Short Term Goals

The day I decided to start losing weight a friend of mine asked me how much weight I planned to lose. I told him that I was hoping to lose between 180-200 pounds. The look on his face might have been amazement or incredulity, but he was encouraging and positive.

A couple of weeks later he invited me out for dinner to the sort of restaurant that does not have diet friendly options. ‘It’s just one meal… you are doing so well, you deserve it!’ He was right… I was doing really well. He was absolutely wrong… I did not deserve it.

It is great to have a long-term goal. This is where I plan to arrive. The farther out you go, the easier it is to take those breaks… it is easy to justify that one cheat meal or cheat day, or cheat week will not make a difference in the long run, as long as you get back on track the next day or week or when you are back from vacation.

Long-term goals are important because you need to know when to actually declare victory. However, as I have proven to myself so many times, absent short-term interim goals, they can be detrimental to progress, and even to your ultimate success.

During my weight loss journey, I have had periods with no clearly defined short-term goals. If I was serious about losing weight, then there is no good reason why on October 2 I weighed 311 lbs. … and on November 30 I weighed 311 lbs.

And yet, from January 11th through March 17th I lost 35 lbs.

What was the difference between then and now? The simple answer is that I set short-term goals.

Ever since the beginning of my journey I have been looking forward to getting slim, losing all the weight, being trim and in shape. They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I started setting those single steps again, and it has been working wonders. When I was tempted two weeks ago by a restaurant, I saw I remembered the goal that I wanted to achieve by March 2nd, my appointment with my tailor. Driving home from that appointment I was tempted again, but I realized that I had a short-term goal for March 9th, when I flew to Dallas to see my wife. The short-term goals keep me honest and on track. I will have been in Dallas for ten days and I know that I have been off my regimented program for that time, but I have set goals for that too.

One of my diet buddies said to me recently where they want to get, and how she looked at it as an impossible goal. ‘How can I ever lose seventy-five pounds?’ I told her to take off the seven. With a confused look on her face, she asked me what I was talking about.

‘Repeat your original sentence but remove the word seventy. Do you think you can lose five pounds?’ She replied that of course she can.

Okay, good… that is going to be your first goal. Now let’s consider, for the sake of weight loss, that the short-term is a forty-five-day period. What else do you think you can do in the next forty-five days? I sent her home with that homework, but also with the ideas that each five- or ten-pounds lost is a goal, that every piece of clothing that is too tight or does not yet fit is a goal. I gave her two days to write up a list of between five and ten goals that she might be able to achieve in that 45-day period.

This friend called me this morning upset that she had gained weight; she told me that she had only had some crackers and cheese, and a handful of chips. It is so easy to look at these mini cheats and not realize the consequences to them. The difference between gaining weight staying the same would be the cheese; the difference between staying the same and losing weight would be the handful of crackers. Of course, she had no short-term goals that she was aiming for, so did it really make a difference in the long run?

Of course, it did… her distraught call that she was not losing weight. During that same call, she told me what her first short-term goals were, and she told me that she wanted to be accountable to me… she wants to make me proud. I am happy to be her support because she wants it… and is willing to do what it takes. It is not easy… but now that she has set out her short-term goals, she will more than likely start succeeding. I will be proud of her for trying.

Will she achieve every goal on that list in the time frame? I do not know… but if she does not try, then she will not succeed. I have been disappointed that I did not meet quite a few of my time-based goals. For example, until the beginning of my trip I was hoping to lose twenty-five pounds from the last time I flew to Dallas to this time. That is, from January 24 to March 9, I wanted to lose that much. There have been several other goals in the meantime that I have achieved, but I fell short on that one. I missed the mark by 2 lbs. On the one hand, that is a missed goal. On the other hand, that means I lost 23 lbs. in forty-two days. A missed goal, maybe… but definitely not a failure by any means.

There is an old saying that has many versions to it, all of which are horribly inaccurate, but still make my point. “Shoot for the stars, and if you miss, you’ll land on the moon.” The lesson of this astronomical fallacy is that we aim as high as we can so that if we do not reach the goal, we still did pretty well. This is so true with weight loss! I tried to lose twenty-five pounds, but I only lost twenty-three. That is not a failure! Had I tried to lose five pounds, but gained three pounds, that would have been a failure. It is so important for us to remember not to be discouraged when we miss our goals by a little bit… that does not make our short-term goals less important.

When I set out short-term goals, I am less likely to try to justify whatever cheat I might be faced with. ‘You know what, I could eat that… but then I might not achieve my goal of losing two pounds this week.’ It is easier to justify taking a day off when the day of reckoning is months off. To put it in a way that every Christian parent will be able to relate to: You might tell your kids to behave, lest Santa put them on the naughty list. If you tell them that in November or December, it will have a much greater impact on them than it would in February or March. The consequences are much more imminent. Telling your kids that early in the year gives them the easy justification that they can misbehave now because they have plenty of time to make it up later in the year.

The thing is, do they? Are kids better behaved in the Autumn if they are allowed to misbehave in the Spring? Maybe, but more often than not the answer is no. The same is going to be true for weight loss. If you only look down the road to the end, it is easy to justify those little (and not-so-little) cheats because you can make up for it later. Do you? Maybe, maybe not… but too often it is not.

Try this with your kids: Tell them that if they misbehave, they will not be allowed to do something fun over the weekend… and if they do behave, then they can. Short-term goals involve short-term consequences, and they are more likely to be good. It is no different for adults trying to lose weight… if you promise yourself you are trying to lose five pounds this month, you know that every cheat makes it less likely you will achieve that goal. You know there are no excuses, either you are strict with yourself, or you are not.

We tell ourselves lies like ‘just a little piece won’t matter.’ Let me tell you in no uncertain terms: YES IT WILL. It might not be the one little piece that matters, but the cumulative pieces for which you use that same excuse will add up and when you look back and wonder why you didn’t lose weight, you might realize why, but if you were lying to yourself that ‘this won’t hurt’ then it is not unusual to look back and wonder.

Short-term goals have been instrumental throughout my weight loss journey. When I have succeeded it has been largely due to these incremental milestones that I was able to stay on course. When I have failed it has usually been because I did not have those short-term goals encouraging me to stay on track. I have set many of these throughout my journey and I am proud to look back and see how far I have come.

Try it… it just might work for you too!

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