Goal setting can be tough. Did you know that only 9.2% of people who set a New Year’s resolution feel later that they were able to achieve it?
That means over 90% of those goals were not met.
Say it with me: yikes. That’s a terrible statistic.
Even accounting for other factors (major life change, changing your mind about your goal, or going in a different direction) that’s still a pretty large majority. So are people just doomed to constantly set goals and never achieve them? Should we even bother? Are all of our dreams destined to stay out of reach forever? (Maybe calm down a little.)
It’s not you… it’s your goals
Here’s the truth: Most goals suck.
Let’s take “lose weight” for example. “Lose weight” is a terrible goal. It’s practically designed to fail.
This is because it’s way too vague, which makes it seem huge and daunting, and it provides you no motivation to do the work you need to be successful. It’s like staring into the face of a giant with no tools on hand with which to beat it.
You can totally overcome this giant – I promise. But you need to break it down to size first. And you do that by turning it into a SMART goal.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely.
Let’s break this down:
This is where you get to analyze your goal. What exactly do you want? Is it to lose weight, or to lose 25 pounds?
Do you want to take a trip, or do you want to hike to Machu Picchu in Peru?
Get as specific as you possibly can. How can you achieve your goal if you don’t know exactly what it is?
This is your life we’re talking about here. You need to know it inside out. Get familiar with what you want.
How will you know when you’ve achieved your goal?
This might sound self-explanatory, but it’s not always. If your goal is to learn French, what level of fluency are you talking about? Do you want to be able to read an entire novel in French? Understand enough to carry out a conversation with a native speaker? This is also a great way to check the specificity of your goal. If it’s specific enough, then you’ll have a benchmark for when you’ve achieved it.
Tip: Set up a system to track the progress you’re making towards your goal. This can be as fancy or simple as you like – maybe a tracker in your planner where you mark off each milestone as you approach the end. This will help keep you motivated while you count down the progress you’ve made to the finish line!
Your goal needs to have steps you can take to work toward it. A goal that relies on chance or luck or someone else doing something for you – that’s not a goal, that’s a hope. You’re not here for empty promises, you have stuff to do, right? So list out those steps you need to take to get the ball rolling on this goal!
This could be to work out four times a week, or save $50 from every paycheck.
Whatever your goal is, figure out exactly what steps you need to take to get you there, and commit to doing those every day.
Okay, no one likes to hear this, but it’s true: Your goals need to be something you can actually achieve.
Be honest with yourself about your capabilities and your resources, but don’t sell yourself short!
I’m not saying to give up on your goal of becoming an astronaut, but maybe planning to be on Mars in a couple months from now, even if your action steps include harassing NASA to hire you every day, is not the best idea for a goal.
If you’ve got big dreams and big plans – and above all, you SHOULD – be realistic with yourself about the amount of time and work it will take you to achieve them. Trying for too much too soon without being able to sustain the level of effort that would take is only going to discourage you and therefore hold you back.
Set yourself up for success, not failure!
This one comes in two parts.
First, you need an end date for your goal. Setting an “achieve by” date spurs you into action by reminding yourself, Hey, we don’t have all day here.
For example, contrast, “Go to Italy at some point in my life” with “Spend next Christmas in Italy”. That second goal means you have to start saving and researching flights now. You need to get on it.
And really, that’s how you should be approaching your goals. No time to waste! You’ve got stuff to do! Because a good goal isn’t just something you hit once and then forget – you’re leveling up in life. You still have more left once you hit that goal. If your hypothetical goal is to lose weight, I’m guessing you don’t want to do that just so you can eat a bunch of ice cream and gain it all back, right?
(If you actually do – no shame. Your life is yours to enjoy, and that means both hitting your goals and eating ice cream. Moderation, right?)
Second, though, is that you need to figure out how much time you’ll need to hit your goal and how much time you need to devote to it. Do some light math. Can you spare 10 hours a week to learning a second language? Five? If you pick up a side hustle to help you save money for your goal, do you have the extra time every evening, and if not, what can you set aside to make time?
Really work into this – remember, keep it realistic by being honest with yourself about what you have and what you can do. Figure out what it will take, and then how you plan on fitting that into your life.
Rework that goal for success
This is the last step – and it’s not included in the acronym but it’s the most important one. You need to go back to your goal and rework and reword it so that it fits all the parameters to set you up for success.
So, “finish my novel” becomes “Finish my the first draft of my novel by (a date six months from now). In order to do this I will write 1,750 words every day (or 12,500 words every week). I can do this by getting up an hour earlier every morning and taking another hour after dinner every day.”
Yes, it’s more wordy. But broken down like that, it’s a totally doable goal. It’s actionable, it’s realistic, and you know exactly what to do, when to do it, and when you’ll be done.
I’d love to hear about your goals, and see what they look like reworked into SMART goals! Drop me a comment below to let me know if this framework changed the way you set goals.