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  • Sean Ryan

Stretch Goals Make the Impossible Happen

Stretch Goals Make the Impossible Happen


In January, many of us set goals for ourselves in the form of New Year’s resolutions. Most are relatively safe and predictable: eat better, lose 10 pounds, call mom more often, grab a book instead of binging Netflix.

While not necessarily easy, they aren’t exactly audacious or bold. Even so, by now, many of us have already fallen off the proverbial wagon and gone back to our old ways.

I’ve been wondering lately if playing it small in our resolutions is part of the problem. What if, instead of going for timid shifts, we went bigger? What if we set stretch goals instead of safe goals?

Dare to Dream

Stretch goals are precisely what they sound like: aims so high that it is a real, well, stretch to hit them. Stretch goals are scary because they are tough to achieve. The likelihood of not reaching them is high. Stretch goals take you beyond your comfort zone, your usual ways of thinking and acting. They can push your body and mind to uncomfortable places.

But the benefits of setting stretch goals–even if your reach proves to exceed your grasp–are also outsized.

Stretch goals are both aspirational and potentially attainable, and the possibility, even if it’s slim, of achieving them, changes something in us. It lifts our gaze, makes us believe that new levels of success and achievement are possible. Stretch goals can make overcoming even the most intractable challenge or deep-rooted problem seem possible.

Personal Stretch Goals Build Purpose

While stretch goals are a perennial subject of interest in business, they aren’t relegated to the boardroom or the c-suite. Leaders who set stretch goals outside of the office have much to gain, both in their personal and professional lives.

That’s because goals give us purpose. And it follows that, the bigger and bolder the goal, the more purpose it can impart.

Going after stretch goals also builds resilience and persistence, and this ability to face and overcome adversity is a superpower in all areas of life. Stretch goals can unlock new levels of motivation, energy and enthusiasm.

They also release us from the hum-drum expectations of mediocrity. When you dream big and shoot for the moon, you are forcing yourself to get out of your comfort zone, sparking new levels of creativity and innovation.

So, What's Your Impossible?

It’s hard to break our mental conditioning, to imagine what seems impossible may, in fact, be attainable. It can be easy to set limits on ourselves and think or say “that could never happen” or “I could never do that” or “only in my dreams.”

Speaking of dreams, as yourself:

  • What things do I keep telling myself could never happen?

  • In a perfect world where everything is possible, what would I want to happen in my life or business?

  • What have I always dreamed of doing?

  • If I had $10 million and no strings attached, what would I do with it?

  • If I could have any job, do anything, go anywhere, what would I do?

Notice anything about this list? Stretch goals are about working towards your dreams. You have to care about your stretch goal, and deeply, otherwise, you’ll never have the motivation to try. It has to matter to you.

So grab a pen and paper, and think about then write down the “impossible” that you want. Think about your work, family, career, business, health and friendships. Write as many down as come to mind. Don’t edit yourself, don’t rationalize, just free-write for now.

Here are a few other questions to think about:

  • What area of life would you like to grow in?

  • What one thing, if you did it, would have the greatest impact on your life? On your career? Family? Business?

  • What would you do if there were no barriers and if nothing was impossible?

  • What one thing have you always dreamed of doing but always told yourself that you couldn’t or that it was impossible?

Look back on what you wrote. What’s your personal moonshot? If you have multiple potential goals, pick one. Ask yourself, “if everything remained the same, what one idea/goal/desire would have the greatest impact on my life if completed?”

A Note on Impossibility

If you’re thinking, “yeah, but…” then consider this: we live in a world of impossibility, surrounded by the achievements and advancements of those who were told their dreams and ideas could never be achieved. Those who set goals that they believed possible, even if others didn’t.

Stretch goals aren’t just for exceptionally gifted people or geniuses. Everyone with the guts to set radical expectations for themselves can have them.

"The great danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark." –Michelangelo

Build Your Stretch Success

In the beginning, if you have a low level of belief, it’s OK to start small. Once you start to get some wins, dial things up. Increase the “impossibility” of your goals.

For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, break it down into sub-goals:

  • Run a 5k in 2 months

  • Run my first 7 miles in 4 months.

  • Run 4 times a week.

Or if your goal is to pay off your mortgage in five years, maybe your sub-goals are to:

  • Review your household expenses

  • Create a household budget

  • Eliminate frill expenditures

  • Set a monthly contribution

Remember, the dogged, focused pursuit of your goals, not just their attainment, is what really matters. Even if you don’t quite make your mark, you will learn so much about yourself. You will grow. You will become more resilient, more brave, more creative.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll actually do the impossible.


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