Why use SMART goals? How are they different from general goals? The other day in my leadership class I was lecturing about the importance of setting goals and developing a plan of action for personal and professional growth. I was very surprised at how many people had not heard about the concept of making SMART goals or why we should use this approach to goal setting. Many students shared that they learned so much and now understood why they had a tough time achieving their goals. I thought I would share the SMART goal approach with all of you.
Before setting goals for anything in life, you should be aware of the essential characteristics of setting successful goals. Many times what we call goals are just dreams or desires. Goals are and should be motivational. Goals should give direction and should have benchmarks to be measured against. You should know when you are making progress and how much further you have to go.
As we set and achieve goals, we find that we become more confident in our abilities to do anything and achieve success. Our mindset begins to change from negative to positive. Our outlook on life changes as we recognize our ability to achieve those things that we are passionate about. The SMART approach to goal setting help us to envision our success, therefore, propelling us to successful outcomes.
Growth and success is dependent upon the ability to set goals and accomplish them. Too often, we find ourselves expressing our wishes or dreams, but not setting goals. For example, how often have you said, I want to buy a home, or I need a new car, or I need to lose 20 pounds and a year later there is still no manifestation of a home, car or 20 pounds loss. If you are like me, it’s possible you gained another few pounds instead of losing any. Why? How did this happen when you explicitly said you wanted to make these happen. Cognitively speaking there was no real connection between your verbal or nonverbal desires. There was no investment in the desires.
One of the most important steps in goal setting is stating the goal correctly or intelligently. I encourage my clients and students to write their goals down. When written there is more thought put into it and is often more realistic right from the beginning, The problem with wishes or desires is that they are typically unrealistic or vague and are unlikely to lead to conclusive results. Those are usually called general goals. And while all intentions are good toward general goals they just do not provide enough direction regarding which behaviors must change to achieve the goal.
So, what are SMART goals? Why use Smart Goals?
Smart goal setting is more frequently used in project management and leadership studies. However, many have found great success using SMART goals in their personal lives as well.
What does SMART mean?
SMART is a mnemonic acronym which gives criteria for setting objectives and goals. You will find different variations of the meaning for each letter, but the gist will be same.
S-Specific– Goals should be focused and clearly understood.
M-Measurable– Goals should have benchmarks. A plan should be in place for measuring your progress along the way
A-Action Oriented —(Attainable) Goals should be action-oriented. You should demonstrate specific examples of how goals will be achieved.
R-Realistic– Goals should be realistic. Losing 30 pounds in one week is not realistic. Goals should be challenging but realistic.
T-Timely– Goals should be timely. Just as losing 30 pounds in one week is not realistic, losing 30 pounds in five years is also not a timely goal.
Smart goal setting involves setting clear performance targets and making a systematic plan to achieve them.
When goals are set using this method they tend to be more manageable and achievable. Research suggest that if you can measure a goal, you can manage it.
Goals should be Specific and Observable
Assume that you needed to make extra money this year. Making a general statement about making extra money is not likely to provide direction on what behaviors need to change to accomplish this goal. Also, extra money is not specific nor can it be measured. Will making $5 extra suffice? What about $10? Again, without having benchmarks to measure against you can have no direction. How much effort goes into achieving $5 extra versus achieving $5,000 extra. Similarly, you should know when your goal is reached.
Goals should be Attainable but Challenging
I often tell my clients to let their mind roam freely when coming up with their goals. You should brainstorm and write anything that comes to mind, at first. After brainstorming, you should then define and refine the more realistic or attainable goals. Some of the loftier goals may take some time to happen. So your focus should be on the more achievable goals. Working on those gals first helps to boost our confidence and energy for achieving others. For example, a struggling high school student who sets a goal of getting into Cornell or Princeton may be unrealistic; however, setting a goal to get into the local state university is more plausible and attainable. Attaining the goal of getting into a local university and can certainly be a stepping stone to achieving other goals.
Goals Require Commitment
Achieving goals will not happen just because you make them smart. Achieving goals require a lot of heard work.
Even getting into the local university for a struggling student will be a challenge, but not everyone even has the determination and drive to work hard to achieve their goals. So while for some this may be a lofty goal for others it will be a challenge but attainable.
How much effort need to be put into achieving this goal. Often there has to be even more drilling down of the goal to achieve it. The student will have to set GPA goals for each semester. They will have to decide how many classes they will take, even down to how many hours they will need to study on a daily basis, and how study habits will be changed. All of these behavior changes must take place to be successful.
So let’s try this again. Let’s use the same goals written above. Let’s try making them SMART goals.
Try it your first and then see how you do.
Goal #1 General: I want to buy a home
Specific: I want to buy a home in 10 years
More refinement of this goal would include where, how, & why. You should figure how much will be needed for a down payment, how much money will be saved to accomplish this goal as well as saving amount need and how often.
So a more refined goal will be clearly stated as I want to buy a home in 10 years in the Garden District. To accomplish this goal, I will pay off all of my credit card debts and save a minimum of $500 a month for a down payment.
Goal #2 General: I want to lose 20 pounds.
Specific: I want to lose 20 pounds by September 2016.
A more refined goal would be I will lose 20 pounds by September 2016. I will do this by changing my diet, cutting out carbs and sweets. I will also go to the gym at least four times a week. I will have scheduled checkups every two weeks to make sure I am on the right track.
Keep in mind that timely reviews and feedback are also important to ensure youare on track for achieving your goals. There are times when changes must be made to stay on track. Without evaluation and reviews, you will risk getting to the finish line but falling short of your goals.
Let’s try making a few SMART goals. Make sure they are defined and refined. I would love to know how you are coming along. If you have any success stories, I would love to hear those as well. Please leave a comment and share your inspiring SMART goal accomplishment.
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