Motivation and Shifting Goals (3): Dangerous Push-Ups

My husband and I were talking about goals and motives the other day, and he said something that really got my attention.

“I think it’s dangerous to do push-ups the wrong way.”

Unsure how that related to the topic at hand, I did my best to maintain the look of comprehension that had been gracing my face up to that point.

Fortunately, he went on to explain. The following is my dramatized version the concept.

A young Starbucks employee (Hank) has a fitness goal. He wants to be able to carry four gallons of milk in each hand—in order to impress his beautiful co-worker (Kayla). He decides he needs to do 15 push-ups every day for six months in order to meet his goal. But after doing only ten, Hank’s arms are shaking. He doesn’t know if he can go on. So, for the last five push-ups, he drops all his weight onto the floor, then picks up his chest, followed slowly by his abdomen.

Hank knows darn well that this is not a proper push-up, but he tells himself that he’s completed his goal for the day. Sadly, if he continues in this manner, he’ll never be able to manage those milk jugs and win fair Kayla.

But that is nothing compared to what this little charade is doing to Hank’s soul.

He’s practicing self-deceit. It would be far better for Hank to admit to himself that he’s not strong enough to do 15 push-ups, lower his goal to 10, and work from there. That may be pathetic, but it’s honest.

I felt pretty safe with this exercise illustration. I usually set the bar too low and design “comfortable” workouts that I’m sure I can do. I don’t know how much they accomplish, but the temptation for self-deceit is fairly minimal.

Too bad the push-up scenario wasn’t the end of the matter.

Though my husband was talking about himself, his next illustration hit way too close to home. He talked about Bible reading goals. He talked about zoning out while reading and realizing that you didn’t actually engage or retain anything in those last two chapters. He talked about considering the job done anyway.


It was at this point that I wanted to wear my intellectually interested face to cover up my uncomfortably convicted face.

It is a ridiculous thing to do. Why do I set daily Scripture-reading goals anyway? To know my Bible. To know my God. Why would I lie to myself in order to cheat on a standard that I set for myself?

But it’s worse than that.

Whenever I make a little compromise like that, I practice lying to myself. I become good at it. I learn to default to it. It becomes part of who I am. After a while I don’t even notice it that much.

It is part of my character.

Once that lightbulb really came on, it was too easy to inventory my life and find places where self-deceit pops up.

Believing something ugly about someone else in order to avoid believing something ugly about myself.

Grasping at straws to justify selfishness and laziness.

Inventing noble motives to replace the unflattering motives that are really driving my behavior.

Et cetera, et cetera.

The Bible says that’s in there.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick…”  Jeremiah 17:9

But that’s no reason to set up a greenhouse in my soul and cultivate it!

On the contrary, I ought to be especially on guard. I know where lies come from (John 8:44) and I don’t want any part of that.

So what’s the fix? What does it look like to root self-deceit out of your life?


5 thoughts on “Motivation and Shifting Goals (3): Dangerous Push-Ups”

  1. Ah, yes, the “intellectually interested face” is much better than the “uncomfortably convicted face”. I rather like that.
    And it’s much more comfortable to think about the foolish boy at Starbucks than to relate it to the foolish things I do. What, ME? Tell your husband to stick to the coffee, it’s getting way too uncomfortable here!

    1. I actually have to take credit for the Starbucks foolishness. Jesse’s version didn’t have coffee or characters. My daughter works at Starbucks, so that bit was mostly for her benefit. 🙂 Conviction isn’t nice…but it is flattering. God’s telling us he’s got more for us!

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