So, how are you doing on those New Year's Resolutions you made at the start of the year?
Fear not, dear reader, because I have a solution for you that will replace your resolutions with a system that will drastically increase your chances of achieving your dreams and desires. That system is called the SMART goal system. You may recall that SMART is an acronym for goals that are smart, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
Last month I wrote about the first two terms and how to begin constructing written goals that are specific and measurable. Take a look at my January column if you need to catch up on this topic. For now, let’s talk about the remaining terms in order.
The letter “A” stands for “attainable” or “achievable.” While I believe that your goals should be something of a stretch, you’ll want to make certain that the goal is actually achievable. For example, most companies don’t become a billion dollar enterprise overnight, so you’ll want to gauge the achievability of your goal by asking a few questions: Is this goal something I have control over? Do I have the necessary resources, knowledge and time to accomplish this goal? Are the actions I plan to take likely to bring success?
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 out 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. and the show lasts 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.
The letter “R” stands for “realistic” or “relevant.” I believe that the standard term of “realistic” fits better as a descriptor of “attainable” or “achievable.” For that reason, I tend to create goals using the term “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? Is this goal closely aligned with the mission of my business or my work team? Will this goal make a meaningful, positive impact on my life, or 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.
The letter “T” stands for “timely” or “time-bound.” Now, it might seem obvious, but goals can’t stretch out into eternity. When do you want to accomplish the goal and be able to say it’s complete? Next week, next month, 90 days from now? Robert Herjavec, one of the entrepreneurs on the TV show “Shark Tank” is quoted as having said, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.” I think Robert may have been influenced by Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich who stated it this way, ”A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
Not withstanding the semantics of these two aphorisms, 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. It’s also too ambiguous for people who may be working with you to achieve a goal. It’s better to say that your goal will be reached by a certain date so that everyone can retain their focus on the action items that need to be completed to achieve the goal. Deadlines create a sense of urgency that stimulates action. If you’ve set a goal to drop 40 pounds and you think you can do it by exercising 30 minutes per day, then the last remaining element is to decide on the date that you’ll achieve the goal. Tie that back to the “attainable” or “achievable” element and you’ll have a very solid goal in place.
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. According to a study done by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, 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 further motivation to reach the finish line.