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Morris: Stick to It!

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Goal-Setting

Happy New Year!! 

Making New Year Resolutions is a longstanding tradition, and recent research shows that 61 percent of us admit to making resolutions each year. Unfortunately, only about 8 percent of us are successful in achieving those resolutions. Most people admit that they fail their resolution before January is done.

Why is it so difficult to achieve our resolutions? I think that the resolutions we make are not framed properly to be achievable, because they are vague and largely negative. For example, losing weight is a negative construct. Nobody likes losing even if the losing results in something positive. The biggest factor, however, is that resolutions are not SMART goals. I’ve written about SMART goals in the past but I think it is worth a second look.

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. 


Constructing a Goal

When writing a SMART goal, you work through each of those terms to build a goal that states exactly what needs to be accomplished, when it needs to be accomplished, and how you’ll know when you’ve successfully reached your goal. 

The first term, “specific,” is the foundation piece of the system. Specific goals are more likely to be attained than general goals and resolutions. To set a specific goal you have to address the five “W” questions.

  • Who is involved?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where will the actions occur?
  • When will the actions occur?
  • What are the specific reasons and benefits of accomplishing this goal?

As an example, a general goal might be, “I want to get in shape,”  whereas a specific goal would be, “I will join Gold’s Gym and do workouts every week.”

The next element is “measurable,” and it refers to the ability to track your goal using numbers. If you notice in the examples above we don’t have any numbers and measurements in place. A well-constructed SMART goal of doing workouts should sound like this: “I will join the gym and do four workouts of one hour each per week.” A goal to pay down debt can use similar measurable increments. By adding a measurable element to your goal, you can easily track your progress and  be aware when you get off course. 

The letter “A” stands for “achievable.” While I believe that your goals should be aspirational, you’ll want to make certain that the goal is actually achievable. Here is one of the subtle secrets to successful goal setting: you must make your goal actionable. Use action words and verbs to draft your goal by listing the exact steps you will take to accomplish your goal. 

Let’s say you have a goal to exercise 30 minutes per day, five days per week but you want to make sure that is achievable. In this case, you might look at your typical daily schedule and note that you love to watch Jeopardy every evening at 7 p.m. for 30 minutes. If you then construct a series of action steps, they might look like this: “I will set up my exercise bike in the TV room and will ride the bike for 30 minutes while watching the nightly episode of Jeopardy. I will not watch Jeopardy if I am not riding my exercise bike.”  This seems to me to be a simple, action oriented and attainable goal.

Moving on, a goal needs to be “relevant.” In simplistic terms, a relevant goal is one that is worthwhile and is actually important to you right now. 

Ask yourself these questions: Will this goal make a material difference on achieving my larger objectives? Will this goal make a meaningful, positive impact on my life? Is this just a random idea that sounds good at the moment? Let’s face it, if the goal is not important to you, it is likely to fail. If you are setting a goal for your own personal development, you’ll know if the goal feels right and is relevant. You can tell if working out for 30 minutes a day makes sense. You can tell if reading one chapter per week of a great book on leadership is relevant in your work life and you’re more likely to stick with the plan because it’s relevant to you.

The letter T stands for “time-bound.” Now, it might seem obvious, but goals can’t stretch out through eternity. When do you want to accomplish the goal and be able to say it’s complete? Next week? Next month? In 90 days? 

Napoleon Hill, the author of “Think and Grow Rich” wrote, ”A goal is a dream with a deadline.” It is vital that your goals have a deadline. Otherwise, how will you know when you’ve reached the goal? Deadlines need to be specific. You can’t say you’ll accomplish something by next summer. That’s too vague and allows you too much wiggle room to extend your goal. Deadlines create a sense of urgency that stimulates action.

Using SMART criteria for setting goals is a huge improvement over the old New Year’s Resolutions scenario and I hope you will begin to use this method right away in your personal and professional life. Once you’ve set some goals, remember to write them down. You become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals simply by writing them down on a regular basis. 

Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate small wins that you make along the way to achieving your main goal. Our brains are wired in such a way that celebrating wins creates a sense of happiness and these accomplishments stimulate more motivation to reach the finish line. Now ditch the resolutions and go ahead and set some SMART goals. You will love the results!

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