A goal is much more effective when we add a SMART strategy to achieve it. Regardless of the type of goal, the SMART strategy works equally. I challenge you to think of a goal that you have struggled to achieve and apply the SMART tool to it. We will now walk through it with a hypothetical goal and application of the SMART goals tool.
Our hypothetical goal will be, “to get back in athletic shape.” As you can tell this is a pretty vague goal with a lot of room for improvement. Too often our goals are lacking in specificity, and therefore clarity of progress or actual achievement.
This brings us to Specificity as the first S in SMART Goals. Our goals have to be specific with little to no ambiguity. Instead of saying “To get back in athletic shape” we can say, “I want to run as fast as I did when I was in the high school track team.” Note how we have eliminated ambiguity and developed a direct place we want to reach (assuming you know how fast you ran in high school).
If you ran a 5:57 mile during your high school track days then you have figured out the M in SMART, measurable. We now have specific numbers to work towards. A one mile run done in five minutes and fifty-seven seconds. We have time and distance measurements to work towards, objective data is much easier to track.
When we reach A and R in SMART we are faced with a somewhat subjective criteria in goal building. The goal must be Attainable and Realistic. These go hand in hand, and are equally important pieces of the puzzle. If you are 23 years old and have been “out of shape” for the last five years, it is pretty realistic to jump back into “athletic shape” and attain that sub six minute mile again with the right implemented program and lifestyle adjustment. On the other hand, if you are 72 and have a hard time walking from the living room to the bathroom, then a sub six minute mile will not be an ideal goal to start getting back into athletic shape.
Which leads us to the final letter in SMART, T stands for Timely. Our goals have to have a deadline, for multiple reasons. First, if we do not put a deadline on it, we are being ambiguous about the goal, and can procrastinate as long as we desire. By not having a deadline to at least reach a milestone we are not going to hold ourselves accountable to a timeline. Without accountability most of us will let ourselves off the hook and validate our own excuses for not making progress or putting in the work necessary to achieve our goal. Another reason a deadline is important is to track progress. With a one year deadline we give ourselves twelve months to work towards our sub six minute mile.
Initially we will test our current mile run, and have a starting point. From then on we build our plan to achieve the desired outcome in 12 months or less. We will schedule monthly and/or quarterly tests to measure progress (or lack of). Not every test will be the full mile run, but there can be tests to measure timed laps that can give us insight as to our progress thus far, and allow us to adjust as needed, if needed.
As you can see, making SMART goals can be very beneficial to helping us actually achieve our desired outcomes. It may take a few extra minutes initially to plan and prepare, but it will ensure that we actually know what we’re working towards (Specificity), how we’ll know if we achieve it (Measurable), if it’s an appropriate goal (Attainable & Realistic), and when we should expect to achieve it (Timely).
What’s your next SMART Goal?