Be Optimistic Yet Realistic When Setting Big Goals

I saw a Facebook post last week posted on the page for my gym that really hit home.  It said: “You didn’t gain 20 pounds in a week.  Don’t expect to lose 20 pounds in a week.”

How true is that?

Look At Our Goals

The fact is that we often set goals for ourselves that are worthwhile goals.  Most times, they will improve our life if we reach the goals.  Think about some ‘big’ goals:

  • Lose 20 pound (OK, that was an easy one to put on the list)
  • Get out of credit card debt
  • Save enough for a down payment on a home

Any of these, or goals along the same lines, sound familiar?

They should.  Chances are we’ve all targeted at least one of these, in some fashion or another.  Chances are we’ve probably failed.

The Reason We Fail At Big Goals

I think that the main reason that we fail at our goals is not from a lack of motivation, but rather the lack of proper expectations.

As the quote from my gym indicated, the goal itself is not the problem, it’s how we approach the goal.  We look at a goal, and because it’s such a life changing goal, we want to hit it and we want to hit it now.

After all, imagine if we were twenty pounds lighter, or had no debt, or had enough in the bank to put down a payment on a dream home.

They’re great dreams, and we want them…now.

Unfortunately, for most people in most ‘big goal’ situations, we can’t hit these overnight.  Big goals take time to reach, yet we see the end result and because it looks so good, we don’t allow ourselves the time we need to reach the goal.

Then, what happens?  Once the enthusiasm fades and the reality of just how big this is and how much work we have to do in order to get there sinks in, we lose our motivation.  We look at things that can make us happy in the shorter term.  These things often have nothing to do with our goal, and in fact, what we end up doing can be counter-productive, taking us even further away!


The More Effective Way To Reach Your Big Goals

It doesn’t have to be that way.  In fact, I’m here to tell you that your big goals can be reached.  Here are a few steps that often get overlooked.  They’re not so difficult, but we often skip over them.

  • Put definition on your goal – If your goal is “I need to look good because beach season is coming up”, you need to start over.  That’s too broad a statement, and that alone leaves you too many escape clauses.  Find a way to quantify that, whether it be losing a certain amount of weight, getting your body fat down to a certain number, or anything else that you can actually track.
  • Ask when do you want to get there – This is an important step, but it’s one that many times people end at, thinking that the process is complete.  If you want to lose 20 pounds and you want it done in three months, well, go ahead and write that down.  However, use it as a starting point, not as an end point.

    You can reach your goals
    You can’t get to the finish line unless you run the race.
  • Examine whether this is realistic – This is a step that many people don’t get to.  Three months and twenty pounds is a big goal.  That’s slightly over 1.5 pounds a week.  Is this realistic?  Look at your past history.  Have you ever achieved this before?  Talk to other people.  Have any friends or family members ever achieved success with their weight loss program?  If so, find out if this is a realistic expectation.
  • Factor in your personality – Big changes are going to mean big adjustments to your lifestyle.  If you want to lose a bunch of weight, it’ll mean upending your diet, kicking off a rigorous exercise program.  Look at these adjustments and make an honest assessment of how likely you are to keep your foot on the gas.
  • Adjust your expectations – By now, you’re probably going to realize that as nice as it would be, 20 pounds in three months is a very big stretch.  So, be realistic here.  Don’t throw away your overall goal, but be realistic about what you can do and how you’ll get there.  If you look at your history and know that you want to exercise, but that an hour a day, five days a week isn’t realistic, that’s fine.  Tailor your actions and your expected outcome to be more realistic.  Maybe 10 pounds in three months, with 30 minutes of exercise four times a week is manageable.  Now we’re getting somewhere.
  • Set milestone achievements – Many people set the achievement of a big goal as the one and only milestone.  Big, big mistake.  With any goal that’s likely to take more than a couple of months, you need to set milestone goals along the way.  This will allow you to realize your progress, celebrate your success, and provide continued motivation to hit the next steps.

Tying It All Together

The most important thing that brings it all together is simple: Don’t give up.  At some point during the process, you may get discouraged.  You may realize you’re falling behind even the ‘realistic’ expectations.  You may get bored.  All that is OK, but as long as you keep working, you can still hit your goal.  It’s OK to adjust your expectations, and even to adjust your end goal, just so long as you keep working at it.

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7 thoughts on “Be Optimistic Yet Realistic When Setting Big Goals

  1. In my opinion, your last point is the most crucial – you HAVE to have smaller milestones along the way. checkpoints, or some sort of way of measuring progress. if I get on the scale each day hoping to lose 20 pounds I’m going to be disappointed. But if I see consistent progress of a little loss each week I will be motivated to continue!

  2. On something really big, I like breaking the big goal down into smaller chunks. That’s kind of like how you were referring to milestone achievements. Those small goals reached along the way give you push to continue on towards the bigger achievement.

  3. Absolutely! Just focusing on a big goal sets oneself up for frustration and disappointment. I’m taking the approach you suggest to paying down debt right now.

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