How SMART are your S.M.A.R.T. Goals?

As we come to the close of one year and move into the next, the topic of goals is one that we either lament or celebrate. When the thought of goals is not something that puts a spark in your day it is usually because of one of these two reasons:

  • You are very unhappy with your performance to goals for the past year; or,
  • The goals you believe you need to set seem overwhelming from the onset.

We’ve each experienced one of these responses to the topic of goals. And yet, without question, high achievers all have clear and written goals. Since we all aspire to be a part of that group, it serves us to learn how to set goals in a way that we set ourselves up from the beginning to successfully attain them.

So let’s talk about goals. I’m sure you have heard about S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) and the principals behind that approach are good. The issue is that while we have memorized the acronym, it has been my experience that we don’t fully understand the impact. Here are some thoughts on each of these to help provide perspective:

Specific – This is where we find the first breakdown. We all have a different viewpoint of what it means to be specific. I would recommend that you consider the word CLEAR instead. We can be over specific in some ways and miss opportunities. But we can never be too clear.  You need to be VERY clear about what the goal is about and why you are working toward it.

Measurable– Too often we don’t give ourselves enough points or milestones to measure. We tend to put one measurement in place. How will you know you have achieved the goal? Instead, let’s consider measurement as tracking our progress toward the goal. Let’s follow and measure our progress to what it needs to be. Because that is what is going to help us recognize if we start veering off track. Let’s not wait until the end! Let’s create some space for recovery.

Achievable- This centering point is by far in my mind the most important. If your goal is not 100% achievable by YOUR actions, it is not in fact achievable as a goal. It’s an outcome or circumstance you might hope for, but it’s not within your power to actually achieve it. And that will cause you to stumble. Make certain that your goal is about YOUR action (or inaction if that is the case). Stay away from an outcome that is dependent or at the mercy of other people or circumstances. For example, there is a vast difference between setting a goal to lose weight and setting a goal to walk a certain number of steps or spend a certain amount of time exercising. One has many influences, the others are quite clear and entirely within your power to either do or not do.

Realistic- The challenge with this word is that we don’t know what exactly we are supposed to be realistic about. What does it mean to be realistic? Based on what benchmark? We certainly want to be reasonable in our approach and expectations but how does that serve us in terms of being successful? I believe that we need to see this as being realistic about how many goals we should be taking on at the same time. Be realistic about how many masters you can serve. That’s not to say that you cannot have multiple goals. You can and you should. But if your list of goals is too long, your ability to take progressive actions on all of them is going to be stretched to the point that something will suffer. One idea to consider is what I call the “goal rounds” approach. Don’t begin goals at the same time. Start one and get yourself in a pattern that becomes habit as you are working to achieve it. Then start the next and do the same. And so on. You will then know when you have enough and when you need to complete some before starting more.

Time-bound– This point is similar to measurable but usually in goal reviews it’s just referring to a deadline for completion. What will make this effective? By reverse engineering what we need to be doing using milestones or markers along the way. When I work with clients on their strategies, we start with the end in mind. That’s essentially what strategy is about: Begin with the end in mind. Then you track backward to see what steps you need to take to get to that end. It’s important to think of those steps within the time element as well. Almost everything we work to achieve has something incremental about it. It is within those increments that we need to understand time.

When you are looking ahead and setting your goals for the coming year, or any time for that matter, think about these other perspectives about what being smart about goals really means. Make certain that your S.M.A.R.T. goals are in fact smart! When they are, you can live today like you want tomorrow to be and achieve those tomorrows with a higher level of satisfaction.

Ready. Set. GOAL!

Live well.