• Adam Tarnow

Goal Killing Words

Updated: Jan 9

"The goal is to be faithful." I like that phrase. When life feels overwhelming or something isn't going my way, that phrase is comforting. Unfortunately, I hide behind that phrase all the time.


That phrase sounds like a goal, but it isn't one. Why? It's ambiguous. How will I ever know if I've successfully "been faithful." There is no way to tell if I've succeeded.


Here's what I found in my life: the more I remind myself of that phrase, the more I justify my fear and mediocrity. Strangely, that phrase calms my heart but doesn't spur me on towards action.


That's what poorly written goals do. They make you feel good, but don't spur you on to action. I want less pithy ambiguity in my life.


As a result, goals have been a big topic of conversation around my house lately. Maybe it's because I'm starting a business? Perhaps it's because my sons have had no goal other than "have fun" the past six months? Whatever the reason, we're talking about goals often.


I'm finding a renewed energy and focus in goal setting. The entire process. Writing them down, making them measurable, and giving them a timeline.


No surprise, it's been beneficial. Especially as an entrepreneur who technically doesn't have a boss. Goals keep me motivated. They keep me from living this day, every day.


One thing I've learned: words matter. Especially when writing down your goals. The words determine whether the goal will drive you to action or just make you feel better.


To that end, here are five words that will kill your goals. Try to avoid these words...


(1) Grow. I want to grow as a leader. I want to grow in my faith. I want to grow closer to my wife. I want to grow closer to my kids. I want my belly fat to un-grow.


(2) Improve. I want to improve my marriage. I want to improve my ability to communicate. I want to improve my golf game.


(3) Better. I want to be a better leader. I want to handle stress better. I want to do better checking in on people. I want to be a better dad.


(4) More. I want more money. I want more responsibility. I want more followers. I want to read more.


(5) Less. I want to watch less TV. I want to eat less. I want to feel less anxiety. I want to skip church less.


Of course, this list isn't exhaustive. But these words all have one thing in common: they're ambiguous.


If you use these words, there is no way to tell if you've reached the goal. There is no way to measure progress. Using these words help you feel good after you've eaten a pint of Blue Bell and just yelled at your kids, but they do nothing to help you make any progress at eating healthier or treating your kids with gentleness.


Let me share a better way to write your goals. It's a formula from the book The Four Disciplines of Execution (not an affiliate link). "From X to Y by when."


Here's how you use this formula:


From 215 pounds (x) to 195 pounds (y) by Christmas (when).


From one face-to-face conversation a week with my spouse (x) to two (y) by September 1st (when).


From working out two days a week (x) to working out four days a week (y) by October 1st (when).


From calling two (x) prospects a day to four (y) December 15th (when).


From zero daddy-daughter dates a month (x) to one daddy-daughter date a month (y) by September 30th (when).


From an average golf score of 95 (x) to an average golf score of 85 (y) by July 31st (when).


The formula helps you avoid goal killing words. So, here's your homework. Go from zero well-written goals (x) to two well-written goals (y) by Friday (when).


Ready? Go!


Keep leading with clarity...




P.S. If you want a little accountability, feel free to send me your goals…I'd love to track along with you and cheer you on!

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