Setting goals, be them personal, professional or financial is admirable. The most successful people you’ll ever meet are likely going to be very goal-oriented, constantly striving for something new and usually achieving it.
Ok, so it’s not just the successful who set goals, it’s something most of us do on a daily basis. We decide we’re going to lose weight, save more money, earn a promotion at work, buy your first house etc. What sets most of us apart from the really successful folks is that our goal-setting usually isn’t SMART.
SMART is one of those acronyms you might hear thrown around in “How to Succeed in Business” types of books, and is bandied about readily at seminars and motivational speaker sessions. I first came across the term while working for an insurance company in Connecticut. Now, being the techie that I am, I ignored it since it seemed like more PHB (Pointy-Haired Boss) garbage, but now years later I realize that it’s not actually that bad.
For those who haven’t heard about SMART, here it is in a nutshell:
Those are all attributes you want your goals to have. The idea is to build very targeted and well-defined goals. The better you define them, the more likely you are to achieve them. It seems like a blindingly simple idea, but how many of your goals fit the list above? If you’re at all like me, your goals are pretty fuzzy (see the list of goals in the second paragraph). Fuzzy goals typically aren’t ever reached.
Lets delve a bit into each piece of a SMART goal…
Your goal should be very targeted. The more you narrow down what the goal is the better. I know a lot of people who decide they want to “Eat Better” after the holidays are over. While this is admirable, and I think everyone could benefit from cutting out junk food, this isn’t a very specific goal. What is considered “Better”? What is considered a bad food? Are you cutting out hot pockets, fast food, or anything that contains HFCS?
Narrow down what you’re trying to achieve. In the case of “Eating Better”, a more specific goal would be “Don’t eat fast food.”
How do you know when you’ve reached your goal? How do you know when you’ve hit the half-way point? If you can track your progress to a goal, you’re much more likely to reach it, and feel good about how far along you are.
For our “Don’t eat fast food” goal, lets quantify the amount we’re reducing it by. “Don’t eat any fast food” seems like a nice objective to strive for.
This is is a tricky one. Setting attainable goals is hard as it requires you to take a long, hard look at yourself and figure out if you actually are capable of reaching your desired goal. Do you have a hard time sticking to any sort of diet? Maybe quitting fast food cold-turkey isn’t going to work for you as you know you’ll slip up at some point and chow down on a Big Mac.
If you’re still going to indulge now and then, you need to figure that into your goal. So now maybe your eating better goal would look more like this…
“Don’t eat fast food for lunch”
Ok, so maybe the goal you set is technically attainable. You’re physically or mentally capable of achieving said goal, but is it actually something that’s going to happen? If you work an 80 hour work week, chances are deciding to learn to speak French in one month isn’t going to happen.
Our current goal isn’t actually that bad as far as being realistic. I don’t know many people who can’t hold off on fast food for lunch.
The final step in setting a well-defined goal is to pick an end-date. You can have the most specific, realistic and attainable goal, but if you don’t have a deadline, it’s too easy to keep putting everything off.
Having a deadline has two major benefits. First off, it acts as a motivator to make more progress towards your goal before the date is reached, and secondly it helps you feel accomplished as you progress. It’s always nice to be able to say “I’m half way there!” or “Only 3 more days!”
So for our final tweak to make our eating better goal SMART, lets add a time frame.
“Don’t eat fast food for lunch for 3 months”
There we go! While it’s not the most ambitious goal ever written, it’s a good start. Notice that as we refined the initially nebulous goal, we thought through what we were trying to achieve and broke it down into more manageable pieces that can be easily tracked.
With the new year, there are a lot of resolutions being tossed around left and right. Try taking your own resolution and filtering it through SMART and see what you come up with.