Setting goals is fairly easy. Most of us experience times in our lives when we know what we want to accomplish whether it’s buying a home, getting a degree, helping to pass a bill, learning a new method of practice for work, strengthening the upper body, swimming a faster mile, and whatever else. It’s easier to know what we want; it’s almost never easy to plan the steps toward getting there. We get lost in the process, frustrated, and eventually, let it go. (And we often chalk it up to another failed attempt at something which bums us out.)
Many psychotherapists use a model to help clients plan and reach their goals using the SMART method. This method is attributed to Peter Drucker, business person and author, and developed by Robert Rubin, organizational psychologist and author. The protocol helps to clarify goals, ensure that they are attainable, and plan alternative strategies if they are in any way unreachable. SMART recommends that each goal we set should be:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
Broken down into clarifying questions, each step helps the person identify the goal, plan the strategy, and set up accountability. Since 1981, both psychologists and business people have expanded and improved the SMART method, making it increasingly accessible to anyone. I have collected a lot of their suggestions and plugged them into this post. (If you’d like to read more about the SMART method, go here.)
SMART works best when our goals are specific and easily stated. If they’re too abstract or murky, it will be hard to know where to put our focus, and we will probably lose motivation.
- What do I want to achieve? What is my goal?
- Why is this important to me? Why do I care about this?
- Is this achievable by myself?
- Who else is involved?
- What limits my achievement of this goal?
- What resources are available to me/do I possess that will help me achieve this goal?
If we have measurable goals, we can keep track of our progress which will help us to maintain our momentum, especially when the going gets tough. Tracking our progress helps us to stay grounded in our goals and the steps toward meeting them through the process.
Here’s how to make sure our goals are measurable:
- How much/many?
- How often?
- How will I know when it is accomplished?
Our goals must be realistic and attainable to ensure true success. We are not looking for an impossible challenge. We are stepping outside our comfort zones to meet a reasonable goal. We must look at our limits and our resources in preparation for the terrain ahead of us.
An achievable goal will usually answer these questions:
- How can I accomplish my goal?
- How realistic is the goal based my limits?
- What are the potential challenges?
- What or who do I need to enlist to help me meet the challenges?
- What, if anything, is outside my control that might impact my achievement of my goal?
It’s imperative that you have your own buy-in with the goals that you set for yourself; otherwise, you will most likely lose interest and wander off the path you’ve set.
- Does this goal and what it will take to accomplish it seem worthwhile?
- Is this the right time for me to take on this challenge?
- If I have enlisted others, does this goal also compliment their needs and abilities?
- Is this goal realistic for my environment?
- Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?
Our goals need a deadline. It’s helpful to know how much time we have to accomplish something so that we have a firm boundary in which to meet all of our deliverables. It’s really easy to get distracted by our everyday routines and to lose focus of our goals. This step will help us bring our focus back to the plan we have carefully implemented.
A time-bound goal answers these questions:
- When is the reasonable deadline?
- What can I do six months from now?
- What can I do six weeks from now?
- What can I do one week from now?
- What can I do today?
Setting SMART goals enables us to find out why we want to achieve something and the choices we can make to get there. Often, setting up our SMART goals helps us to see that we need to tweak our expectations, ask for help, or reach a stepping-stone goal before our original goal so that we can lay the necessary groundwork. Try it out. Start with a small goal and see how it feels to use the aid of a well-researched procedure to accomplish your goal. (I use it off and on for personal and professional development goals, and it’s almost like having a little personal assistant.)
If you’d like support as you set and plan for a goal, let’s talk.
Love and Be Loved,