I’ve always struggled with setting goals. I think that most of my life, subconsciously, I’ve been afraid to fail and therefore, have erred on inaction. Part of taking no action means that you don’t really set goals or hold yourself accountable. There are numerous sayings that talk about aiming higher than you really want, so you can still achieve great things. Or aim and nothing and you’ll hit it every time. I think that’s true.
However, in the last 10 years or so I’ve learned that you must hold yourself to a higher standard and if you want to succeed in something, you have to take a chance, work hard, and aim high. Part of that process is setting goals for yourself and learning to stick with them.
I first learned about them in a Business Administration class at Florida International University. Since then, I’ve put them into practice for myself. The concept of SMART goals originated with General Electric and is widely studied in business schools. So when it was brought up in that business class, it wasn’t new to anyone except for the few of us who were social science majors. I began putting SMART goals in to practice and then when I started working at Operation Christmas Child, I was pleased to learn that SMART goal setting is a constant practice.
Goal setting is an extremely valuable practice. Too often, people either don’t set any goals or set too many! I tend to set too many for myself and then end up abandoning most of them. In the last year though, I’ve been better about setting only a handful of goals for myself.
Before we get into the specifics of SMART goals, let’s look at DUMB goals.
Most people end up setting bad goals or DUMB goals. Here are some examples:
- Lose weight
- Start a new business
- Work harder
These are all good things to achieve, these are honorable goals, but they’re dumb goals. Why are they dumb goals?
They’re vague, they’re not specific, and they’re not measurable.
Can you achieve goals like that? Maybe, maybe not. Does losing weight mean one pound or 10?
Goals like that tend to not work.
Dumb goals don’t work because they’re easy to make, easy to forget, and have no steps to help you achieve them, if you even know what you need to achieve.
GE developed the concept of SMART goal setting in the 1940s and by the time the 1960s came around, they had perfected it. By 1961, all GE employees wrote out their objectives for the following year and gave it to their manager.
The letter required the employee to indicate what the goals and time frame were for the next year, how the goals would be met, and what standards were to be expected. The manager would accept this letter, usually with some editing, and it became known as the work contract.
Next up – SMART Goals
SMART goals are:
- Time Based
The SMART goal system works so well because once you go through the thought process of creating a SMART goal, it’s much more clear how it will happen. You’re forced to think critically about the process of achieving these goals.
You know what the next steps are and when you need to do them. Dumb goal setting allows you to skip the steps of critical thinking.
It’s harder to set a SMART goal than a bad one. That’s purposeful. It takes longer to think through all the details to plan things out. It’s also ok to be agile and pivot midway through a plan. That’s actually a Project Management framework called… AGILE.
Setting a SMART Goal for losing weight
Using one of the most common goals, weight loss, as an example, let’s look at the SMART goal system in action.
Let’s think about setting a DUMB goal for this:
- Lose weight
It’s easy to see that you can completely ignore that goal and never set out to do anything necessary to accomplish it. Some people can can lose weight without even trying, but not most of us!
Let’s turn it into a SMART Goal
Specific – Lose 10 pounds by March 1.
Measurable – That’s approximately 1.25 pounds a week.
Attainable – I can do cardio 3 times a week and lift weights 3 times a week, I can also lower my calories. Write out all the steps necessary to attain this goal.
Realistic – I can set aside time 5-6 times a week to make time for training. I can get up early in the mornings before work to train. I can trade in my work lunches for salad in order to cut calories. I can also cut out soda and sweets.
Time Based – I have 8 weeks to make this happen, I need to see these results by March 1. That means cutting calories by 10%, cardio 3 times a week, and weightlifting 3 times a week.
SMART Goals For The Win
What if things change or you see that by Week 3, you’re not hitting the 1.25 pounds per week mark? That’s why we’re flexible. Plans are here to serve you, you’re not here to serve your plan. If you need to change your plan, or your goal, then you have the flexibility to do that.
Adaptability is the greatest skill to have.
If you injure yourself while training and your doctor sidelines you for a couple weeks, you may have to push back or lower your goal, that’s not losing, that’s adapting.
On the flip side, if you find yourself losing 2 pounds per week, there’s nothing wrong with upping your goal! Be agile!
Don’t be afraid to adapt as needed.
SMART Goal Action Items
- Think about a few short term goals that you’d like to accomplish in the next month.
- Use the SMART Goal framework to set one of these goals for yourself.
- Start working toward this goal. Document your steps toward your goal.
- Build slack into the schedule and be realistic about how long tasks really take.
- Work towards achieving your goal starting week.
- Document your success and use that forward motion to push you toward bigger goals.