You know all about SMART goals, right? It seems like every article about goal-setting these days uses that trite acronym as the standard: for your goals to set you up for success, they need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive. While I like the idea of putting some structure around your goals, I’m not really a fan of SMART, and I think there are better questions to ask yourself to set the right goals. Today I’m going to share my own personal goal-setting tips and what I’ve found to be the key to increasing your odds of success!
Alphabet soup, anyone?
To be totally honest, part of my problem with SMART may be that I just hate acronyms. I’ve worked in healthcare for more than 20 years, and I’ve had about all of the CMS and HIPAA and PQRS that I can take. The sight of alphabet soup actually makes me nauseous (I do, however, still like Minestrone).
As much as I appreciate that your goals should have some structure around them, most goals are not pass/fail. If you make a goal to lose 20 pounds, but you only lose 18 by your self-imposed SMART deadline, did you fail? Or did you commit to a new healthy eating plan, learn about proper portion sizes, and lose a dress size? If it’s the latter- you WIN!
I’m here to suggest that we take the limits off ourselves and write goals that are not necessarily SMART, but that speak to our hearts. Goals that are less deadline-based, more emotion-based. Goals that we enjoy thinking about, and that don’t stress us out but instead, build us up. Results are essential, for sure, but you have to celebrate the little steps and the forward momentum.
The three questions I ask myself when setting goals
I don’t have a cute little acronym to give you, but here are the questions I ask myself to ensure my goals are ones I will keep and achieve:
1. Does this goal support my overall vision for my life?
Sometimes we get excited about an idea. We see someone else doing something that seems really cool, and it probably is, for them. But is it right for you, and is it going to get you where you ultimately want to go?
To get crystal clear on my life vision, I do a journaling exercise every year. I sit down with a notebook and a cup of coffee, and I start writing as if I am myself 10 years in the future. I picture everything around me: where I am, who I am with, even what I am wearing. I sketch out a scene, or a couple of scenes, in great detail. I write about the sounds and the sights and even the smells. I write about what’s important to future me, the work I am doing, and the impact I am making in the world.
It takes time to do this, and you may even have to try it a couple of times before you get the scene that feels right. But give yourself this gift and don’t rush this step. Taking the time to do this exercise gives you a North Star to aim for, and helps you to make sure your current goals match your ultimate vision for your future.
2. What kind of person will I have to be to meet this goal?
You can DO all the right steps, but if you don’t BECOME the person you want to be, your odds of long-term success are pretty slim.
I’ve had a goal for years to get in shape. I’ve played at it, I’ve stopped and started dozens of times. It wasn’t until I ran my first 5K at age 49 that I really felt I had achieved my goal. It came down to this: I started thinking of myself as a runner. I told people, out loud, that I am a runner. When I changed my mindset and became that new person, the individual steps came easy. I started taking my running shoes with me on business trips – because that’s what runners do. I started wearing a running watch, every single day, because that’s what runners do.
It was less about the action items, and more about the person I became. If I had written a goal to “run every other day,” it probably wouldn’t have happened, or it wouldn’t have lasted for long. But when my goal became to “be a runner,” it all fell into place.
Who do you want to BE? A millionaire? A world traveler? A writer? A beach bum? It’s all good, and there are no wrong answers, as long as it feels right for you. Make sure that you can picture yourself being the person you described in your vision.
3. Does the process needed to meet this goal excite me?
Think through the steps you’ll have to take to get from A to B. Do your palms get a little sweaty? They should! Goal setting isn’t about waking up one day having done something – it’s about the day-in, day-out steps that you have to stick to over a period of time. You’d better be as excited about the journey as you are about the destination!
For a long time, I had a goal to learn to speak Italian. It’s such a gorgeous language, so lush and sexy. I had this vision of myself taking a month-long sabbatical in Italy, and talking to the people in the restaurants and bakeries in fluent Italian. This met my overall vision for my life (which is lush and sexy and involves bakeries), and I loved the idea of being someone fluent in such a beautiful language.
The problem is, to learn Italian, I would have to, you know, learn. I would have to find and sign up for and attend foreign language classes. I would have to purchase and listen to instructional CDs in my car. I would have to get a workbook and learn to conjugate verbs.
For many people, this may sound like fun. For me, this seemed like drudgery. I knew I couldn’t get excited about the steps, so I would be less likely to succeed. I did play around with it for a while, but sure enough, it wasn’t something I could commit to long-term.
Any goal worth its salt involves some hard work. But the hard work should sound like fun, or you should at least be able to make it fun. Let me give you another example.
Let’s say you have a goal to be debt-free. This is an impressive goal. I’ll bet it fits in with your life vision of having financial security. I’ll bet you can picture yourself as a person who pays cash for everything and doesn’t fret over her bills. All good.
To get debt-free, you’ll have to make some sacrifices. You’ll have to start bringing your lunch to work. You might have to downsize your car or your home. You might even have to take on a second job.
These aren’t glamorous steps, and I don’t think anyone would be excited to take them on. But maybe you’re a little intrigued by some of it. You saw a super cute bento box set at Target, and you like the idea of taking your lunch outside to the picnic table on sunny days. You love your big fancy S.U.V., but it’s a couple of years old, and the shiny new sedans all have that new-car smell. Maybe your second job could involve a side hustle, selling your favorite skincare line – wouldn’t it be fun to do facials on your friends?
ALL of the steps don’t have to excite you, but if some bits and pieces are intriguing, you are more likely to be successful.
Set yourself up for success
Goals can be so powerful. They can motivate you to get out of your comfort zone and be a driving force to change your life. But rather than focusing on the who-what-where-when-how of making them SMART, focus on setting goals that fit with who you want to be, and how you want to spend your time. Make sure they excite you, motivate you, thrill you!
La vita è dolce. Go after it!