‘Tis the season: The clock struck midnight, fireworks were lit, Auld Lang Syne was sung, and 2012 stands before us full of possibilities. For many this is a time of resolution making and goal setting as we endeavor into a new year, hoping that this one will be better than the last. Our inspirations and aspirations run high and our motivation runs deep. However, many of us can also relate to the difficulty of maintaining that motivation and inspiration as the hours of the new year turn into days, those days into weeks, and those weeks into months. Setting goals that are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant, and Timely—can help you harness your inspiration and maintain your motivation towards making the changes you desire in your life.
How many times have you set a goal for yourself only to realize that, though your goal is something you feel passionately about, you just don’t know where to start to make it happen? Often this difficulty arises when our goals are vague or general, such as, “I want to get better grades,” or “I want more balance between work (or school) and my family and friends.” These are great aspirations and guiding thoughts, but they don’t include much structure to help guide you towards reaching that goal. Making sure your goal is specific can help tremendously in figuring out where to start in order to reach your goal. For example, saying, “I want to learn the jive,” is much more specific than saying, “I want to learn to dance,” in the same way that “I want to improve my Chemistry grade,” is more specific than “I want to get better grades.”
Once you have a specific goal identified, the next step is to make that goal measureable; in other words, identify a specific way to measure your progress. I can think of many times when I set goals for myself only to get frustrated when I wasn’t able to see any progress towards the goal. People tend to respond best when we see that the work we are putting towards something is paying off in some way, and making your goals measurable is one way to keep that motivation and inspiration going. A measurable step towards improving a Chemistry grade may be, “I will study Chemistry for one hour three nights per week.” A measurable step towards learning the jive may include taking jive dance lessons two nights each week for the next month. Perhaps a measurable goal for finding more balance between work and family or friends could include turning off your cell phone and not checking email between 6:00 and 8:00 at night.
Setting measurable goals is only effective if the goal is also something that you can actually achieve. Think about setting goals that aren’t so lofty that the likelihood of success is pretty low, but you also don’t want goals that are too easy because you may not value them as much. Is your goal possible? Do you believe you can reach your goal? If the answer to either of those questions is “No,” then it might be worth reworking your goal into something that will be achievable and that you do believe you can accomplish. Through this process you may also need to identify what you are willing to give up in order to accomplish your goal. Are you willing to give up that favorite t.v. show to study Chemistry? Are you willing to have more emails to respond to the next morning if you turn off your computer and phone in the evening?
Part of evaluating how attainable your goal is includes evaluating if your goal is realistic and relevant to your life right now. For a goal to be relevant it must matter to you. Does your goal matter? Does it feel important? If I said, “I want to be an award winning jive dancer within the next six months,” you could say that my goal is specific, measurable, and possibly attainable, if (and it is a big IF) I were dancing day in and day out with the best instructors with no distractions from other parts of my life and no with no injuries. With all of these caveats and as someone who has never danced the jive, this goal is likely not realistic. If you have a job that requires that you be on-call to others during the evening hours, setting a goal of turning off your phone and computer every night may not be realistic. In these situations, you may need to reconsider a measurable goal that will be realistic and relevant in the context of your life at this time.
Speaking of time, setting a time frame for reaching your goal can be very helpful for motivating you and keeping you on task. As we have already discussed, the time frame should be realistic, and you may also need to break your goals into smaller time-bound steps in order to reach them. For example, I may set a goal of attending jive lessons two times per week for three months. After those three months are up (or when I am getting close to the deadline), I will set another goal of attending jive dance classes three times per week during the next session which lasts eight weeks.
Putting the pieces of SMART goals together will increase the likelihood that you will be able to reach these aspirations you have for yourself during the upcoming year. We don’t generally set goals that we don’t want to reach and walking through this SMART process will hopefully help you reach those goals and continue to improve your life.