Setting and achieving goals is integral to our existence as human beings. From the very earliest points of our lives we are set goals by others (e.g. taking our first steps, learning new words) before learning to set our own goals. These may take many forms: physical (riding a bike) to intellectual (learning a language). Concrete (baking a cake) to abstract (being happy). Whatever form these goals come in they are used to guide and sometimes rule our everyday behaviours so it is worth training yourself into setting them in the right way.
Many schools of thought have developed the SMART formula for generating goals:
S – Specific. Vague goals are harder to achieve because the boundaries between achieving and not achieving them can be blurry. E.g. getting fit could mean a whole host of things to different people which is why a specific target is needed. These could be: attend fitness classes twice a week, be able to run 5k in 30 minutes, lose 2 kg by the end of January.
M – Measurable. You need to ask yourself the questions ‘How will I know when I have achieved X?’ ‘What are the steps to achieving X?’ For example if being able to confidently ride a bike to the shops is your goal then there are small measurable stages along the way. Be able to keep your balance on the bike, being able to go up and down curbs, being able to raise a hand to indicate to traffic, being able to travel safely in cycle lanes etc. These steps are needed along the way to reaching the larger goal and they will act as motivating checkpoints to success.
A – Attainable. This sounds obvious but make sure that you have set an achievable target for the time frame given. It’s no use deciding to learn all of Spanish in a year, but being able to order food and drinks on your next holiday may be more realistic. Choose a goal that is challenging but not too intimidating as to put you off and make it feel like a chore. Attainability is all about whether you have the will and the skill set to make it happen.
R – Realistic. This is very similar to attainable but I think they needed the extra letter for the acronym. Make sure that you have factored in real life. Make sure that you realistically have the skills, resources, time, guidance and ‘wiggle room’ to hit your target in the time frame set. Being ambitious is great but pushing yourself into unreasonable challenge can be very demotivating.
T – Time frame. Have an idea of when you want your goal to be achieved by. Next week, before I’m 30, on my next holiday. Setting this time frame gives it a sense of purpose and deadline that can help you manage your time effectively to reach the goal.
More Tips For Setting Goals
The smart goals system is a great starting place but it does sometimes feel a little academic and leaves out some of the elements of everyday life that can hinder our goal attainment. Here are some extra tips and tricks to help you on your way.
Set A Good Range Of Goals
So many people only focus on a small area of their lives. These are most commonly career, study or finance. In fairness, getting these areas right has a huge impact on others areas our lives, but in order to be healthy and well rounded you should always have a mixture of goals on the go. Areas you may like to think about are relationships, family, career, study, hobbies, personal interests, health and fitness, travel, possessions, spirituality, self development and then a random category for whatever is left. Making sure that your smart goals span a range of areas helps you to keep a good balance between all of the different areas of your life. In addition a mixture of goals can help you to see the connectedness and meaning between things which will help to motivate you further.
Frame Your Goals In The Positive
Have you ever heard someone say to themselves ‘I wish I wasn’t fat.’ or ‘I don’t want to be a pushover.’ These sort of phrases may sound like goals but really they are shots in the dark – A move away from something negative but with no clear direction for moving forward. If you don’t want to be a pushover then what do you want? To be more assertive? To have a healthier group of friends? To be a dominant character? To recognise when people are taking advantage? Each of these goals looks slightly different and so would be achieved in different ways. If your natural approach is to use a negative phrase ‘I don’t want X’ then it is really important that you ask yourself what you do want instead.
Goals can be intimidating and life sometimes gets in the way. I always have a poster on my wall with a list of long term goals for 1, 2, 5 and 10 years time. Some goals I am working on really well and take joy from crossing off. Some goals have been neglected and I know I won’t achieve them when I wanted to. Someone who is hard on themselves will beat themselves up for that ‘failure’. This doesn’t achieve anything. In fact it associates negative emotions with that goal such as guilt, pressure and regret which make it all the harder to keep working on. A kind person forgives themselves, because life happens. But being kind is not just about ignoring your unrealised goals – that will get nothing done. You have to constructively ask yourself why you didn’t meet it…
These reflections should help you come to terms with not achieving your goals and make productive choices about how to address it in future. Be realistic, but be kind!
If you bear all of these things in mind you should find yourself with a bank of well rounded, positive, SMART goals that will motivate you to better things. Keep watching this space for some tips on self motivation and time management when going for goals.
Image Credit: Angie Torres, 2010
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