The joy of long-term goals

Marathon

On May 1st, 2016 I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon.  I had never run one before, and a year ago I had no desire to.  I played sports and was always active as a kid, but I never got into running until college.  I’ve been on and off with it, though, running much more in good weather than in the winter.  It was always a means to an end, though- to lose weight and to feel better.  I liked it at times, but considered it something I had to do.  I still run for the same reasons, but last spring (2015) I just really started to enjoy it.  I work inside and spend a lot of my day sitting, doing paperwork, and staring at a computer.  I’m more of an outside person, though, so running means time I get to spend in the outdoors, as well a great way to get exercise.

So I signed up for a half marathon last July.  I did well and it was fun.  I kept running, and after watching a recap of the 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon, I decided not only could I probably run a marathon, but I wanted to run that one.  Pitt is my alma mater, so I had a chance to live in Pittsburgh for a few years.  I love it there, and I enjoy any chance I get to go back.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, first, this post isn’t really about running.  Some people like it, some don’t, and I’m not here to get anyone into it or to change anyone’s mind.  But, other than going to college and grad school, this was a really difficult goal and one that took me a long time to accomplish.  But I ran steadily through winter this year (a first), 4 to 6 days a week, although I didn’t technically start training until February.  It got easier as time went on, but it was still hard!  And the hardest part wasn’t the running, but planning and finding the time.

As the title suggests, this post is about long-term goals.  Just what constitutes a long-term goal?  Well “long-term” varies from person to person, but simply put, these cannot be accomplished overnight.  A long-term goal could take a month (losing 5-10 lbs), a year (successfully changing your diet or sleep schedule), or even a number of years (getting a degree or starting a successful business).  Long-term goals require a sustained effort, which is hard to do.  Things get in our way, motivation waxes and wanes, or maybe we just lose interest.

Long-term goals have a few things in common, though: they give us direction; a sense of purpose; help us understand potential roadblocks and our own unhelpful behaviors; they can have a long-term positive impact; and they help us to see the big picture.  Unlike dreams or wishes, long-term goals are more concrete and specific.  A long-term goal can be described as a roadmap.  Without one, we could just be wandering through our lives, right?

Here are a few examples of long-term goals:

  • Train for and run a marathon that takes place on X date
  • Lose or gain 20 lbs
  • Save $5,000 for a trip to Europe
  • Get a master’s degree
  • Write a book
  • Get cholesterol to a healthier level

Although these contain different levels of specificity, none could be accomplished overnight, they would all require sustained effort and self-discipline, and there would be a defined cut-off for when the goal is achieved.  On the contrary, here are a few goals that might be more difficult:

  • Get rich
  • Get skinny
  • Be happy
  • Be the best at _______

You get the point.  There would be nothing wrong with striving for any of these, though they’re vague and it would be hard to know when we’ve had any success, let alone completed the goal.  And “be happy” for instance, is more of a process than a point we would be able to get to.

Back to my story about the marathon.  I think it accomplished a lot of things for me.  Of course I completed the race- and even met my goal of the time I wanted, but more than that I proved to myself that I could work toward a difficult physical goal and accomplish it.  Side benefits were that it made me think more about my health and forming some better habits, and through the process I came to love running even more.  I have no plans to run another marathon anytime soon, but I have continued running, and having achieved this it makes me think about what else I might do.  Hopefully I can apply that same level of discipline to other areas of my life and work toward something else.  I think formulating a goal and working on it over a period of time is a great exercise in self-discipline, self-reflection, and in getting to know yourself better.

I encourage you to think of a long-term goal, or to be more specific about one you have had in mind.  Not only might you have more success, but it really could change your life.  And if this is something that has been a struggle for you, perhaps the help of a professional could get you going.  Click here or here for a referral.

Take care!

Dr. Matthews

If you want some resources or more information on goal-setting, check these out:

http://www.goal-setting-guide.com/long-term-goals/

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/long-term-focus.htm

http://www.free-training-tutorial.com/lifeskills/goalsetting-shortvslongterm.html

 

 

 

 

 

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About Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a private practice psychologist in Chester Springs, PA. I provide counseling and coaching services to people ages 12 and up. Specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's.
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