How to Set Goals

The proverbial leaf-turning-over-day has come and gone. It’s time to set some goals.

But since yesterday was a holiday, maybe today is the day we each decide what we’re going to change. After all, you can’t commence a new habit on the day you take down the tree or watch back-to-back football games. That’s unrealistic and oh, so unfair.

So today is the day. I had salad for breakfast (with fruit) and did a short exercise routine in front of the TV. The exercise was pretty easy–nothing even worthy of a blog comment–and I’m eating 2 pieces of warmed-up bacon from the fridge right now, so I guess I’ve got nothing to croon about. But the Reeses’ cups are sitting untouched on my kitchen counter. That’s progress, right?

I wish a chocolate fairy would fly into my house and eat up all the leftover sweets from Christmas. I can’t bear to throw them out, but I’ve turned over my leaf. So we are in a bit of a dilemma. It’s time for will power and a plan.

Do any of these goals sound familiar? I think most of us have set some of these.

  • lose weight
  • exercise
  • change eating habits (go gluten-free, sugar-free, alcohol-free, etc.)
  • re-organize the house
  • downsize or simplify
  • go back to school/enroll in some kind of class or workshop/finish school
  • change careers
  • re-expolore my artistic side
  • make a new friend or join a group
  • work on my marriage
  • pray more
  • be a better parent
  • read more
  • get a promotion at work

Here’s the rub–which goals are actually attainable? Which are measurable? Most parents wish to be better parents, but how does one actually attain that or work toward that, on a daily basis? I’d like to lose weight–I can even put a number on it, like 15 pounds, but that’s still a goal that floats above my head and frustrates me when 15 pounds doesn’t magically fall off.

The experts advise to break every goal down into bite-size portions. We all should give ourselves a mini-goal that we can accomplish and celebrate, like these:

  • give up sugar for 1 week
  • exercise 3 times per week, for 30 min.
  • read 1 hour per day
  • give an encouraging comment every day to your spouse
  • keep a prayer journal; write out 1 prayer every day and pray it
  • wait 10 seconds before you respond to anything your child says
  • clean out 1 dresser or closet every weekend and find at least 3 things to get rid of
  • write out your goals for 2015 and post them around your house

I can do these things. You can do these things. And if you do them every day, every week, every month, you will set a habit. And habits create new life patterns. And life patterns make new goals completely attainable.

Instead of “turning over a new leaf,” perhaps the better metaphor is “baby steps.” When we taught our babies how to walk, we did give them a goal–usually it was one of us across a short space, with arms outstretched and a big smile. “Come on! Walk to me!”

But none of our babies magically flew across the room, although their luscious faces told us they wanted to. One of us had to hold little chubby hands while little chubby feet moved slowly, one in front of the other, until our baby boy reached his parent’s embrace across the room. Then we did it again and again. At first, we would hold both of his hands, then only one hand. Then he tried to walk alone, with his hands on the walls or furniture to steady himself. He might topple and land on his cushioned behind. Sometimes, he would face-plant, and we would lift him up, screaming, while a goose-egg rose from his sweet, resilient forehead. Painful but necessary steps toward walking.

Did my sons eventually learn to walk? Oh, yes. They all did. And without aplomb, they began to run.

They took baby steps, which seemed to work just fine. No strategies. No guilt. No real incentives.

Just baby steps. They apparently get you across the room, same as big steps. Maybe what we need for our goal-setting venture is a progress mindset, rather than a reversal mindset. Radical leaf-reversal is a hard metaphor to embrace.

But baby steps? That’s something we all have experience doing.