A few years back, I went through one of the most intense, polished, and well-executed leadership courses I’ve ever been to. Called Woodbadge, it changed how I lead. It changed how I follow. It changed how I interact in a group, and it changed how I set goals, professionally and otherwise. Since completing my final project for Woodbadge, I’ve seen many, many people set goals who are destined to fail. While I rarely step in to offer condescending advice, I get frustrated watching otherwise successful friends fail.
Now that we’re on the verge of a new year, I see a lot of folks on Facebook and Twitter who are setting goals. Before you lock in on setting some New Year’s resolutions, consider re-making your goals so they fit the S.M.A.R.T. goal standards so you have a better shot at fulfilling them. Trust me, you’ll have a MUCH better shot at achieving your goals.
Before we dig down and I enthrall you with what each step entails, here’s what each letter stands for:
Let’s start with specific. Vague goals lead to failure every single time. During the whole ” Occupy Wall Street” debacle, I got unreasonably irritated when I heard participants give answers to “What are you trying to accomplish?” Inevitably, the answers given were always vague. “We want to reduce corporate greed, man!” “We want CEO’s to be ethical and quit building their careers on our backs!” Well that’s just dandy. How will you know when that’s done? When do you want it to happen? Is what you want even reasonable? No wonder the movement fizzled and nothing changed, except the folks camping out finally took showers. Getting back to our resolutions, try this. Instead of “I’m going to get in shape,” say “I’m going to run three times per week so that I can run 50 miles without stopping.”
Once you’ve made your goal specific, you need to make it measurable. Let’s go back to our fitness goal. “I’m going to get in shape” is neither specific nor measurable and therefore doomed to fail. How does one measure “in shape?” Not tired all the time? Not quite as pudgy? Hmmm. No way to tell, really. “I’m going to run three times per week so that I can run 50 miles without stopping,” is great and measurable, but it’s not quite complete.
Now that your goal is specific and measurable, we need to make it attainable. Can a human run 50 miles at a time? Yes. It’s hard, but it’s possible. “I’m going to run three times per week so that I can run 50 miles without stopping,” is technically attainable, but it’s not very reasonable, so let’s move on to the next step.
Our goal is now specific, measurable, and attainable. Now let’s make it reasonable. Has anyone else ever run 50 miles without stopping? Yes, but everybody who has done it had to start somewhere. They didn’t wake up, lace up their shoes, and run. Let’s assume you’re out of shape. You’re not a veteran runner. You’ve never run before in your LIFE. But gosh dangit, you’re going to run. How about changing the goal a little bit? Considering your shape and experience, let’s change from 50 miles to three miles. You’re trying to get stronger and healthier, not kill yourself.
Now we have a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, and reasonable. Now, let’s make it timely. Give yourself an end date. It’s great that you want to run three miles without stopping, but how long until you get there? Will it take you a full year? It’ll feel like that at first, but in all likelihood, it probably won’t take that long. I would say “I’m going to exercise three times a week so that I can run three miles without stopping by April 15th.” It’s long enough to achieve your goal, but it’s short enough so that you don’t lose interest.
Let’s run that through S.M.A.R.T. Is it specific? Yep. Exercise three times a week so you can run three miles without stopping by tax day. Is it measurable? Yes. You can measure every step of the goal. Is it attainable? Yes. Other people can run three miles without stopping. Is it reasonable? It is! Is it timely? Yes! It’s just long enough to be reasonable, but it’s short enough to keep me interested.
Now that we know how to make solid, achievable resolutions, here are two examples. These are the resolutions I have set for myself for 2014. I feel that two goals are reasonable an the timelines are appropriate.
1. I will achieve my target weight of 180 pounds by July 1st by following my diet and attending my gym 4 times per week.
2. I will pursue a higher paying position with my employer by exploring three different career advancement opportunities offered by next January.
What goals will YOU set for yourself this year? Leave your resolutions in a comment. I’ll post the best ones in their own entry.