The way you approach setting a goal can be the difference between intending to do something and seeing it through to fruition. Below, I have outlined an acronym which will change the way you set goals for yourself, your business, or wherever the need applies. I use this strategy with clients struggling with follow-through and motivation, perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the demands of life, or working towards developing healthier habits.
This technique is known as the “S.M.A.R.T.” approach to goal setting, and it stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Allow me to break this down further using examples:
When defining a goal, the more specific you can be in your intentions the better. For example, there is a difference between setting out to “be more assertive” and committing to “improving my ability to express preferences and needs in my relationships, even if it makes me uncomfortable at times.” I like to start my goals with action words such as “improve/increase,” “reduce/decrease,” or “complete.”
It can be productive to establish an objective way to track your progress. Think numbers here. How many times will you attempt a new skill? What percentage of your project or essay will you complete? Using the above example related to assertiveness, this may look like “expressing my preference when brainstorming dinner options with my partner two times this week.” This way, there is no question as to when the goal has been achieved, and you can make note of your progress along the way (which can help sustain your motivation).
Attainable (or Achievable)
It is important to be realistic when setting goals. Consider what any person in your position with your specific resources could reasonably accomplish. This is not meant to be some sort of cop out to going all out on your goal, but it does prevent the discouragement that comes with setting expectations too high. For example, it is likely not reasonable to expect yourself to eat 100% of your dietitian-prescribed meal plan the first week you’re in recovery from an eating disorder. Nor would it be wise to expect someone in the middle of finals week to apply and interview for a new job. See what I mean?
Consider the relevance of your goal to the current needs or demands of your school, job, or life overall. Explore if and how a goal fits within your specific system of values or long-term vision and goals.
Slightly nuanced from the measurable and specific categories, setting a goal that is timely means setting a clear timeframe for your goal. Are you giving yourself an hour? A week? The nature of the goal may impact this, however from my experience the more you can break a big-picture goal into small, digestible parts, the easier it is to stay motivated and avoid getting overwhelmed.
Christian Makenna Clements is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #111159.