Goal setting

Intro to SMART goal setting

I started getting serious with goal setting over a year ago. I developed categories: financial, social, professional, relationship, spiritual, etc., and I spent some time thinking about what I wanted from each area. When I decided to create a visual inspiration for my agenda (a “vision board”) last year, I wanted actual goals. I didn’t want a vision board of black and white photos of cities I one day wanted to visit. I wanted actionable plans. How was I going to get there and at what pace?

The problem is that once you know what you want… you’ve got to develop a strategy to achieve it.

I learned the “SMART” approach to goal setting in grade school. And while I can’t tell you what all grade school acronyms stood for, SMART always appealed to me. Instead of just setting intangible, amorphous goals you may never achieve, SMART challenges you to evaluate the steps you need to take to reach your goal and–most importantly–how to measure success. How do you know when you’ve reached your goal?

The SMART principles of goal setting are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely.

These terms seem self-explanatory, so I won’t bore you with definitions. But let’s put them into use with a common New Year’s Resolution: to read more.

Specific: Read more? Read how much more? Read what? Read why? Isolate the reason you want to obtain the goal. Once you know that, it’s easy to make a specific goal to achieve it.

Measurable: How can you mark your success? Will you read every night? Will you finish a certain number of books? What’s your current baseline you’re using to show that you’re doing “more”?

Achievable: Probably don’t set a goal to read 100 most recommended novels in a year unless you’re the type of person who is already finishing 2-3 books a week. The other downside to unachievable goals is that they detract from your ultimate purpose of reading more. If in July you realize you’ve only read 12/100 books, it would be easy to get so disappointed that you don’t keep reading–defeating the whole purpose of your SMART goal!

Relevant: Is this going to help you reach your objectives? I created 12 goals for the year back in January. It didn’t take long for me to fail at one. I realized that the strategy I was taking (tracking my food every day for a year in a calorie tracker app) was guided more by my love of achievement ribbons and gold stars than it was by my actual goal–healthy living. I rebelled against the tracking, then I discovered the Whole30, a system that discourages tracking at all, but focuses on consuming good-for-you foods.

Timely (Time-bound): Goals should have an end date. For my own person reading goals, I determined I wanted to read more books each year than I read the last until I turned 30. I’m a little bit behind in this final year, but we’re doing OK so far.

The most important thing when forming goals is knowing yourself. What motivates you? Will having an accountability partner assist your goal completion? Then join a book club. Also evaluate the reasons you have that goal in the first place. If you hate reading but feel like it’s something you “should” do, examine why. Then ask yourself if you can substitute audio books or podcasts instead.

SMART goal setting is the simplest way to create sustainable change. How are you using the principles of SMART goal setting in your life?

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