Roughly 40% of the population make New Year’s Resolutions. The most popular New Year’s Resolutions (in no particular order) are: lose weight, get in shape, spend less (or save more), and make more money. All worthy aspirations. However, they aren’t SMART goals. And because they aren’t SMART, they are usually dumped within 30 days. If we want to actually achieve our goals, we need to make better. We need to make them SMART goals.
What are SMART Goals?:
The goal must have a clear, identifiable outcome. “Make more money” or “Lose weight,” or “Get out of debt” are too vague. Therefore, “Increase my income by 20%” or “Lose 15 pounds before my wedding” or “Pay off $12,346 of debt” are better because you now have a specific target.
You also need a way to track your progress and easily identify when you have succeeded (or exceeded) your goal. The goal must be measurable. “Increase my income by 20%” or “Lose 15 pounds before my wedding” or “Pay off $12,346 of debt” are all specific and measurable, however, they may not be attainable.
A SMART goal, however, must be realistically achievable. Unrealistic goals damage your motivation and reinforce negativity now and in the future. If your wedding is only a week away, setting the goal of “losing 15 pounds before my wedding” is obviously unrealistic and unattainable for most people. Unattainable goals set you up for feelings of failure and negative associations with your wedding day! Who would want that? The more realistic and attainable goal would be to find an excellent seamstress who can refit your bridal gown to your current size.
Is paying off $12,346 of debt attainable for your right now? To meet your goal, you’d need to pay an extra $1,029+interest. If you only have a spare $50/month in your current budget, how will you come up with the rest? Get a second job? Do Craigslist or Task Rabbit gigs? Cut your spending to the bone by getting roommates, living on ramen soup, and using free wifi for your internet? Or are you counting on getting a big promotion and raise this year?
It’s especially important to note if you have actual control over the outcome. “Win the Nobel Peace Prize” is not something we have control over, others control that decision. So deciding our life is a “failure” because we didn’t win a coveted prize or job is sabotaging ourselves and foolish. (I’m looking at you, Sheldon Cooper.) Make certain you control whether you attain your goals.
How is your goal, especially short- or near-term goals, directly connected to your larger aspirations and values? We need to keep sight of the bigger picture. How does this goal move you toward your ultimate objective? Clearly connecting your goal — and seeing it’s relevance — to a larger aspiration or value greatly increases your motivation and improves your chances of staying on track.
Why do you want to lose 15 pounds before the wedding? Are you afraid your fiancé won’t marry you if you have to let out your bridal gown? Do you want to look good in the photos? That’s what Photoshop is for (and I guarantee you that your photographer is going to photoshop the images he submits for approval).
What’s your deeper, larger goal? Your bridal gown isn’t going to ruin your wedding day. Only a catastrophic event involving maiming, death, or destruction — or your attitude —can do that. Once you focus on what you ultimately want to accomplish, you can eliminate unnecessary and unwarranted obstacles and distractions.
A good goal has a reasonable timeframe that allows you to track your progress and stay focused. Vague goals without a timeframe make it difficult to see how we’re progressing or know when we’re likely to arrive. Goals with an unrealistic or unachievable deadline only discourage us. Unrealistic goals set us up for failure. We become demoralized and unmotivated if we feel it’s “taking too long.” We lose focus if we feel we have “plenty of time.”
So instead of a goal to “pay off $12,346 of debt” a better goal might be: Pay off $12,346 in 12-months by reducing expenses and developing a summer side-hustle. Now you have two practical action steps: cut your costs and find a profitable small summer business.
How about “increase my income by 20%?” A better goal would be “Increase my income by a total of 20% over the next 12 months by increasing my client roster to 25 clients each month, gradually increasing my fees by 6% over six months, and offering a premium service package in the second quarter.” Now you have some specific targets and can focus on meeting them.
Therefore, if you want to actually accomplish something, set goals that meet the SMART goal criteria. You can make smarter decisions faster because with clarity and measurability you have the focus needed to determine better choices along the way. You also increase your confidence and motivation knowing that your goals are achievable and within your control.
And once we have SMART goals we can really gain traction on achieving them by using the Priority Planning Process each day.
Let me know how you changed one of your aspirations into a SMART goal in the comments below.