Recap S.M.A.R.T. Goals
There are 5 ingredients of a goal that is more likely to be successful, which has the acronym SMART. The previous posts examined S, M and A. This post, we examine relevant (R) and time-bound (T).
Action-Oriented & Attainable
This may seem obvious, but goals need to be relevant: both to the present ‘you’ and to the future ‘you.’ Given that goals can be short-term or very, very long-term (and every length in between), there may be a discrepancy between what you want now and what you will want/need in your future. What you want (and need) now is often very short-sighted, particularly if you are a child or teen. Even as adults we can be so focused on ‘getting through the day’ that it is hard to envision what next week may hold, let along in a year or five.
Further complicating the matter is that you don’t know your future- none of us do. Unfortunately, no matter how well we plan for the future, there is no guarantee that it will be realized: because we have changed direction, circumstances around us change, or we see the end of our mortal life unexpectedly. That’s a real downer, isn’t it?
Fortunately, there are some positive aspects of determining relevant goals:
All this is to say that you need an underpinning desire to want something within yourself to change for a (hopefully) better ‘you’ in the near and distant future. Without goal-setting that future, improved version of yourself is not very likely to become reality since change often takes a lot of effort. A goal is a plan to intentionally take action to see change.
The last of the components of a SMART goal is the idea of when this goal will be met. A goal that had no defined end-goal will mean that it extends outward to infinity, and will not likely ever be realized. Furthermore, having check-points can give you the needed boost to persevere towards your goal achievement.
In setting a timeline- both for the end result and any check-points along the way, you need to keep attainable in mind. It is very difficult (even impossible) to change quickly, so setting time limits can be discouraging if you are aiming unreasonably high.
Time-bound also goes hand-in-hand with measurable. If there is no way to measure progress when it comes time to check-in or reflect along the way, it can discourage our continued effort. We all like to see evidence of our hard work because it gives us the feedback we need to build resilience and keep pressing on towards our goal(s). That evidence is a form of measurement.
Change is challenging. With SMART goals, we are much more likely to persevere in taking action to realize our specific, desired (relevant) outcomes within a clearly-defined time-frame with measured success.
Until next time.
Recap: S.M.A.R.T. Goals
A goal that has a measurable element is the surest way to evaluate whether you have achieved your goal, or are on the right track towards your goal. Simply put, it is about the ‘how much’ of the goal.
Measurement isn’t always immediately evident. Sometimes it can be quite obvious how you could measure a goal: grade in a course, number of people in a week or month, amount of revenue from a sales event, or get accepted to a specific post-secondary program etc. Other times it can be challenging to measure: improved writing skills, problem-solving skills or a more positive self-esteem, for example.
Measurement doesn’t always have to be quantitative (using numbers to count or calculate), but it is easiest if you can translate a qualitative measure (i.e. better, clearer, more) into a quantitative measure. As an example, let’s look at writing skills. There can be any number of occasions to write, and there are various aspects to being a ‘better writer:’ spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, organization, supporting evidence, use of syntax, word choice, figurative language, etc. Being more specific about what component of writing you want to work on is a great start. If it is spelling, grammar, punctuation or capitalization- you can aim to reduce the number of errors.
If it is more of a qualitative measure, your goal can be about improving clarity to other readers. Have others (teacher, friend, co-worker) read and give feedback on your writing. Ideally, it is someone who is quite eloquent or profound who will be capable of giving more descriptive feedback for improvement. If you do this repeatedly and purposely try to use the feedback to improve your future writing, the feedback will become more positive, with fewer suggestions for improvement (or they become increasingly nitpicky- like the English teacher who almost never thinks a student should earn 100% on a writing assignment).
There can still be a qualitative element to it (i.e. ranking your perception of your performance or behaviour), but assigning a value to it can enable you to see if you are overall ‘getting better’ at whatever skill or quality of character.
How will you reach your goals? This is the game plan for how to get where you are now to where you hope to be at some point in the future. What specific actions that you have control over do you plan to do? The chosen action(s) will depend primarily on what you want to achieve, but you want to make sure that you are not passing off the responsibility onto others to do something for you, or hope for the right set of circumstances before you can take action.
It is worthwhile doing some research (which could include talking to people) about how to effectively improve your chosen skill or achieve your desired goal.
Actions need to be as specific as the goal itself. Imagine saying your goal is to get 85% in math this semester, and you are going to ‘study harder.’ What does that even mean: More time? Better study techniques? Improved study habits? Nailing down the exact actions you will commit to doing will exponentially increase the likelihood that you will achieve the goal- or if not, you can look back and see that you likely didn’t do what you indicated you were going to do.
Attainable goes hand-in-hand with action-oriented because it is a checkpoint that the actions you are setting out to do are within your capability and are not unnecessarily time-consuming or otherwise taxing on your resources. You know the resources you have available to you, so what might be out of reach for one person isn’t necessarily so for other individuals.
The emphasis of this blog series has been on individual goal setting. If you seek to set a group goal, there are many more complicating factors: who will do what specific actions, and is each individual capable of (and willing to) do said actions? The basic principles apply, but on a whole new level for group goals.
Until next time.
How Goals can be Beneficial
Creating goals (and implementing them) can positively impact our perceived control over our lives. Interestingly, we are more committed to making the necessary changes when we write them down. As I wrote in the previous post, there are still countless ‘goals’ that we set for ourselves that never get acted upon. There are ingredients that are important in making the goal a reality. The first of these we discussed in the last post: commitment.
There are 5 ingredients of a goal that is more likely to be successful, which has the acronym SMART. The first of these is Specific. We will look at each of these in turn over the next number of blog posts.
Action-Oriented & Attainable
Creating specific goals provides greater motivation to achieve the goals than vague or unclear goals. If you know what you’re aiming for, it is more likely that you will hit it. Obviously this takes some time and planning to set up, but it makes the execution of the goal more achievable & actionable.
When discussing specifics, you need to be able to answer the 5 Ws & 1 H: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Some of these answers can be further clarified when we discuss the other elements of a SMART goal, but it is worth giving a little attention here.
Who is responsible for what? You are the primary person doing some action here. If you are relying on others to make some change, you will likely be disappointed. Where there is another person involved is someone to encourage and redirect you when needed: someone who I call an accountability partner.
What are you trying to actually accomplish? What specific knowledge & skills do I need? What actions will you do to accomplish your goal? This is the main focus on being specific.
When do you hope to have accomplished your goal by? We will discuss this further in ‘Time-Bound.’
Where will you need to be in terms of the activities you are involved in (or geographically living in some cases)? Where do you need to improve, grow and be challenge?
Why do you want to achieve the goal (i.e. for what purpose)? It will need to be relevant (more on that later).
How will you reach your goals? What specific actions will take place? We will revisit this more in “Action-Oriented/Attainable”.
What Goals to Set
What could you set a goal about? In a word: anything. It could be a technical skill, transferable skill, some achievement at school, at work, in a hobby or activity; it could be reaching a destination, making connections, completing a task, or just about anything.
The examples above are not specific goals: they are simply categories of goals you could create. Even narrowing it down doesn’t make it more specific. For example, “I want to do better in math class this year,” is not specific, but it is a place to start. Several questions remain: what does ‘better’ mean? What will you do to achieve that goal (i.e. how)? When? Where? Why? More on answering those questions next time.
Where are you now? What do you want and need to accomplish in the coming weeks, months or years? What will it take to get there? Some time spent brainstorming now will make the other elements of a SMART goal easier to lay out.
Until next time.
Matt is the owner and career coach of Foundations Career Coaching in Burlington, ON