Personal Goal Setting – How to Set SMART Goals
Life can be chaotic. Striving to work, to get recognition, to take on as many responsibilities as possible, but still keep things achievable.
You are always bombarded by new requirements, new software that you have to use, you are introduced to constantly changing workflow strategies.
Your team is complaining about the conditions, your leaders pressure you towards more multitasking and your customers are always holding you accountable.
How do you bring order to the chaos?
There is a strategy that can allow you to set up goals in a simple way. A strategy so simple and strong that can lead you towards success, just because it will force you to consider every possible factor that may influence your actions and your results.
Read our SMART article to learn more.
WHY SET GOALS?
Goals are your natural way of thinking. Before you make a plan to achieve them, though, you call them your ‘dreams’.
Researcher Edwin A. Locke has accumulated research to prove turning having general intentions into setting conscious goals leads to higher achievements.
In his paper, Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives, Locke sets out to prove that conscious ideas regulate a person’s actions:
‘Studies are cited demonstrating that: (1) hard goals produce a higher level of performance (output) than easy goals; (2) specific hard goals produce a higher level of output than a goal of “do your best”; and (3) behavioral intentions regulate choice behavior… Evidence is presented supporting the view that monetary incentives, time limits, and knowledge of results do not affect performance level independently of the individual’s goals and intentions… [A]ny adequate theory of task motivation must take account of the individual’s conscious goals and intentions. The applied implications of the theory are discussed.’
The main principles of the goal setting theory are:
- Goals must be clear – simple and easy to understand.
- Goals must have an objective level of difficulty. If your goals do not challenge you or take you out of your comfort zone, you are not leading yourself towards progress.
- You must be able to follow with dedication. A goal needs to bring you closer to something you feel passionate about.
- Progress transparency. A goal setter must have information at all times how close they are towards achieving their goal.
- Complexity and effort. The effort you put in must be proportionate to the complexity of the task. The goal-setter must have the full information and resources to work on the most complex tasks.
WHAT ARE SMART GOALS?
SMART is a mnemonic acronym, that stipulates a description of the goals, which, according to the theory, will give you the highest chance for success.
Even though the notion of SMART goals first occurs in the Management Review by George Dora, the term is most often associated with The Practice of Management by Peter Drucker.
The acronym stands for:
- The goals are simple, but significant.
- You need to setup quantitative criteria.
- Attainable. You must have the resources.
- Your goal must be in line with your current situation.
- Time-bound. You need to set up a deadline to achieve your results.
There are, however, different readings of the acronym SMART. Some organization like to play with the word and substitute words according to their own values – they go for goal descriptions that are more in line with their workflow or their employee-employer relationships.
THE PROS AND CONS OF GOING SMART?
The number 1 rule of the goal setting theory is clarity. This is where the SMART acronym comes in handy.
It is the clear description of the goals that binds the goal-setter to their decision. The mere description is already a plan – how your success will look like, what is enough to call it success, it sets you up on a path that you CAN follow, it tells you when you should do your assessment.
If you have followed through, your SMART goals will give you a great feeling of achievement. If you fall short, though, now you have a clear definition of failure.
Binding success to a specific, achievable, measurable, time-bound criteria makes failure that much easier to identify. It makes your notion of success and defeat black and white – something that doesn’t happen when you dream, instead of plan. When your goals are vague and ambiguous.
There is an ugly face of the SMART goals.
Forbes have published an article that goes through the disadvantages of setting up SMART goals. It goes through the definition of SMART goals and how popular they are among organizations that are struggling to define goals and success for their employees.
However, people seem to rationalize successes as normal and internalize failures as personal. Employees rarely consider objectively the toxicity of falling just short of a SMART goal.
It looks at the responses to the ‘Do you set SMART Goals or HARD Goals?’ quiz. (where HARD stands for Heartfelt Animated Required Difficult). The survey discovers that ‘only 29% of people who pursue achievable and realistic goals love their job. But a far greater 40% of difficult and audacious goal setters love their job.’
Another study, called Are SMART Goals Dumb discovers that only 13% of the more than four thousand respondents strongly agree the SMART goals for the year would maximize their full potential.
In other words, the greatest disadvantages of the SMART goals are that setting up specific, achievable and realistic goals could A) really lower your confidence in case of falling short but B) may not make feel accomplished even if you succeeded.
HOW TO SET SMART GOALS?
The first rule of setting SMART goals is:
Follow the template.
You will find multiple variations of the acronym. Follow the original. If you go too far away from the source you are defeating the purpose of going SMART.
The second rule of setting SMART goals is:
Follow your heart.
You need to be passionate about the goals you are setting. Weather it is about your work or your personal life, planning is about turning dreams into projects. Write down goals that will really take you closer to your dream place in life.
The third rule of setting SMART goals is:
Don’t go crazy.
Do not overdo it. Not just every single goal has to be achievable, but the bunch has to be doable as well. Make sure the edge of your list doesn’t hit the floor. Concentrate on what is truly important.
The fourth rule of setting SMART goals is:
Go out of your comfort zone.
Just because your goals are SMART, doesn’t mean they have to be easy. On the contrary, setting the bar too low will bring you nowhere. Prepare for a challenge. You need to learn something new, overstep your boundaries. Forget about your fears.
The fifth rule of setting SMART goals is:
Write it all down and pin it on your fridge.
Your goals are not just wishful thinking. Write down a list of your SMARTs, print it on a piece of paper, decorate it with glitter and a foil star, wax-stamp it, give it a ribbon and nail it to your fridge. Whatever makes it official for you. Okay maybe the kitchen fridge in the office is not the best place, but make sure you put your list somewhere you will see it every day.
Now. Let’s work on the SMARTS:
To tackle the ‘being specific’ part, think long and hard on what defines definite success for you. Don’t go crazy. It would have to be the lowest step that would be enough for you to call it success. Now describe what it is. Do not be vague.
For example, if your goal is to get in shape, don’t go ‘I want to look better’. Instead try ‘I want to lose fat and gain muscle mass.’ Or ‘I want to sign up for the gym for regular workouts’.
If you want to certify your graphic design skills go with something like ‘I want to sign up with a school, attend lessons and pass the X exam by the end of the year’.
When crafting your goal, consider the “W” questions:
- What am I trying to do and what is the most specific way to describe it?
- Why am I doing this? What is my original intention?
- Who will be helping me? Do I need to contact or involve someone else?
- Where will this take me? Will I like where I am going?
- Which resources will I need to bring this to fruition?
Your goal description might turn out to be quite long. Do not be afraid to revise. Your end result must be a very concise, easy to remember mantra, without buzzwords and empty details. Just the facts. What, why, who, where, how.
Your goals are measurable not just in order to be able to tell if you achieved them or not. You will also be able to set milestones that you can spread out to particular time increments and then you can measure and commemorate when you meet your sub-goals. If you don’t, that would be an occasion to and revise your planning.
Remember, consistency is key. Milestones are there for you to reach them. Don’t keep plan B in the back of your head. There is no ‘B’ in SMART.
Keep a discipline. Track your planning and your progress.
How to setup measurable goals? Start with answering the following questions:
- How much? How much money do I need to save in order to achieve my goal to be more financially responsible? How much is too much? How much is too little?
- How many? How many times do I have to go to the gym before so I consider my goal to be more consistent with my training to be achieved? How many kilograms do I need to lose? How many centimeters do I want off my waist?
- How will I know when it is accomplished? Can I put a measure on something that is difficult to measure? If I want to make more friends, I can count how many times I go out a week. If I want to be more kind, I can count my good deeds for the day. If I want to get more skilled, I can count the pieces of material I read in my subject.
You have to be careful not to set yourself up for failure. Too many people setup unachievable goals for themselves and make it impossible for themselves to follow their goals. And then they blame themselves for their failure.
While difficult goals may be helpful in the sense they will force you to go forward for a while, you will almost certainly burn out of energy and enthusiasm to continue at some point in the future.
Try to be realistic. Overly optimistic you is not your friend. Keep the balance. Your goals must be challenging but still achievable. Assess your options. Think about factors that might affect your timeline or your condition. Come up with a plan B. (Although you shouldn’t use it as a crutch unnecessarily.)
Before you set your mind on a goal, check if you can actually see yourself being successful at it.
An achievable goal will usually answer questions such as:
- How can I accomplish this goal? Come up with up to 10 consecutive steps. Each of those must be achievable, measurable and with their own deadline. If you see you will be stretching yourself thin over it, see if you can write down step #8 as your end goal. For example. If you want to lose 6 kilos for 6 months, but 1 kilo per month seems too much for you, you can settle for 5.
- How realistic is the goal, when you factor in other constraints, such as money, time, resources, or other people? Can you get help and is it worth it?
Not all goals will be relevant to where you are in life right now. If you have a career in IT, for example, it will not be very SMART to head for LA to become an actress. It will be just… SMAT.
Yes, we are trying to turn dreams into reality, but that is not really consistent with our goal here. We are mostly trying to improve your life, not transform it.
If your SMART goal is in line to your general plan for your life, achieving it may not get you anywhere. You may lose more than you gain. If you want to make sure that your goal will be of value to you, you need to consider if is worth your time. Make a list of the benefits and the possible losses that your new you may experience as a result of achieving the goal.
A good way to check is if your new goal is consistent with your other goals in life, from your SMART list or your goals from the previous years.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this seem worth it to do this?
- Is it an achievement that I would have wanted for myself 5 years ago?
- Is this the right time now to pursue this?
- Does this match our other goals?
- Is this goal in line with my career?
- Am I the right person for this challenge?
- Is it the right time, considering the economy, and my financial situation?
- Is it consistent with my career and education to do this?
- Is it consistent with where I want to be with my family?
- Is it possible this will affect my personal life or mental health in a negative way?
A SMART goal will be a goal with a timer duct-taped to it. For example, ‘I want to spend more time at the gym’ should become ‘I want to spend more time at the gym and attend every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for at least 6 months now’. Or ‘I want to save more money’ becomes ‘I want to save more money, therefore each month this year I will save up 500 USD until I have 6000 USD at the end of the year.’.
The person who set that goal with the deadline will be much more likely to succeed since they have a particular day when they can reevaluate and judge how well they did on their plan.
When constructing your bunch of SMART goals, it’s a great idea to write down each of these criteria on a timeline, so you have in mind how they interact with each other. For example, in the above examples, you might need to think about how your gym fee will affect your money saving capabilities.
In order to write a time-bound goal consider the following questions:
- When can I start? Can I start today? When do I want to be done?
- What timeline is achievable?
- Am I going to be moving toward my goal in a steady pace?
- Will my goals interfere with each other?
- Will achieving any of other goals distract me or stop me from achieving another?
- Is it possible at some point I run out of resources or energy? Should I plan a break?
WHAT ARE SOME SMART EXAMPLES?
Now that we have laid out the basis, let’s consider several examples of transforming wishful thinking into SMART goals:
The money problem.
Let’s take as the first example the money problem. Your SMART goal will be to start saving more. To create order out of the chaos, you need to follow the SMART principle.
How to make your goal specific?
You need to make ‘more money’ into a specific number. Perhaps originally you thought a good number is to save up is 60 000 USD.
How to make your goal measurable?
Well, the goal is already pretty measurable, but let’s break that into little increments. What is the amount that you can save up a month? Let’s say you can save up 500 USD a month which is 6000 USD a year.
How to make your goal achievable?
Saving up 6000 USD a year means you will be done in 10 years. But other things may come in the way. The economy could go down, you could lose your job. Let’s give you another year.
How to make your goal relevant?
How your goal relevant to your life? At some point during the next 10 years you will want to get married and have a kid. That will definitely affect your saving, and you don’t want to sacrifice one goal because of another. Let’s give you a two years break where you will not be doing any contributions to your saving account.
How to make your goal time-bound?
There you have it. 500 USD a month, with a one-year insurance and a two-year break for your family, you get a 13-year plan to save up 60 000 USD.
The work problem.
Let’s say your wishful thinking at the moment is that you want to become a well-known expert in your field.
How to make your goal specific?
How can you become well-known? What do you identify as ‘your field’?
Let’s make that ‘I want to try to become a well-known expert in the field of graphic design by taking on at least one big customer’
How to make your goal measurable?
The greatest problem with that definition is the words ‘big customer’. Let’s make that ‘I want to try to become a well-known expert in the field of graphic design by taking on at least one of the top ten local restaurants for a customer‘.
How to make your goal achievable?
The best way to make that goal achievable is by coming up with milestones. Let’s do that ‘I want to try to become a well-known expert in the field of graphic design by taking on at least one of the top ten local restaurants for a customer. To do that I will come up with at least 3 new concept logo designs for each of those restaurants and presenting them to the managers’
How to make your goal relevant?
Ask yourself is your goal in line with your life, career, family, education. Is it the best time to do this now? Your answer must look something like this ‘Right now is the moment to establish myself as a small business graphic designer expert. That is completely in line with my education and career path.
I have only started recently, but this project is not too ambitious – I have already worked with some restaurants in the business and have my projects to show for it. I think this is a good next step. I still do not have a family and I can use the coming year to dedicate myself to the work and advance in my career.’
How to make your goal time-bound?
This is a good example: ‘I will start by creating 3 concept for 1 restaurant every month and try and arrange a meeting to present to their manager. 1 month is realistic to do the meeting, because I already have some contacts. That will leave me a 2 months reserve in case of unforeseen circumstances.’
You can be SMART in your career and in your personal life. Setting up goals for yourself is your best bet for success.
Turn your dreams into projects.
Go easy on yourself and stay consistent. Go out of your comfort zone, but stay on this planet.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t succeed. Take the failure as a lesson and plan better next time. Remember to keep your goals within the realm of the possible. Keep it cool and keep on track.
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