By David Hegg
Ask any successful person about their strategy for success and you’ll usually hear about the necessity of setting goals. Determining what needs to be done, and how best to do it have always been among those essentials listed as keys to success. And I’m all for goals. Few things insure consistent accomplishment like the diligent determination to use your best efforts every day to get the best things done. Everyone needs goals.
But there is a downside to setting goals in some areas, especially if reaching the goal will demand a change in attitude or some life pattern. Take weight loss, for example. Suppose you are like me and fight the battle of weight gain constantly. Two or more times a year we get to the place where we are tired, out of breath walking up the stairs, and just about too big for even that section of our closet that is on the big end of the spectrum. So, what do we do? Out of a combination of exasperation and desperation, we determine to lose some weight. We announce to the world that we’re finally going to do something about this, and we go on an austerity diet, and break out the jump rope.
And, of course, we set a goal of just how many pounds we’re going to lose. After all, as we’ve been told, if we fail to plan, we just plan to fail. And we plan to succeed at losing a certain number of pounds.
Let’s also assume that we are able to corral our wills, change our lifestyle significantly, and actually lose the weight. When we reach our goal we feel really successful and immediately believe that now life is as it should be. Having reached our goal, we believe that we’re different people. We’ve hit the goal, and now we can stop doing whatever we did to reach it. But this is where the short-term advantages of goal setting give way to the dark reality that what really got us to the goal was significant life change. And if that life change was only for the purpose of reaching the goal, we will revert to our old patterns once the goal is no longer our focus.
This explains why people like me end up losing 20 pounds, and then gaining back 25. It is safe to say that I’ve lost about 200 pounds in the last 20 years but as the saying goes, I always ended up finding them again, plus a few more!
In some ways I think we have it backward. Goals shouldn’t be the goal; life-long disciplines should be the goal. Rather than set a goal of a certain weight, determine to live in such a way that you’ll be able to enjoy physical adventures like hiking and playing soccer with your grandkids. Determine to live and eat and exercise in such a way that your quality of life is consistently all it can be. Recognize that the goal isn’t the goal; vitality and health are.
And this whole concept is transferable to other even more important areas of life. I’m talking here about ethics, about values, about character traits that add up to the kind of person you want to be. The desire to lose 20 pounds may have some short-term benefit, but committing to owning a healthy lifestyle is a thing of great nobility. And every noble commitment — be it health or virtue — will demand that values rather than impulses command your behavior.
What is really at issue here is whether we are willing to do the hard thing, consistently, to re-engage our wills as master rather than slave. And what makes this mastery of the will so hard is that a monstrous virus called sin has found its way into our human hard drive. Left to ourselves, we will usually choose pleasure over virtue, self-interest over neighborly love, and self-advancement over sacrificial service. As a Christ-follower I know I needed outside help, and I found it when Jesus found me.
Think about that, because the greatest challenges in life and eternity make weight loss look like child’s play.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.