my weight. I also tracked my running.

80 kilometers in May.
100 kilometers in June.
100 kilometers in July
110 kilometers in August

Yes, I was eating a lot. But as I ate more and more, my weight stayed around my target. My final weigh-in was at the end of August. I was 1 pound lighter.

As I look back on this summer, I realize there were a few things I did right in my goal setting:

My goal was measurable.

I could have made my goal not to get fat in America. But what does that really mean? How do you judge that? Do you use a mirror? Well, looks can deceive. By using a scale I took away the doubt and avoided self-deception. It was very easy to determine whether of not I met my goal. Either I weighed the same or not.

This is challenging for some kinds of goals. For example, becoming a better husband. How can you measure that?

Ask yourself, how will I know when I’ve grown in this area? Or, what will be true when I’ve grown in this area? We have to fight for clarity. If we fail at this stage, it is difficult to succeed later.

My goal was attainable.

I did not plan to lose weight in America. That would have been a ridiculous goal. I knew that simply staying the same weight would be hard enough.

[tweet_quote hashtags=”#change #goalsetting” ]When we set impossible goals we predetermine disappointment.[/tweet_quote] It is better to meet a smaller goal than to fail at an audacious goal. The confidence you gain by meeting the smaller goal will propel you on to more challenging things.

Some of us are prone to impatient goal setting. Instead of breaking the journey down into human-sized steps, we create a plan that can succeed only with miraculous intervention. This is okay when you are working in an area where a miracle is required. But in normal life, this is not smart.

Think about your friend who lost 50 pounds in a month thanks to a fad diet. How long did he keep off the weight? We want our goals to be attainable and sustainable. It is better to lose 5 pounds a year and keep it off then to lose 50 in a month, regain it the next, and lose confidence that change is possible.

My goal was memorable.

Because I gave my goal a memorable name—Operation Zero—I thought about it a lot through the summer. I talked about it with my wife. It affected the choices I made throughout the day.

There is nothing more frustrating than a blurry goal. Like Mr. Magoo on a gun range, you are more likely to injure someone than hit your target. But most often with an unclear goal, you forget about it after a week. A few months later you remember, with a wave of guilt, the goal you set with such optimistic fervor.

When we set memorable goals, we think about them. When we think about our goals, we accomplish them.

My goal was motivating.

Do you know what is not fun? Returning from a trip to America and repeatedly hearing, “Wow, you gained a lot of weight.” I knew if I could maintain my weight, I could avoid a month or two of friends patting my stomach and saying, “So, you enjoyed yourself in the States.”

The goal was something I wanted to achieve. It was not handed down from a boss or over from a peer. It was what I wanted. When we tap into that internal desire—for whatever goal—we find a reserve of energy to do more than we ever imagined.

Setting goals helps us focus our energy. Too often we disperse our efforts among a hundred desires and we accomplish nothing. But when we focus on a clear, attainable goal, we surprise ourselves.

My goal was limited.

The time-frame of my goal was 4 or 5 months. This is enough time to experience real change but not so long that effort evaporates.

For me, 6 months is the perfect amount of time for a growth goal. If you think it will take longer, break your goal into smaller pieces. Each success will grow your confidence and strengthen you for the next challenge.

[tweet_quote]It is okay to have elephant-sized dreams. But if you are going to eat an elephant, take it one bite at a time.[/tweet_quote]

Look back at your growth areas. Set a goal for each one that is measurable, attainable, memorable, motivating, and limited. If you are struggling to clarify your goal, post it below and we can help out.

p.s. I don’t have space to describe my many failed attempts at goal-setting. I will save those for another post.

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