3 Questions to Ask Before Setting Any Goal

“You’re making this look too easy” said my wife Ava while we were enjoying a short walk together. She was referring to my 20k One Year Step Challenge. That’s my public goal to reach at least 20,000 steps every day for a year without taking a day off. I started on September 1, 2018. I’ve been posting daily updates on Facebook and Instagram.

“You’ve got to make this look a little harder” was her advice. I asked if she had read the Facebook post about the day before. She had not. That was not an easy day for me and all I really wanted to do was plant my butt on the sofa. But, I didn’t and ended with over 24,000 steps.

Here’s the thing. That day was hard, but it really wasn’t. I didn’t want to keep moving. I didn’t have any motivation. It was another cloudy, wet Monday in a year that seems to be overflowing with them. My mood was impacted and I didn’t feel like doing anything.

But, it really wasn’t hard because there was NO internal battle or even conversation with myself about stopping. I may have wanted to sit, but there was no part of me that was actually going to set my goal aside and do that.

That decision was made a while ago. I didn’t have to re-decide whether I was going to get 20,000 steps. That would be exhausting…having to re-decide every time circumstances weren’t to my liking.

Last week I wrote about my internal shift regarding goals. I used to set a whole bunch of them at the beginning of every year. My goals were always toast by the end of January because they were fueled by emotion and that tank ran dry by Week Three. This was always so discouraging.

In the past couple years I’ve transitioned to goals that are based on intentionality and commitment. These goals last. No more discouragement.

I used to have a lot of goals. Now I only have a few. Each if these has gone through a five step process I’ve developed. By the way, I didn’t set out to create a “process”, but this is simply what I do now and it works for me.

Step One is deciding whether an idea is even worth pursuing. A lot of them aren’t. Weeding those out frees me to focus on and pursue a smaller group of intentional goals.

I have three questions I ask as I’m considering whether something is worth pursuing. To make this a real world explanation I’ll open a window into my thinking about these questions regarding two ideas. One survived and became a goal. The other didn’t, although it’s still on my radar. The one that survived is my 20k One Year Step Challenge. The one that didn’t is eating “clean”. Here goes:

1. What would be the impact?

I want to look at the impact of my goals. I want to know what would be achieved and what might be prevented. In some cases the second part of that question is the most powerful for me.

20k Challenge – The impact of getting 20,000 steps every day for a year with no breaks is tremendous. There are obvious health benefits, but also I’m a better person when I’m moving. It helps me to think more clearly and creatively. Walking calms me and helps me to be more prayerful. Doing it for a full year without any breaks is hard and I need push myself out of the comfort zone. Being public about the goal could motivate others to move more and sit less. And, that’s something I really want.

On the flip side, walking a lot prevents some health problems as I age. For me, that’s a really powerful motivator. Plus, being healthy is a lot less expensive!

Eating Clean – This involves eliminating processed foods and adding in a lot of plant-based foods. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it and I know that my diet could use some cleaning up, so it’s worth considering.

At this point I know there would be a positive health benefit, which is appealing, but my recent physicals indicate great health so it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole of negative stuff I’d be preventing by making this significant diet shift. 

2. What is the cost?

Every goal has a cost. Before I decide to pursue something I need to better understand what’s involved. I really spend some time thinking about this. I don’t want any surprises after I make something a goal.

20k Challenge – The most significant cost of getting 20,000 steps every day is time. It will take me 3 hours and 20 minutes to walk that far. Do I have that much discretionary time? It will also take a certain level of fitness and energy. Do I know if I have that? What about on days when I don’t sleep well?

Eating Clean – The cost of eating clean is giving up some foods that I love like UTZ potato chips. I’m a huge fan of hamburgers with fries. Those would be tough to give up or cut back on. But, perhaps an even bigger cost is simply the time and energy needed to focus and pay attention to what I’m eating in a way I’ve never done before. Eating clean might also cost me more at the store and involve more time preparing my food.

3. What are the possible speed bumps?

If I decide to pursue a goal what are the things that could come up in day to day life that would make it hard? This question takes the costs and puts them in the perspective of a real life situation. In other words, I want to think through whether the impact and benefits are stronger than the obstacles I will likely face.

20k Challenge – The most common speed bump is a day filled with things requiring me to sit. A long day of meetings, for example. Or, a long drive for a vacation or weekend getaway. Another speed bump is a day when I don’t feel well.

Eating Clean – Coming home hungry and not having the right food in the refrigerator would be a speed bump. Same with not having enough time to do more than grab and go. Another possible possible issue is being at a gathering with nothing, but “wrong” choices available. It would also be hard to be at a restaurant and everybody else is ordering the foods I used to eat, but still love. Ugh.

Decision Time

After I’ve considered a possible goal in light of these three questions I have a pretty good idea whether or not I am going to be committed. I’ll spend as much time as I need before I make a decision. There’s no rush. Back when I used to just set a bunch of goals I’d come up with all of them in a couple hours. Now I’ll take weeks, sometimes even months, before making a decision. 

For now I can’t commit to eating clean. That was probably pretty obvious by my pathetic answers. I know it’s a valuable pursuit, but I’m just not there. Knowing that saves me time and energy from pursuing something that would ultimately fail in a few weeks. I’ll keep thinking about it and one day it may become a goal. But, not now. 

I did commit to getting 20,000 steps a day for year with no breaks (and posting about it) The benefits outweighed the cost it is a goal. An intentional goal! Because of the time invested on the front end to make that decision I don’t have to keep re-deciding every time I “feel” the cost or face a speed bump. I already considered those and they won’t knock me off course.

So, yeah, maybe Ava is right. Maybe I am making it look too easy. That’s because the hardest part was done before anybody even knew it was my goal. I decided it was worth pursuing and don’t need to re-decide that every time the circumstances get challenging.

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