“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.
In my last post, I explained a simplified methodology for goal setting based on the Five W and One H. However, if you really want to improve your chances of achieving your goals, I would like to suggest you use the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goal system that I taught my high-level executive coaching clients in the past. This will take more time on the front-end; yet, this process will help clarify your goal so you can accomplish it in the most efficient way possible.
S – Specific and Significant
M – Measurable and Modular
A – Attainable and Approach
R – Relevant and Role
T – Timely and Time-Bound
E – Energizing and Excellent
R – Recorded and Reviewed
Specific: The more specific you make your goal, the more likely you are to manifest it. Consider Who, What, Where, When, and How. For example, imagine if your goal was simply to increase your wealth. If I gave you a $1.00 bill, this goal would have been achieved; yet, it is unlikely that one would be very happy as this is not what you meant. A better goal would be ‘I will increase my net worth by 10 percent’.
Significant: Life goals are important. As a whole, all of your goals together will make up a vast majority of your life’s work. If you are going to spend a year or more working on something, strive to make sure these goals are vital or essential to yourself. Goals that also positively impact a family, a business, a community, and the world are the fastest way both to achieve something wonderful and produce a legacy. Great goals also produce growth. When planning the next year, consider how you could stretch beyond your current status quo and extend your grasp to stretch farther than you ever have before.
Measurable: The old business maxim is ‘Inspect what you Expect’. Being able to measure your progress is paramount for a successful goal. This means you need to find a way to ‘keep score’ so it is easy to monitor your progress during the entire process and determine when you have succeeded and the goal is completed. A weight loss goal might measure a certain number of steps taken daily with a pedometer, the quantity and kinds of foods eaten (e.g. the number and types of fruit), the amount of daily calories consumed, or the number of pounds lost per month. For many goals, having multiple measurement systems increases the likelihood that maximal results are achieved with minimal effort. The better measure(s) you select, the easier it will be to evaluate feedback and make any needed course corrections.
Modular: The old saying is ‘Mile by mile, Life’s a trial. Yard by yard, Life is hard. But inch by inch, life’s a cinch.’ The same is true with big goals. Just as a big meal is eaten, bite by bite, goals should be broken down into smaller goals or projects. For example, if someone wanted to lose 36 pounds, this would be divided into 12 monthly goals of losing 3 pounds per month, a very attainable goal! A good rule of thumb is the sub-goals should be weekly, monthly, or quarter, but not require any more time than 90 days. Of course, exceptions exist, but strive to keep the smaller goals short and proximal.
Attainable: Goals need to be inspiring, but not set so far beyond your experience, ability, and vision that they seem too hard or even impossible. The question to ask yourself is if you currently have the resources to reach the next level with increased effort, skills, or time? You need to determine how large the gap is between your present self and your future self. Goals should be seen as a bridge. For example, perhaps you would like to become a millionaire by the end of the year. If you are 25 years old with a current salary of $45,000, this is not likely not achievable in such a short time frame. However, with some creative thinking, this can be done, by extending the time horizon. Instead, you determine to set an annual goal of saving 10% of your salary in an index fund with an automatic monthly deposit. If done for the next 40 years and the average market return is also 10%, you’ll have over $1,000,000 in your account.
Approach: First, make sure you have an action-oriented approach. Thomas Edison once said “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” For goals to succeed, labor (both mental and physical) is necessary. This means that winning the lottery is NOT a goal. Why? There is nothing you can do to increase the likelihood of wining. Real goals are influenced by effort; you reap what you sow. Be prepared to invest time, money, and sweat into any goal. Second, goals should have a positive focus instead of a negative one. As Stephen Kraus wrote “True success in life comes from achieving things, not avoiding them.” Focus on desired outcomes. In many ways, I suggest instead of thinking of goal to ‘stop smoking’ or ‘losing weight’ as a ‘get healthy, get fit’ goal instead. Focus on actions and behaviors that add to your goal (and life) instead of avoiding bad ones. For example, a health goal is better achieved with the goal statement of “I eat 7 fruits and veggies daily” instead of “I will stop eating fast food”.
Relevant: First, make sure the goal makes sense to your current and future life. There are many worthy goals that you will never focus as they would not fit into the life you are crafting. Some goals are best deferred to another point in your life. Second, make sure it is a goal that makes sense. Second, make sure they are your own goals. Sometimes, people set certain goals to please other people (e.g. parents, teachers, bosses, spouses). Life goals need to be customized so you are excited about the plan, journey, and outcome.
Roles: Goals should span a variety of life domains (social, financial, health, professional, family). The best way to insure that you are achieving a real life-balance is to decide which roles interacts with each goal. Roles might include parent, spouse, business owner, leader, member of an organization, etc. It is common for some goals to span several facets of your life. However, if you discover that only one or two roles are reflected in all your goals, it is possible that your life plans are a little lopsided.
Timely: This is very simple. Ask yourself: Does this goal make sense at this period in your life? Is it timely? If you were a freshman in college, then setting a goal to graduate with an PhD in 12 months just does not work, although it is likely a great goal for a later time. Also, other commitments on time, money, and resources might already exist which compete with a new goal. You must decide if it is the right time for the goal and if it is priority over your other tasks, projects, and early goals.
Time-Bound: It has been said that the only difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline. While that is likely too simplistic of a distinction, it is true that goals need a need definite start time and various due dates, including the ending. When considering the overall timeline of a goal, be realistic about the amount of time that it will take to achieve it. For long term goals, it is recommended that these are divided into smaller sub-goals, projects, or tasks with determined completion dates in order to stay on schedule.
Energizing: Nido Qubein wrote “when a goal matters enough to a person, that person will find a way to accomplish what at first seemed impossible.” Goals need to motivate and energize you. An energizing goal has real power. It is the energizing factor that explains how some so-called crazy dreams become everyday realities. Remember: great goals should be like kerosene thrown on an already burning fire, igniting your passions with a burst of life and energy, where you cannot wait to get out of bed in the morning and tackle the day! An individual with an energizing goal does not really need an alarm clock as they are up early and ready to go. The process of working on the goal should not be viewed as drudgery, but as wonderful play that is relished. Great life goals are so exciting that one cannot wait to wake up and continue on your unique journey.
Excellent: Life Goals should be about reaching for the next level and achieving excellence. Why settle for average, mediocre, or ‘good enough’? With one life to live, why would you want to aim low? Focus your time, thought, resources, and energy to bring about your very best efforts. The best goals promote self-growth and overall excellence.
Recorded: Less than 3% of the population writes down their goals. Unsurprisingly, few of the 97% achieve their goals. Just thinking about goals simply will not do! Several studies have shown that writing down your goals improves the chances of achieving them. Recording your goals will help crystallize your thought. Simply writing it down acts like a catalyst since it will help you clarify the exact objective. If you do not record your goals, they remain ambiguous and vague, meaning it is more than likely you will never hit those targets. Failing to take the time to plan your life is a major mistake. If you stopped someone randomly on the street and asked them what they plan to achieve over the next year, they would be stunned, perhaps even upset by the question, as they would have no way to answer in a clear, simple way. It is crucial that you strive to be in the small minority and write your goals down.
Reviewed: Do not write your goals down and then file them away in folder, only to be forgotten or only revisited at the end of the year. It is important that you make the time to review them at least once a week. Daily would be even better. In fact, I strongly suggest a brief five minute review every morning at breakfast. This will help you prioritize the tasks for every single day as you will then focus on tasks that are directly related to your life goals.
You now have some S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goals
Then you’ll need to do two additional things:
- Plan: Goal Setting is not the plan, but the blueprint for the plan. Spend some time considering the ‘how-to’ of the goal. Be creative to draft the most efficient, effective plan possible.
- Act: Planning is not enough. Daily action is the key to successful completion of life goals.