In the last article I talked about the need to change your mindset, before you dive in haphazardly into changing your life. Now, once in you’re in the right mindset you can actually prepare yourself for change. But of course, change doesn’t magically happen. The best behavioural change relies on setting a goal, and designing a plan to meet that goal. It’s goals we are going to be talking about today. Goals are part of every aspect of life. Once you’ve set a goal, it will provide a sense of direction, motivation, a clear focus if you will. By setting goals for yourself, you are providing yourself with a target to aim for. But not all goals are equal. I would go so far as to say that not even all goals are good goals. I’m not talking about morality here. It’s just that some goals are much more achievable than others. Not because they are easier to achieve, but because they have been measured out, planned for, integrated into life properly. These goals are SMART. A SMART goal is used to help guide goal setting. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Therefore, a SMART goal incorporates all of these criteria to help focus your efforts and increase the chances of achieving that goal. Let’s dive into all of these criteria, one by one.
Specific Have you ever told yourself (probably during New Year, or the day after) that you wanted to achieve something? Improve yourself? Yeah me too. Did it happen? Well… The issue with these impromptu goals we tend to come up with is that they are way too vague. They don’t really mean anything. These are goals like “I want to drink less”, “I want to get fit”, “I want to have more control over my money.” Although they are all admirable things to aim for, they are really terrible goals. Why? Because goals that are specific have a significantly greater chance of being accomplished, and these goals aren’t specific at all. How do you make a goal specific? Well, go about it the primary school way, and ask yourself the five “W” questions: Who, What, Where, When and Why. So:
Who is involved in this goal? Is it just you? Are you doing this with a friend, with family or with a professional?
What is it you want to accomplish? How much weight do you want to lose? How much money do you want to make/save? Be VERY specific.
Where is this goal to be achieved? If you’re changing your health, it’s probably in the gym, the kitchen and the grocery store. You’ll especially be tempted in the latter!
When do you want to achieve this goal? From when are you starting and when do you plan to finish?
Why do you want to achieve this goal? Why do you want to save more money? Are you broke? Are you worried you won’t be able to retire? Some of the reasons for wanting to change might be pretty bleak, but as I said in the previous article, negative emotions are nothing to be scared of. They can be great motivators.
Measurable How do you know if you have changed? Well, there needs to be some type of measure within your initial goal indicating success. So don’t make goals that say “I want to save more.” Because I can promise you that saving fifty pence extra per month won’t feel like much of a success. Fifty pounds might though! So when setting the what and when portion of your goals, as done in the previous section, you need to make room for quantities and points of measure. You want to save fifty pounds per week. Well, pick a starting point and a week from there you need to have fifty pounds saved. Clear. Or, you want to become healthier, by losing weight. You track your weight by tracking your fat %. And for every week you have decided to work out at least 4 times a week. For every week, you want to lose 1% of fat. These two examples are incredibly clear. Short periods of time with easy measures. I also would recommend having shorter periods of time to indicate progress, rather than longer. A lot can happen in a year, so just having a year as a unit of measure is not ideal. You can build towards a longer unit of time (year, decennium), by aiming for and tracking progress in smaller units (weeks, months) to better stay on track.
Attainable It’s probably not that surprising that most smart goals are attainable. Don’t set yourself up for failure, that’s just cruel. To make sure a goal is attainable for you, you have to do some research. A pretty good indicator of a goal not being attainable is no one ever having done it before. Or at least no one in a situation similar to you having done it before. Also, some goals are easier to attain than others, especially when it comes to resource commitment. Some goals require a lot of time and effort put in. Some goals require mainly money. Others require a lot of perseverance above anything else. First, are you able to invest that resource into it? If you’re already struggling with money as is, incorporating an expensive to reach goal is going to be an issue, and very likely aversive to your financial health. If you barely get enough sleep, dedicating more time to additional activities (your new goal), might not actually be feasible.
Relevant On a slightly more wooshy level, is this goal really that relevant to your life? If you simply want to reach a goal to impress others, rather than improve yourself and your life, this goal might backfire. Relevancy is important because it allows you to again question “why” you’re trying to incorporate reaching this goal into your life. After some careful introspection, you should be able to identify what it is you are trying to achieve with this new goal. If you feel like this goal will be a clear improvement in lifestyle for yourself, or those you care about without posing too much of a conflict with yourself, this goal is likely relevant.
Time-based This aspect has already been mentioned in the “specific” and the “measurable” category, but is important enough to be reiterated: you need to know which timeframe you’re working in. Not only will this determine how to measure success, but it will also be a great indicator of whether your goal is attainable to begin with. The most important aspect of time-based goal setting is knowing your deadline. By when do you need to have reached your goal? When is time up? When do you know if you have managed, or failed? If you’re aiming to lose 10% bodyfat within a month, don’t bother. Very unlikely. This is why you do research into weight loss, and maybe ask professionals for advice. If you want to save $50.000 in one year, you better have an income (or general in goings) that exceed it by a very liveable amount (say $30.000). Otherwise, what are you going to live off for that year?
Behavioural change is hard, it really is. But setting SMART goals will make it a bit easier to be able to at least know what you’re aiming for, and how you can get there. Good luck!