Going Beyond Setting SMART Goals

1st Mentor Street

Have you ever been in a situation where you set yourself goals at the beginning of the year or month and feel disappointed in yourself by the end of the time frame since you haven’t really moved forward much? New Year’s Resolutions anyone? 

Do you even set goals at all? Or are you the type of person who tends to procrastinate because that science project, gigantic research paper or work project sounds impossible to do and honestly not fun at all? We have all been there and felt the guilt, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Writing Smart Goals

Instead of being upset at yourself over and over again, let’s try to focus on what you CAN do to improve. What’s done is done already, right? So, may I add a suggestion? Try writing down your goals, make them SMART and review them on a regular basis to assess your progress.

In 2017, Forbes wrote an article sharing about a Harvard Business Study that discovered that 3% of their MBA graduates ended up earning ten times as much as the remaining 97% combined ten years after graduation because of one small fact. The 3% elite wrote down their goals. 

Based on my own experience, I can validate this study because my goals are much more likely to be achieved when I write them down, especially when I make them SMART – specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. On the flip side, when a goal just crosses my mind, let’s say when I am driving with no option to take down notes, I tend to forget them and as a result, the chance of achieving them is minimal.

Turning a general goal into a SMART one could look like this. Let’s say your goal is to save more money. That is great! However, how much is more money? $3, $3,000 or $30,000? When do you want to achieve this specific goal? Next year or in ten years? Is it realistic to save $3 million by next month? Probably not, at least not for the majority of us. 

So, let’s tweak this goal a bit and make it SMART, shall we? It would sound like this “I want to save $500 by December 31st by earning income through tutoring our neighbor’s kids”. It becomes specific and measurable because you state it’s $500. It’s actionable because you are not making the money appear through magic, and it’s realistic since you don’t plan to save millions of dollars in the short term. December 31st is a specific date, so you can measure your results at a specific date to determine whether you achieved this goal or not. Does this make sense?

Attach Your Reasons Why

During the goal setting process, ask yourself why accomplishing this goal means so much to you. How would you feel if you can successfully get there? What would it mean to you or your loved ones? What doors can this step open up for you in the future? Knowing your Why and reasons behind setting a specific goal attaches emotions and feelings to it, which increases the probability of turning it into a fact. If your goal is to be a straight A student, why? Is it because it will make you and your parents proud? Would it mean that your chances of being accepted to the college of your dream becomes a closer reality? If so, how would you feel if this happens?

Make Goals Visible

It’s also very important that you make your goals visible and revisit them frequently. What good does time spend on goal setting do, when you never look at them again and therefore forget? My suggestion is to either work on a vision board that you will stick on the wall at a place in your home that you see every day (more on Vision Boards in another article), put it on a sheet of paper that you carry with you in your bag, backpack or purse, or make a reminder to pull out your goals every month or three months to see how far you have come along towards achieving them. Only frequent reminders help you remember them. 

Find a Buddy

What generally makes working on something more fun? How about doing something with a person you enjoy spending time with? If you have a good friend who has the same goal and interest, working on it together makes the process so much more enjoyable AND the likelihood of success is so much higher. Besides fun, the accountability factor is huge. It tends to be easier to find excuses when it’s just you, but if your friend gets involved, it’s a whole other story. 

I remember one of the many times when my goal was to be healthier and work out, I tend to come up with all sorts of stories to convince myself why I shouldn’t work out on certain days when I was really tired. I didn’t get to bed early enough last night, so I should sleep in to have more energy throughout the day. I am really hungry, and working out on an empty stomach probably makes me dizzy. Oh, I forgot that I have to wash the dishes, and I should really focus on that now before they stink up the house. 

What about you? Can you think of some excuses you made in the past? Anyway, the situation is very different when a friend gets involved. I know she is waiting for me at the gym or the park, so I shouldn’t cancel even though I have a major headache. Do you know what I mean? Letting others down is so much harder than letting yourself down. So grab a buddy and share some common goals! You both can benefit from the success and precious moments together.  

Start Small and Find Momentum

Finally, take small steps, and get the momentum going. Keep track of the progress you made daily. Once you have a winning streak of let’s say working one hour on a specific goal every day for 14 days, you would hate to break this continuous effort and feel like you have to start from scratch again. It feels so satisfying to watch a streak that goes non-stop, check boxes that you checked off for multiple consecutive days. Have you ever felt this before?

If not, give it a try on something small, like drinking 8 cups of water every day. Check it off on a calendar that you see daily. Maybe that calendar is pinned right in your kitchen where you drink your water. Create a mark each time you drink a cup and cross out the day once you reach 8 cups. Watch those check marks grow over time. You wouldn’t want to disappoint yourself and end it. But what if you happen to miss a day due to reasons not within your control? No worries. Just continue the next day again.  

Start Goal Setting Habit as Early as Possible

I would recommend anyone to start the habit of setting goals as young as possible. Depending on the child’s age, it would be a fun and rewarding family activity to do, whether on a more creative or larger scale such as creating vision boards before the start of a new year, or making shorter term or small goals such as:

  • call one person every week to say hello and check in on them
  • write 20 holiday cards with personalized notes for each family and friends
  • limit going to Starbucks to only once a month instead of multiple times a week 
  • open the door for strangers at the supermarket
  • drink one cup of warm water first thing every morning
  • visit one new location every three months
  • go on a walk every day for 20 minutes after dinner
  • say hello and smile at people you see at school or work
  • take three deep breaths every time you sneeze, yawn or feel nervous
  • save $5 every week
  • volunteer to babysit your uncle’s baby once a year
  • do something nice for another person daily
  • get eight hours of sleep every day

Goals Setting Help Create Order in Chaotic Situations

As I am writing this article, we have been in quarantine for about a year now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been very strict about being part of the solution and taking measures recommended to control the situation as much as possible. In the first few months, we were confused and lost all sense of a normal schedule and goals. 

To ensure our sanity, my normally semi-strict rules as a responsible parent almost disappeared because I understand that our out-and-about busy lifestyle has been turned upside down. Each and everyone of us ended up spending way too much time on the TV or on our mobile devices. But after a while, I had to think of ways to return to some sense of normal since it appeared that this situation is not ending anytime soon. So, I went back to goal settings.

I created what I call quarantine binders for each member of the family. In it, I included multiple worksheets for us to write down and track goals as well as commemorate our experience, thoughts and new interests and talents discovered. 

The first page is called Top 5 Personal Quarantine Goals. I asked us to write down what we would like to accomplish at home while there weren’t too many options available. We would bring out the binder and update it every other month or so to see how far we have come. Of course, we had to turn those into SMART goals. I am excited to share that we made strong strides so far. We improved our foreign language skills, started YouTube channels and found new interests.

So, what about you and your family? Can you think of any ideas to start incorporating goal setting and tracking as a regular exercise? Please share your wonderful ideas with me as I am sure we can all learn from each other. 

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