Most people have heard of SMART goal setting. It’s one of the cornerstone strategies promoted in schools, colleges and workplaces everywhere for setting and achieving personal and collective goals. Used effectively, it is the difference between ‘want to’ and ‘will’.
The ‘smarter’ you make a goal, the more likely you are to accomplish it, all other things being equal. This principle applies to personal goal setting as much as it does to corporations.
Various words and phrases have been used to make the SMART criteria.
Here are what I consider to be the most helpful:
What, exactly, do you want to achieve? If you want to lose weight, earn more money or spend more time with your loved ones, what does that actually mean? How can you aim for it?
The more precise you make it, the clearer your goal becomes for you. Once you’re clear about what you want to accomplish, you can plan how to do it.
You need to measure it to manage it. Numbers tell you your progress towards the goal and, crucially, when you’ve achieved it. ‘Lose weight’ becomes ‘Lose 10 pounds’.
Measuring your goal applies not only to the point at which you finally reach it, but to the series of mini-goals you can set along the way. Hitting these milestones is a tremendous motivator to spur you on towards the end.
‘Only 3 pounds? That’s nothing! I want to lose 30 pounds!’
Maybe you will over time. But goal setting is about targets that your mind will accept as achievable. The thought of the goal has to be challenging, motivating and do-able. Too little won’t get you going; too much will put you off.
Every goal should be attainable. Your perception of whether or not it is dictates your efforts.
Does your goal fit into the bigger picture of your life? If it’s relevant it will support the other things you want to be, do, and have. More importantly, it will align with your purpose and values.
Before you get put SMART goal setting into practice, check that what you want fits in with your roles, goals and commitments.
Certain goals need a duration which is achieved by fixing a realistic deadline. This will focus your efforts and help you manage your time effectively as you progress towards your goal. No deadline means no priority.
Make sure the deadline is far enough away to allow you enough time to achieve the goal, but not so far that you lose focus.
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So far so good.
Now for the tricky bit...
Does SMART goal setting always work?
If you have a specific goal that you’re so sure you want that you know with absolute conviction that nothing else will do, then yes, a SMART goal setting strategy would be appropriate. It provides the clearest possible focus on the clearest possible outcome.
But if you are open to the idea of achieving something less tangible, but just as meaningful, I would not recommend it. In this context, you’d probably find it to be constricting and unnatural.
A friend of mine set a target for himself of 18250 push ups in one year, or an average of 50 each day. Why? To stay fit and for the sense of accomplishment it would bring.
This is a good example of how SMART goal setting can work for specific short term projects over which you have a high degree of control. This goes for milestones to aim for on the way to achieving something much larger.
But for long term goals there are just too many variables. Who knows what could happen this time next year, never mind five or 10 years from now?
If my friend had a 10 year plan to do 182500 push ups. he’d be setting himself up to fail. What would happen if he got bored or injured? What if push ups were proven to be bad for your back?
By all means have a long term plan, but keep it flexible enough to allow you to take advantage of new and better opportunities as and when they arise.
SMART goals make things far more likely to happen in the short term. So does the act of writing them down and staying aware of them. (Of all the tips on setting goals this matters most.)
Just make sure they give you something to aim for, but not at the cost of your freedom and flexibility.