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Too Small to Fail

Americans do things big. We own big houses on big lots and drive great big cars down big, wide roads. We think big, dream big, and sometimes get a little too big for our britches. We invented the skyscraper, the earth mover, and the Big Mac. We truly believe we must “Go big or go home.”

In many ways, our big American life is a boon to global society. Our audacity, innovation, and refusal to quit has helped win two world wars, taken humanity to the moon, made personal computers ubiquitous, and helped bring the gospel to more people in a generation than ever before. And yet, what if there’s a downside? Realistically, there are many possible downsides, but let’s focus on just one.

In his excellent book Built to Last, Jim Collins introduces the concept of the BHAG. He says, “A BHAG (pronounced “Bee Hag,” short for "Big Hairy Audacious Goal") is a powerful way to stimulate progress. A BHAG is clear and compelling, needing little explanation; people get it right away. Think of the NASA moon mission of the 1960s. The best BHAGs require both building for the long term AND exuding a relentless sense of urgency: What do we need to do today, with monomaniacal focus, and tomorrow, and the next day, to defy the probabilities and ultimately achieve our BHAG?"

I’m a fan of BHAGs. I believe in goals that focus our energies and pull us into the future for the glory of God. However, I’ve recently decided that GTSFs (pronounced “Git Sif”? Okay, so it’s not as memorable as BHAG.) are equally important. What is a GTSF, you ask? It’s a Goal Too Small to Fail.

There are times as we walk through the hairy audacity of change-making, that we find ourselves stuck. We may know the direction we need to move; we might even have a list of quality BHAGs, but we aren’t actually making any progress. It could be that we’re overwhelmed, discouraged, scared, or just darn tired, but we need something else to get us off the dime. Enter the GTSF.

A GTSF is a goal so small that you can’t help but accomplish it. Its purpose is to create momentum leading to habit.

I know a woman who wanted to start walking for exercise. Her goal was to walk four miles a day. Knowing she had to start small, she decided to start by just walking a half-mile each day. She bought some good shoes, planned her route, read some articles, and … never made it out the door. She was stuck. Walking half of a mile didn’t really seem all that overwhelming, but for whatever reason, she just couldn’t get going. So, she decided instead of going big, to go small. What was the shortest amount of walking she could legitimately do? She decided to walk one block.

That very day she laced up her sneakers, opened her front door, and walked half a block down the street and half a block back. She did it! Her goal was too small to fail. She couldn’t NOT do it. The next day she did it again. She accomplished that GTSF every day for almost a month. It began to feel silly. She found herself really wanting to go further. So, she did. Her new GTSF became, “Walk every day.” It didn’t matter how far. Just get out the door and go. Some days she walked a couple blocks; many days she walked much further. Soon she found herself averaging more than a mile a day. After several more months she was ready to intentionally increase her distance. Today, she walked four miles.

In what area of life do you feel stuck? It could be nutrition, exercise, Bible reading, prayer, relationships, work, or just about anything. Try letting go of your BHAGs for a season and focusing on one or two GTSFs. It may be just what you need to move forward.


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