If you have ever set a goal, you know how frustrating it can be to work toward it. Whether it’s saving money, losing weight, eating healthier, or spending more time with friends and family, we all hit roadblocks. As the adage goes, sometimes it seems like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back. It doesn’t help when our minds tend to judge and criticize us when we don’t immediately live up to our own expectations. This can quickly lead to losing motivation and avoiding the self-criticism by avoiding the goal.
So, what’s going on and what do we do about it? Research shows people generally have difficulty achieving goals when they are personally meaningless, long-term, and vague. For example, I want to save more money, lose more weight, spend more time with family/friends, etc. These are all wonderful goals but the words “more” and “less” make it difficult, if not impossible, to know when we reach our goals. We could be caught forever working toward these goals without ever knowing if we reached them.
Start by spending time figuring out what’s at the heart of these goals. Answering this deeply meaningful question enriches the experience and increases motivation in the face of adversity. Once you determine the “why” of your goal, you can start on the “how.” One of the most underutilized but most effective ways to work toward a goal is to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely, or SMART. Using the SMART acronym for goal-setting gives you a set of workable guidelines to follow
You can begin your SMART goal by simply adding numbers. Using the examples from above, I want to save $100, eat 1 instead of 2 slices of pizza, complete 10 pushups, lose 5 pounds, or spend 2 hours with my family. Giving numbers to goals makes them more Specific, Measurable, and Attainable. Let’s say you want to save $100. The Specificity of the goal is the numbered dollar amount ($100), instead of the vague “more money.” This is also Measurable because you can track your progress by how much you are saving along the way. Giving a number to your goal also makes the goal Attainable rather than abstract: You know you met your goal when you have $100.
Importantly, we must also make sure saving $100 can be Realistically accomplished in a Timely fashion. Someone who makes $100,000 a year can more realistically save $100 in a shorter amount of time compared to someone making $10,000 a year. For this example, let’s say it is realistic for you to save $100 in 3 months. Now we have a SMART goal: Save $100 in 3 months. Then, you can adjust the goal to fit your personal definitions of Realistic and Timely. You can also adjust it to meet more short-term goals: $100 in 3 months equals about $1.10 per day. You can also adjust it to meet long-term goals: $100 in 3 months equals $200 in 6 months, $400 in one year, etc.
Setting SMART goals helps to maintain your motivation and increases the likelihood you will achieve your short- and long-term goals. However, if you are like everyone else, you are bound to slip up at some point. When you do slip up, notice the urge to completely give up on your goals and, at the exact same time, the opportunity to start on your SMART goal again, picking up wherever you left off. See if you can notice this, not as a matter of fact, but as a matter of personal experience.