Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

Goal Setting

By: Shane R. Barker

From the book: Youth Leading Youth

They looked like ordinary numbers. But anyone who knew James Allen knew they were more than that. He had them printed on the top of his school books, and he wrote them in the margins of his papers. He had them marked across his mirror at home, and he had them written over his bed. He even had them inked across the top of his running shoes.

The time of 4:07:08 just happened to be the state high school record in the mile run. It had been for thirteen years. And James was determined to break it.

“All my life I’ve wanted to be first, best, or fastest at something,” he said. “And track was my best thing. The mile was my best distance. I wanted to know that I had run as fast as I possibly could.”

James had set his goal early in his junior year. It was a tough goal, and it was one that he knew would take a lot of work. But he also knew that if he dedicated himself to it he could do it.

“It took me a whole year,” he said. “I had to give up a lot of parties and movies to train. But I wanted that record. It was important to me. I had to prove I could do it.”

James’ goal motivated him all season long. It kept him going when times got hard. It drove him on when other failures threatened to discourage him. It gave him something to work for.

Then late in the year, James broke the record, lowering the time to 4:07:05. Doing it gave him a burst of exhilaration and confidence. It taught him the power of his own potential.

Goals can work the same magic on the group you lead. They can generate confidence. They can pull your group closer together. They can give the team a sense of purpose and accomplishment. And when the group finally meets a tough goal, everyone feels great. It’s tough to beat the excitement of reaching a difficult goal.

I live near a high school that used to have the best debate team in the state. After winning the state championship for two years in a row, the team officers worried about what new goal they could reach for. And then someone had an idea.

“Let’s see if we can go the entire year without losing a meet!”

At first everyone frowned: going undefeated was a pretty optimistic goal. But the more they let the idea sink in, the better it sounded. A whole year without losing a single meet! They decided to do it.

Many athletic teams often set the same goal. After all, no one likes to lose. But to this debate team, going undefeated was more than just an idle wish. It was a real goal.

Beginning even before the first day of school, the team began meeting to share ideas and study together. Every person was given research assignments. Experienced debaters coached less skilled teammates in practice. The whole team spent extra hours in practice.

Brad, who was a senior that year, said the team worked harder that season than ever before. Morale on the team was high. Every person felt needed. Every person felt important. And as the season progressed—and the team continued to win—everyone grew closer together.

The goal of going undefeated so permeated the team that every person wanted to do his or her very best. Every person put in hours of extra study and practice. It would have been easy to slack off, but no one did. The team’s goal was too important to them.

By the time of the state meet, the team hadn’t lost a single tournament. Everyone’s confidence was high. The team had practiced and drilled one another time and time again. They knew what tactics their opponents were likely to try, and they were ready for them. There wasn’t much anyone could spring on them that they weren’t prepared for. And when they won, they were so excited they were all ready to go out and do it all over again.

Whenever people achieve a worthy goal, they talk about it for months and years to come. They bubble over it, tell stories about it, write their friends about it, and— best of all—they want to do something like it again!

Goals have great power to motivate people. They can pump a group full of excitement. And when the goals are properly chosen, they can provide great stamina and stimulation. A good goal can bring your group to life.

A Scout troop once planned a trip to the Great Lakes Canoe Base in Michigan. Each Scout needed more than $400 to make the trip, and none of them had anywhere near that much money. So they began a series of fund- raising projects. And they were clever about it. They divided into patrols and had contests to see which patrol could earn the most money in a given week or month. They had video parties for the winners, inviting the rival patrols to come too (as long as they brought the refreshments).

Now, if you’ve ever done fund-raisers, you know how dull they can be. But this troop was creative. One patrol organized a basketball hoop shoot. Each boy committed to shooting free throws for exactly thirty minutes, then found sponsors who would donate a penny for every shot he made in that half hour. On the day of the shoot, Scouts and sponsors crowded into the gym to watch. Patrol members sold pop, popcorn, and hot dogs. And in less than an hour, the patrol made more than $300.

A different patrol scrubbed oil stains from people’s driveways. Another cut firewood. They strained their imaginations looking for new ways to earn money.

Each week the troop treasurer collected the money and announced the week’s winning patrol. Each Friday night the boys had video parties. Their Scoutmaster kept the goal of $400 per Scout fresh in everyone’s mind. And the closer they came to making it, the more excited everyone became.

In addition, the weekly video parties made great short- term goals. Each patrol wanted to be the one to win that week. When they did win, they wanted to do it again (it feels great when you win contests, doesn’t it?). And when they didn’t win, they resolved to do better the next week.

They had so much fun that inactive Scouts began coming to help out! (How many times have you seen inactive Scouts come to fund-raisers?)

By late July, three weeks before the trip, the troop had more than enough money for everyone to make the trip. The best part was that the troop stalwarts weren’t the only ones going. The fund-raising had become so much fun and was so successful that even a couple of inactive Scouts— the ones who became active helping with fund-raisers— went too.

A well-planned goal had brought the entire bunch to life.

Without goals it’s impossible to measure progress. And without goals it’s difficult to motivate those you work with. People need goals to guide their work. They need objectives to work toward.

A high school trumpet player named Kelly worked for weeks trying to hit a high C. That’s a note that’s not called for very often, but high school trumpet players love high notes. They put fire and sparkle into pep tunes. And they’re great fun.

Kelly’s band liked to play a lively jazz tune at ball games and pep rallies that called for a high C. So the trumpet section decided it would be awesome if every player could hit and hold that note all at the same time.

A couple of the players could already do it. Kelly was one who couldn’t. And so he worked on it over and over again. He spent time every day on drills that improved his range. It wasn’t very much fun, but the thought of standing on the bleachers with his friends and belting out a high C drove him on.

Then one day it came. Doing triad drills he hit the note and held it. Then he did it again. He missed it the third time, but Kelly didn’t care. He had done it!

With more work, practice, and endless drills, the high C became easier. And finally Kelly played it all the time. It was his favorite note. Not many musicians have favorite notes, but Kelly certainly did. The high C had taken too much work not to love it.

A dancer named Carrie had a similar experience. She belonged to a dance club, and she set the goal of doing a triple turn in her first recital.

“I had friends in the club who could do triple turns,” Carrie said. “And I wanted to be as good as they were.”

It took a lot of work. At first, Carrie couldn’t even do a double turn without falling. But after much practice, she finally learned to do a double, and then she set her sights on the triple.

“I fell all the time,” she said. “But I never gave up. I just kept working and trying. It took about three weeks, but then one day I did it! I felt so good that I did them all day.”

Next time you’re with a bunch of friends, try asking them what they’re doing tonight. Or tomorrow night. Ask them what they’re doing this weekend. And see how many of them say, “I don’t know.” Try it. Count how many of them don’t have any particular plans for the future. Many people are like that their entire lives. They never decide where they’re going. And because they don’t know where they’re going, they never get anywhere.

A group without goals is the same way. It has no reason for even existing. By setting goals, you create objectives for your group to work toward. Your goals will guide you through rough times. They’ll motivate you through hard times. And they’ll sustain you through difficult times.

When you begin setting goals, remember these suggestions:

First, let everyone help. After all, what’s important to you should also be important to them. And make certain everyone knows what the group’s goals really are. When everyone knows exactly what they’re working toward, they’ll never question what’s going on or why you’re doing the things you are.

Second, be specific. Don’t just decide to be a better basketball team. (How do you measure a goal like that?) Instead, decide to spend an extra hour a week in practice. Decide to buy snappier uniforms. Decide to raise the team’s foul- shooting to 75 percent. That way you’ll never have any question about when you’ve reached your goals.

Third, set goals that make you stretch. But don’t make them so unrealistic that they’re impossible. A goal that requires no effort does no good. Neither does a goal that can’t be reached. But goals that require extra work, thought, and dedication will spark new life in the group. Goals that offer a challenge will reward you with thrills that are hard to match.

Fourth, keep your goals in mind. Since the purpose of goals is to inspire the group, make sure they’re doing their job! Evaluate your progress often. Let everyone know how things are shaping up. Let everyone share in the excitement that builds as you come closer and closer to your objective.

Fifth, be sure your goals are recorded somewhere. That makes them official. It keeps them from being forgotten. And it will let your goals nag you until you reach them. And that’s the most important reason of all!

These suggestions apply to an individual’s goals, too. As a leader, you should set a few personal goals to guide your work. Decide, for instance, to organize an agenda for next week’s meeting. Or decide to keep a journal of your experiences with the group.

Let goals work their magic on you. Let them pump life and energy into the group you lead. As you do, you’ll give everyone a sense of purpose and accomplishment. You’ll build pride and unity. And you’ll create excitement in your group that you never dreamed possible.

Things to Do Now!

Make a list of your personal leadership goals. Decide now to bring Charlie back into the quorum. Or resolve to say something positive to each member of the group every day. Commit now to achieving those goals!

Make goals that are specific. Don’t just decide to be a better leader. Instead—for instance—promise to be more obedient so that you’ll be setting a better example.

Make your group’s goals specific, too.

Write your goals down. Keep them in mind. Remember the swimmer who wanted to beat fifty-five seconds in the 100-meter freestyle. She wrote F-I-F-T-Y F-I-V-E-! across her fingernails for a month!

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