Set Short-Term Goals

(from my soon-to-be-published book, Just One Step: Walking Backwards to the Present on the Camino Trail)

While you may all realize the importance of short-term goals – literally, next actions, analogous to something like a sprint rather than a marathon – it became very real for me on the Camino. Combining short-term goals with the idea of keeping your eyes OFF the long-term goal will enhance your journey and your achievements. Despite the simplicity and obvious need for short-term goals, my experience is that most of us personally and professionally are failing to set them. We either embark in pursuit of a journey with no long-term or short-term goals at all – simply starting – or we set the long-term goals without taking the time to create the short-term goals that are required to get us to the objective.

Think about the last time you sought to lose weight. You probably set a goal of losing a certain amount of weight or inches by some date far down the road. This is the nature of new year’s resolutions – I’ll lose weight this year (a terrible goal because it’s too vague), I’ll lose 25 pounds (without setting a time by which that goal should be achieved), or I’ll lose 25 pounds by June 30th (a long-term goal, but with no short-term steps). Yes, having the long-term goals is important, but it’s even more vital to have short-term goals (e.g. a certain number of pounds every week) and action items (e.g. exercise a certain number of times a week, establish actionable changes in your diet, etc.).

When I lost 40 pounds a couple of years ago, people continually asked me how I did it, and I told them it was simple. First, I set a long-term goal for the first six months of twenty pounds. Second, I set a weekly exercise goal of at least three times a week of thirty minutes of cardio. Third, I used an app on my phone to track my daily calories against a daily goal. When I look back at my weight loss journey, I achieved the outcome (first losing the 20 pounds, and then setting another goal to lose an additional 20 pounds) by setting short term goals, committing to them and actually doing them. I never focused on the long-term weight loss goals because they were largely irrelevant – they were just markers of some outcome down the road. All that mattered was having and achieving the very small goals every week, which meant doing the even smaller things every day.

On the Camino, my goals were even smaller and simpler. Yes, I had some longer goals during a day, but my short-term goals were often nothing more than reaching an oil mark on the road or a certain fence post. The pain in my feet was so extreme that I had to find short-term goals that provided me with constant successes, and once I achieved them I’d immediately set another short-term goal. Most important, every single short-term goal was supported and achieved by the smallest of next actions – just one step – and these single steps, the setting of very short-term goals and my achievement of them (even if small), created a powerful outcome not only for my Camino journey, but in pursuing any objective in life – the power of momentum.

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