Are Your Goals SMART Goals?
You may be wondering what’s up with this post. “Well why would I make STUPID goals?”
Or you may be whipping out the old Buzzword Bingo card, Dry Erase Marker in hand. “Oh, here we go again. That old paradigm…”
But in all seriousness, just how SMART are your goals?
Grab a piece of paper, a pencil with a good eraser, and start scribbling a draft of your goal as you read.
Specific: Make a Map!
Imagine a map of the United States. It’s just a grade-school map, showing the outline of the country and maybe the general boundaries of the states. There are no roads, no mountain ranges; the only cities shown are the capitals of each state. Now, imagine you have to get from New York to California. Which direction would you go?
The problem is, you have a general idea of a goal – “Get from New York to California.” But you really have NO idea how to get there, if all you have to go by is this map. The more specific the directions and information you have, the more likely you are to reach your destination.
Granted, if you are anywhere near I-10, a simple “head east for the Atlantic” or “go west for the Pacific” might suffice. But it’d still help to know how far the nearest gas stations and restrooms are!
Which of the following sample goals are specific?
|watch less TV||reduce weekly TV watching from 10 hours to 2 hours|
|save money||reduce weekly grocery spending to < $100limit restaurant meals to once a month or $100/month|
|get in shape||lose 30 lbs.; get strong enough to do 50 pushups|
|learn to cook||learn how to make bechamel sauce and make moussaka for dinner party|
If you don’t know what success looks like, how will you measure your progress or know when you’ve achieved it?
Measurable and Meaningful: Make It Count!
You have to get “specific” nailed first, in order to have something to measure. Think of this as the map’s “scale.” You want to reduce the time spent vegging out in front of the TV? Measure how much time you’re spending there now. Every time you watch, jot down how much time you spent. Was it in the morning, daytime, evening, or late night? What shows did you watch? Which ones did you really enjoy? Which ones did you just zone out in front of? How much of this time really felt good or entertained you, and how much felt like a waste?
In our example above, we could assume that the total time in front of the TV was ten hours. Maybe you watched both the morning and evening news, and realized you could listen to the morning news on the car radio on the way to work. Maybe you didn’t really enjoy four hours’ worth of the shows you watched – you just didn’t bother getting up after your favorites were over. We’re going to assume that a total of eight hours of TV viewing is, ultimately, “wasted time” – time you’d rather spend on other things. Two hours were pretty good – you watched a movie or a favorite sitcom and a news special. You decide that’s worthwhile, but you need to look at the schedule so you can plan those in – not just flip around the channels until you land on a program you enjoy. Now, once you have your specific goal written down – yes, write it down – and your plan for how to achieve it, you need to track and measure your progress each week. Make a chart. Keep track!
While measuring, you may notice other trends. Maybe you just passively watch TV every Wednesday night. You realize that every Wednesday, your work day is full of meetings and stress. Or maybe you’re a student, and the teacher of your hardest subject has a habit of giving tests on Wednesdays. Or you’re bored. Or you typically get home late – too late to start a more challenging and interesting project. What specific goals might occur to you, if you realized there was a pattern elsewhere in your life that was holding you back, keeping you from achieving other goals?
Before you can measure progress, you need to know where you are, where you want to go, how far is the distance between the start and end points? As you define for yourself what constitutes a meaningful step forward, or progress, you can define the method of measurement.
Attainable, Achievable, Action!
This does not translate to “what’s the low-hanging fruit?” If it’s low-hanging fruit, or something too easy to attain or achieve, it’s merely an action item on your to-do list. “Brush teeth” is not a goal. “Have healthy gums and zero cavities at dentist visit in six months” might be. “Brush and floss twice a day, every day, for six months” might be the goal – or it might be the answer to “How am I going to achieve THAT?”
“Okay, I get that it should be a reach – but something within my grasp, if I stretch a little. But what do you mean by ‘action’?”
Action-oriented goals don’t just sit around waiting for good things to happen to them. Action oriented goals are specific, measureable, and determined to make things happen. Action-oriented goals don’t position themselves under the low-hanging fruit and just wait for it to drop in their laps. Action-oriented goals are goals that have identifiable steps and actions that will lead you in the right direction on the map. If your goal is “To be happy” – well, where is that on the map? What’s it look like? Specifically? Keep asking yourself that question until you can define it in concrete, actionable, measurable terms. That’s what makes it attainable.
Our forefathers were right to say that the right to “pursue happiness” was inalienable. Note they said nothing about any right to achieve it – that’s up to you, but it is no guarantee.
Reasonable? Rational? Rewarding!
“If either of us ever gets a chance to go on a trip into outer space,” said my husband, just last night, “we don’t need the other’s permission.”
Well… duh. “I said that back when we first got married, my love. I said that knowing you were the only one of us who wanted to go—and I meant it. I also meant it when I said that if you go to outer space, you must first take out an insurance policy that would allow me to immediately retire, pay off the house, and put the kids through Harvard. But you can go.”
We only get one life. Marriage isn’t meant to tie us down and make us less of what we are or can be. It’s a pledge and a commitment and an acknowledgement that we’re better together – and want to grow old together. But if he ever got a chance to realize his lifelong dream and used me as an excuse not to go? I’d be angry and disappointed.
That’s the difference, though, between dreams and goals. It’s just reasonable or rational to think – right now – that he’s got a snowball’s chance in a microwave of going to outer space. In fact, the possibility is so remote that I can safely allow myself to imagine me going, too. If it were reasonable or rational, it would NOT be rewarding – to me. At some point in the future, and possibly before we’re elderly or dead, commercial space travel may be a reality. Will the cost of it be reasonable or rational? If he could afford to go, he’d have the three R’s all sewn up. But if that requires attaining a goal like “Win the lottery,” he’s going to need to start drafting his SMART goals all over again.
“Increase my odds of winning the lottery by tracking results in Excel to find the best numbers, and buying one ticket each week, using those numbers” would cover specific, measurable, action-oriented, and reasonable/rational/rewarding (though “increase my odds of winning the lottery by 15%” would be even better).
Time-Bound and Timely: Learn to Love the Deadline!
“I think I’ll just drive around aimlessly, with my eyes shut, and eventually I’m bound to hit the Pacific.”
Um… sure. But when?
“I dunno, man. It’s all in the journey. I’ve got no agenda, no timetable…”
And at that rate, no money, no gas, no food, no lodging – but that’s what happens when you fail to raise SMART goals from nascent daydreams. If you measure it, and give it a reasonable, rational, attainable, achievable deadline, you’ll increase your focus, reduce wasted time, and remove any incentives for procrastinating. If there’s really no deadline, you have to ask yourself just how important it is to you to achieve this goal – at all. Or to spend another nanosecond thinking about it.
Look at your map. How much time is this goal going to reasonably take? Is there a reasonable requirement that you arrive by a certain date? Do you need to return by a certain date – if at all? Even if the answer is no, give your goal a reasonable time limit – then march towards that. Time itself is a unit of measurement, and “If you can measure something, then you have some control over it.” (Rheticus, 1514-1574)
Share some of your SMART goals in the comments section, below. Does going through this exercise help you follow through and achieve your goals?