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Joe McDowell: Constant Challenge and Goal Adjustment

Posted 1/23/18 at 07:00am. Column by Joe McDowell

The goals you set for yourself are typically meant to challenge you in some way. They challenge you to complete a task or to grow in some area of your life. The word challenge suggests the idea of competition. A personal goal sets up a competition with yourself. It is often a desired habit against an undesirable one—the new against the old. Maybe even good versus evil! It can surely feel like that at times. I set out to lose weight almost a year ago. I set a weight loss goal, proceeded to change my eating habits, and created some exercise habits.  It wasn’t long before the competition was fierce! Those sweets I wasn’t going to eat were calling my name! The muscles I was exercising were screaming for me to give them a break. Who would win—the old or the new, the good or the evil?

I found I needed an ongoing challenge to keep me focused. A smartphone app that tracks calorie intake and calories burned allowed me to see where I stood each day. It also allowed me to occasionally decide that I could treat myself to a little sweet every now and then. This was a tremendous help. I also set some specific goals with regard to exercise. I decided that three to five exercise sessions per week were adequate.

There are many ways you can provide yourself with continual challenge. You can:

  • use lists (like a “to-do” list—make the to-dos specific and time stamped)
  • use a calendar (set mini-goals that are date driven)
  • use target dates (what you will accomplish by when)
  • use a written guide (a “how to”)
  • use a journal to write about your experiences
  • use feedback and advice from others
  • use prayer to help you focus
  • use scripture to motivate and to keep you focused

Along the way, you may find it necessary to adjust your goals. Perhaps you “bit off more than you could chew.” In other words, you may realize the goal(s) are not reasonable. In this case, it is perfectly okay to adjust your goals. It is better to adjust than to give up.

It is so much better to reach a modified goal than not to reach any goal.

Some years ago, I challenged my church to read the Bible through in a year. A good number of people accepted the challenge. Some gave up along the way, and others completed their goals. I presented a certificate to those who completed their reading of the Bible within the year. There was one person who let me know they were falling behind very quickly after the challenge started. I challenged this person to keep at it. Every now and then I would ask them how it was going, and they always answered they were further and further behind. I decided this person needed a new goal. Rather than reading the Bible with the challenge (goal) of completing the reading within a year, I encouraged them to read the Bible so they would have a good understanding of the Bible’s overarching story. This person did not finish within the year, but they had a new goal. About six months later, this person told me they had finished reading the entire Bible. We were both so excited that their adjusted goal was met.

In this case, adjusting the goal allowed the goal to be completed rather than given up. Don’t use excuses, but if a goal NEEDS adjusting, adjust it! It is so much better to reach a modified goal than not to reach any goal.

Whatever goals you set for yourself, in order to make them a reality in your life, the following steps are essential:

  1. Set Your Goals — Make them challenging, yet reasonable.
  2. Establish Strong Motivation — Set your goals with a clear reason.
  3. Continuous Challenge — Have a constant reminder to stay on target.
  4. Adjust Your Goals — Adjust the goal if it is unreasonable.
  5. Acknowledge you may falter — Predetermine that a falter will not stop you.

In the next blog post, we’ll discuss the final essential: what to do if you falter.

Rev. Joe McDowell is the Concord Baptist Association director of missions. You can read his past columns here, and you can reach Joe at jmcdowell@concordbaptistassoc.org