Monday, November 26, 2007

Creating S-M-A-R-T Goals

One of the keys to living well is setting goals for yourself. Its not a new idea, yet so few of us do it well. I think the reason for this is simple: failure. All of us have set goals before and fallen short. Every New Years millions of people resolve to lose weight, watch less television, spend more time with loved ones and by mid-Spring 99% of those goals have gone by the wayside. What's wrong with this picture? Are some people just lazy? Absolutely, but I think many times the problem lies in the goals themselves rather than the people trying to achieve them. When its unclear exactly what you're striving for it is much easier to give up when things get hard.

During my time at the Air Force Academy I once heard a lecture that explained a way to set SMART(Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound) goals. The principle was being explained in the context of setting quality objectives at the start of a war, but I believe it translates well into ordinary life. An explanation:

Specific - something that can be easily observed, linked to a unit, percentage, time, etc. For example, "Lose weight" = BAD "Lose 50lbs" = GOOD

Measurable - Will you be able to track your progress toward the goal and know when you've achieved it? It must be possible to monitor and measure your goal. "Lose 50 lbs" is good because you can easily step on a scale each week to measure your progress.

Achievable - Is the goal something that can reasonably be achieved? If not, scale it down a bit. This does not mean it has to be easy, but an impossible goal motivates no one.

Relevant - Will achieving this goal bring you closer to where you want to be? Your goals should tie into a larger objective for your life. For example, if you are trying to spend more time with your family, a goal of taking on more clients at work may take you further from where you want to be.

Timebound - Every goal must have a specific time frame. Time motivates you by giving you a clear target and a sense of urgency. Without a time frame goals tend to be pushed back, put off and eventually forgotten. Ask any runner, if you have a goal to run a marathon, you have to sign up for one or you'll never do it. The approaching race date acts as an incredible motivator during the training process. Without it, you may run, but chances are you'll never reach your ultimate goal.

In the next month I plan on taking a closer look at goals, objectives and how to place systems in your life that will help you live your best, the high life as I like to call it. Stay tuned and please leave comments on your successes and failures in the realm of goal-setting.

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Andrew Pratt said...

Great topic. The shortfalls of my goals always seems to be the first two of the SMART. It is so key that our goals be specific enough to actually be measurable. Often times our goals will not necessarily be written out in a place that you reference a lot, like your desk. I have made the mistake of keeping goals broader and not written down, which allows me to be complacent in the way I achieve that goal. My advice (something I really need to do on some goals) is to make them more specific and visible with an actual plan designed to achieve those goals. It's great to have goals, but that is just the beginning in our efforts to actually achieve them.

Brian Reese said...

You're right on here. The bottom line is that we live in a lazy society where 20% of the people do 80% of the work. It truly is a world of haves and have-nots.

I talk a lot about this problem in society because we demand instant gratification. I am guilty myself at times. We want things when we want them--our way! If it's hard, we quit. It is so much easier to talk the talk then it is to walk the walk.

However, I think setting SMART goals would definitely help. If there are things in my life that I want to start or stop, I have to see them everyday. I have to leave myself notes, talk about them with friends, discuss them in a blog...constant reminders. This is tough sometimes when we live in such a fast paced world--sometimes we need to slow down and simplify our lives.

One of my new goals is to eat slower because I rush myself. I need to make this a SMART goal and actually put my plan into action.