6 ways to create smarter goals

goal-setting-picIf you type ‘SMART goals’ into a google search you’ll come up with nearly 17,000,000 hits.

‘SMART’ represents a set criteria to help you evaluate your goals. Goal setters are asked to consider ‘Is your goal specific? Measurable? Attainable? Realistic? and timely (has a deadline)?

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Timely

Personal development gurus and teachers tell us time and time again “Goals should be SMART”. I can appreciate this advice, especially after recently stumbling upon a list of goals I had set for myself several years ago. I couldn’t help but cringe at how vague these goals were (e.g. “Enjoy life more” and “Save money more effectively”). It was of no surprise to discover that I hadn’t achieved half the things on my list of goals.

But quite frankly the SMART criteria just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

I have got to the stage where I find this formula for success (or at least the way it is phrased and presented) uninspiring.

The SMART criteria fails to excite my imagination and leaves me feeling like goal setting is nothing but a boring chore similar to scrubbing the floor or filling out an application form.

At the heart of it, goal setting is about your dreams. It’s about going for something that would really change your life if you achieved it. It’s about breathing life into areas that have gone dead/stale or you may have given up on.

David Rock in his book ‘Personal Best’ writes about how to set goals worth going for. Rock goes beyond the stock standard SMART criteria and discusses some other nifty strategies to help beef up your goals.

1. Don’t be conceptual, work towards a project with a real conclusion

Back in 2007, I set this goal for myself “Be more creative/create contemporary art”. Nice idea, but do you think I did this? No. Besides totally abandoning and failing to meet the SMART criteria, this goal had no real end point. What was lacking was an exciting project to work towards.

David Rock suggest that a better goal to set would be “Have an exhibition” (even if it’s just with friends and family). If you want to get fitter, instead of a goal of “Get fitter” you could set “Salsa dance for one hour non stop”.

2. Go for goals that extend you but are still achievable

David Rock encourages us to extend ourselves and to be open to being challenged and learning new skills. He believes the best goals are the ones you may not know how to achieve but you have this feeling that no matter what you’ll be able to work it out if you apply yourself.

I have always felt restricted by the ‘Achievable’ criteria when it comes to the A in the SMART goal setting criteria. I used to think to myself when evaluating my goals “I think this is achievable but what if I’m being overly ambitious? What if I can’t actually do this?”. There was always this feeling of holding back and not fully going for something if there was even the smallest doubt I wouldn’t be able to achieve it.

Alternatively, there were times when I set totally outrageous goals such as “Be earning $100,000 a year” (in my final year of university), only to later look back on that goal and think “What on earth was I thinking?”

In relation to setting achievable goals David Rock states –

“Sometimes you might start out with a goal that you think is achievable, then a few weeks into it you realise it isn’t, it’s okay to change your goals at that time….there’s nothing wrong with giving something all you’ve got, then discovering you need to change course mid-stream”.

I find this idea helps to take the pressure off setting goals perfectly. There really is no reason to hold yourself back when you know you can stop, re-assess and change your goals at any point in time.

3. Keep your goals short and snappy

Since you want to be taking action towards your goals every day, you want to be thinking of your goals and saying them to yourself on a daily basis. In order to do this, David Rock tells us to keep them “short and snappy”. He also mentions that “the best goals are around five words, not long statements”. Instead of “Pay off my HECS debt and car loan” a snappier goal could be “To be debt free” or “To love my bank statements” as Rock suggests.

4. Give your goal a visual element

Many of us respond well to visual images, so we should try to capture each of our goals in striking visual images that moves us. For example, ‘Wear a bikini to the beach’ is much more powerful than ‘Lose 10 kilograms’.

If you respond well to other senses (e.g. smell and taste) try to tap into those. Rock gives the examples of “live where I can smell the ocean” and “hear my song played on the radio”

5. Give your goals a 90 day (3 month) deadline

You won’t be able to achieve all of your goals in a 90 day period, but significant action can certainly be taken to bring you closer towards achieving your bigger goals. David Rock states –

“I have found that 90 days is enough time to really make an impact on people’s lives, but short enough to maintain motivation and excitement”

On your wall calendars and in your diary, schedule in a 90 day countdown for your goals.

6. Take your time creating your goals

We live in a world that is obsessed by speed (fast food, faster computers and internet connection, etc). Perhaps this explains why many of us get easily frustrated when we fail to come up with goals in a few minutes that inspire us. We want instant inspiration.

The fact of the matter is that setting great goals worth going for takes time. You may need to write your goal down, put it aside and then come back to it a few days later.

3 thoughts on “6 ways to create smarter goals

  1. Nice post on the importance and how-to on goals. I agree with the SMART goal philosophy but would take a different viewpoint on one of your recommendations – that of keeping goals short and sweet. Concise, clear goals are critical, but if they’re too short and not specific enough, they end up being vague:

    “Make Q2 profit targets” – this is a goal, but you don’t know how you’re going to go about doing it, which makes it less likely for success. In this blog post, http://www.emergenetics.com/fundamentals-set-goals, I argue that a good goal takes 5 key elements:

    Who, What, When, How and Conditions (that which is contingent for the goal’s completion).

    Would love to hear your thoughts!

    Mark E. Miller
    Director of Marketing
    Emergenetics International

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