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Goals, SMART Criteria, and You

I’ve talked before about goals – whether that’s the traditional New Year’s Resolution(s) or more generally setting goals for our life.  We all know that what makes this most likely to succeed – setting SMART goals – and yet we don’t always follow this mnemonic when the New Year is here and we choose what we want to be different this year.  And aren’t there always things we want to be different this year – the resolution of a past struggle or success at some new endeavor?  Then what’s stopping us from using the SMART mnemonic as we set our sights on how things can be different, even better?

Quickly, here are the SMART criteria:

  • Specific – be specific about what you want to change/improve, answer (usually) each of the 5 W’s (what, why, where, who, and which)
  • Measurable – what are you going to measure and how to know you’ve accomplished your goal (i.e. weight lost or time walking a mile etc.)
  • Attainable (and realistic) – how can the goal be reached?
  • Relevant – the goal matters and the timing works
  • Time-bound – answers “when?”; sometimes an end date, though might be first milestone where you can feel successful along the path to creating routines

First, as I’ve said before, is this a good time for you to be setting goals?  Simply because this is the time of year when we’ve been taught to set resolutions, with the calendar moving into a new year, does not automatically mean this is a good time for you to be embarking on making changes.  Can you ignore the social conventions of setting a goal and just say no?  The R in SMART is “relevant” and sometimes that means recognizing that this is not the time for you to set any goals.  The flow and events of our lives aren’t necessarily going to follow any calendar events – therefore, consider whether there is a more realistic (or “attainable”) time for you to set goals.  For example:

  • work slows down in the summer and I won’t feel so overwhelmed
  • 2 of the 5 big time-consuming things I’m juggling right now need to be dealt with before I will even have the time or focus to contemplate other changes
  • I’m more motivated in the spring with life springing up around me

Simply because the timing doesn’t work for you does not mean you are procrastinating or making excuses – really.

Second, if you know the principles of using the SMART mnemonic, do you use it?  What gets in your way for working through the SMART goal steps?  There are any number of reasons we might avoid working with these criteria, yet finding our own resistances can help us find our way through to making successful changes.

As we all things we do and want to change, we go through an ebb and flow, where our motivation and focus fluctuates.  And it’s not always clear to us where in the process we exactly are – from being realistic to easily discouraged to highly dedicated – to the goals we have.  I know that my goal from years ago of losing weight, which I share in Consider Setting Resolutions – or Not, that I wasn’t always aware of the stage I was currently in.  The “goal” of losing weight was consistently there, it felt like a priority most of the time, and despite these pieces, it wasn’t enough.  I’m not sure I can clearly identify what was missing early on and have the perspective now that we each simply have to find our own path.

I was certainly resistant to using the SMART mnemonic early in my goal of losing weight, so now when I see myself avoiding applying the SMART steps I take a step back and consider if there is some issue with the goal.  It often becomes clear that there is a conflict between my goal and the SMART steps.  Emotionally I’m trying to ignore that – after all, I really want to change this; “I don’t want to wait…”

Using the SMART criteria means that we take time to work our goal through each step.  The idea of taking time for each of the SMART steps can feel daunting – after all time is a precious commodity – and who doesn’t wish “if only it were simpler…”  I’ve been known to make occasional comments about wishing I had a magic wand – and how I’d share it.  Yet, there’s no magic wand and the time we spend on these SMART criteria will only support us in reaching our goals.  It’s also important to be focused during the process – to identify the pieces for each step of the SMART criteria and that all of them are feasible, i.e. just because a single working mom wants to get to the gym 5 days a week doesn’t mean it’s realistic for her schedule and the demands on her time.

When we use the SMART criteria, we’re claiming the intention for change clearly.   The evidence of our commitment is laid out with all the steps and pieces we’ll need to be successful.  Even though I feel like a broken record, I’ll say again – there is no need to feel obligated to set resolutions at this time of year or any time of year, find the timing that works for you.

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