5 SMART, New Ways to Achieve Your Goals
Updated: Jun 17, 2022
Tucker Miller | President and Founder of Day 6 Leadership, LLC
In this article, I offer a revamped approach to SMART goals to help to re-invigorate your planning and achieve meaningful results.
"SMART" Gets a Revamp
Have you ever noticed that goal-setting backfires? What initially seems like a useful planning activity may later become a source of resistance, excuses, or avoidance. If that's been your experience, it may be time for a new roadmap to help you devise goals that are more meaningful, engaging, and designed to get you where you want to go.
What's the Smartest Route to Achieving Your Goals?
First introduced over 40 years ago, the acronym SMART offers a widely-accepted standard for constructing goals. Different words have been substituted over time, but generally speaking, SMART refers to the process of establishing goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Training on how to properly write SMART goals has also become an annual event in many organizations. We write SMART goals to communicate expectations and measure what was or was not accomplished at the end of the year. Certainly, the clarity with which SMART goals are written makes them easy to understand and communicate, but ...
Do SMART goals lead to better results and help us achieve what we really want?
I decided to conduct an admittedly unscientific survey by asking people about their goals and whether setting SMART goals motivated them to achieve more success. Here are some of their responses:
"Writing goals to make them "SMART" feels like busywork."
"Motivated? You’re kidding, right?"
"What does SMART stand for again? – I always forget."
"My manager wants me to write 5 SMART goals each year. Halfway through the year, I'm asked about my progress and I can’t even remember what my goals were!
These Responses Lead Me to Wonder:
Are we working too hard to write goals that are measurable but not meaningful?
The effort that goes into satisfying a rigid goal-setting standard may distract from the focus needed to solve bigger challenges. Instead of coming up with a goal to reinvigorate our business or ignite a new aspect of our careers, we may tend to write goals that can be easily measured, allowing us to check a box, yes or no, as to whether the goal was achieved. For example, a goal that states that you will attend three career-development sessions over the next 12 months to learn new about new accounting standards applicable to your business may be a SMART goal, but what central challenge does it address?
Requiring that goals be written to conform to a formula without addressing the human spirit behind them misses the point.
So, Let's Change Things Up.
I'm offering insights and 5 steps to re-invigorate your goal-setting. To keep it simple, I'm harkening back to the SMART acronym, but I've re-imagined it; we'll just call it SMART 2.0. Here's how it works:
"S" Stands for SOLUTION.
Think of a goal as offering a solution to a challenge. The effort expended is worthwhile when the goal is linked to making something better. Whether integrating a new habit, creating a new process, fixing a problem, improving relationships, or taking on a new responsibility, you are discovering the steps that it takes to get from "here" to "there." Those steps reveal themselves when you have a clear vision of the solution you seek.
Let's look at a few examples:
If you feel stuck and aren't advancing in your career, you might describe your goal in this way: I want to have access to more opportunities to develop my career.
If your clients are asking for things you don’t currently provide, your goal might sound something like this: We need to expand our product line to grow our revenue.
Someone suffering from nervousness whenever they have to make a presentation might say: I want to be a more polished and confident public speaker.
By starting to define your goals in this way, you engage your mind in problem-solving instead of rule-following. That in itself lowers the resistance, but more than that it makes you much more flexible and creative. With relatively little effort, your brain will begin to look for actions you can take to make progress on your goal. Each little win offers dopamine hits that keep brains engaged, adaptive, and creative. Instead of limiting efforts to a pre-determined set of defined activities, the process to achieving results becomes much more natural. As you go along, keep track of your progress and celebrate it. As Mel Robbins reminds, your brain loves high-fives -- even those you give to yourself!
"M" Stands for MEANINGFUL.
We often consider professional goals in terms of their relevance to our business or career. While important, I suggest an "inside out" approach to make goals meaningful. When setting professional or personal goals, it's important that you do not lose sight of YOU and what you want. Goals that are meaningful are aligned with your personal values of who and how you want to be both now and in the future. What matters to you should be at the heart of everything you commit time and effort to.
Meaningful goals are ones that help you become the person that you want to be.
Your "future self" should be at the heart of everything you are committing to do today. Consider how pursuing a particular goal will enrich you and help you to become who you want to be. It's your life on the line -- choose to make it even better!
"A" Reminds Us to Make Our Goals AROUSING.
When I encourage people to make sure that their goals are arousing, over the course of a few seconds I see expressions transition from surprise, to uncertainty, curiosity, and fascination. They begin to imagine possibility and fun. That's when I know we're getting somewhere.
Goals that arouse us, engage us.
So, I ask you:
Are your goals juicy? Are they exciting, thrilling, scary? If they are, you're on the right track.
If your goals are boring or unengaging, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. Boring goals will not get you out of bed in the morning. Goals that are not exciting are all too often forgotten or avoided.
Too many people focus on what's hard and miss out on the joy. Arousal is the secret sauce to achieving your goals. It energizes and reminds us that the journey can be as meaningful as the destination.
What could you do to make achieving your goals exciting?
A goal that arouses curiosity and emotion immediately engages us. When writing out your goals, focus on how you want to feel now, as well as when you've achieved your goal. Do the things that help you feel that way. And keep doing them! Arousal will keep you going. Guaranteed.
“R” Tells Us to Plan to Make Our Goals RESISTANCE-PROOF.
Instilling new behaviors requires time and persistence. There's little doubt that if a goal were easy, you'd probably have already done it. The fact is, we set goals to achieve the things that we haven't yet figured out. Because our brains prefer that we do what's easy, pleasurable, and safe, resistance is a natural and predictable response to progressing toward a goal.
Resistance is a sign of progress, not failure.
Challenges, struggles, fears, exhaustion, and plain old “I don’t wanna” thoughts will come up – and that’s normal. Don't let those thoughts be a reason to give up or criticize yourself. Knowing that resistance is a part of the growth process affords us the opportunity to plan for it. So, do it; plan for it. Have a plan that describes what resistance might look like, how it might show up for you, and when. Then write down what steps you will take when these things happen. There may be different situations to plan for and as you work toward your goals you may discover others. Keep refining your plan based on what you learn.
Here’s the really interesting thing about having a plan to address whatever resistance or relapse you may encounter: the simple fact of having planned for it often solves for it.
Planning for resistance often solves for it.
You may find that you're going along, working on your goal and then you hit a bump in the road – some form of resistance that you’ve already identified might happen. You'll have your plan to refer to, but more often than not you’ll note the resistance, acknowledge it – “Oh there you are,” you’ll say to yourself. “I’ve been expecting you,” – and without skipping a beat you’re back on track because you are not caught off guard. And even if you do get thrown off a bit, you have a plan for how to address it. Just keep swimming.
Finally, “T” is for Setting Only TWO Goals.
Constraint is the key to focus; focus creates success. So set two goals, just two. Really. Not three or four. Just two.
Over-achievers hate this one. Others I’ve tested this SMART 2.0 goal-setting strategy with get so excited about a new way to approach their goals that they start imagining ALL the goals they want to achieve.
Let me caution you, however. Research confirms that people who set 1-2 goals tend to achieve 1-2 goals at the end of the year.
People who set one or two goals achieve them; those that set more than ten goals often achieve none.
So just set two goals. Some like to set one personal goal and one professional or career goal. However you want to do it is fine, but stick with two. You can add a new one when you complete one. Bucket lists are permitted: you can keep a list of “someday goals” as they occur to you, but commit to just two goals (or even just one) before adding anything. Constraint becomes the strategy for success.
Summarizing these 5 simple steps for SMART 2.0 goal-setting, here they are:
Imagine your goal as the Solution to improving something, a puzzle to solve.
Make your goals Meaningful to YOU and who you want to be.
Make your goals Arousing - arousal engages present action.
Resistance-proof your goals by planning ahead how you will overcome inevitable bumps along the way.
Focus on just TWO goals - constraint will help you achieve success.
Best wishes and good luck!
At Day 6 Leadership, we help people achieve their goals every day. Let us know if we can help.
Day 6 Leadership, LLC is a consulting and coaching company specializing in helping to prepare women leaders for expanded responsibility, influence, and impact.