By Jimmy Warden
Everyone has goals. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has aspirations. We all want to be better in many aspects of our lives where we know we’re deficient. The problem with not achieving our goals and dreams is the blueprint that we fail to create in order to achieve them. This is where S.M.A.R.T. goals come into play.
What are S.M.A.R.T. goals?
S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific types of goals where the crafting of goals is done through a specific process. I’m sure you’ve heard of the acronym while you were in school or perhaps you heard it in your place of work. There are also several different interpretations of what the acronym stands for, but we’re going to walk through the most recent interpretation that I’ve learned about in a graduate class.
Let’s start with S. S stands for specific AND strategic. Most other processes focus solely on specifics, but strategy is also essential if we really want to achieve what we’re venturing out to do. Having a strategy will help us maneuver around or through any obstacles may be in our way while we’re trying to work on our goals.
Now, onto M. M stands for measurable. In order for us to truly understand our progress, we need to know what improvement looks like. Will it be numbers based? Will it be skills based? Whatever it may be, it is important to have some type of measure to gauge whether or not we’re on track to meet our goals. That way, we can carry on when we’re on the right track, or make adjustments as needed.
Next is A. A stands for attainable. Setting a goal that’s attainable can be difficult when it comes to goal setting because it implies that the challenge of our goal needs to be “just right”. Not too hard and not too easy. If it’s too hard, failure is inevitable. If it’s too easy, we’re not actually improving, we’re merely staying the same. As my old high school basketball coach, Mike McVeigh says: “to stay the same is to get worse”. If we’re not making progress and are stagnant, the world will eventually pass us by.
After that, we have R. R stands for results-based. This is intimately connected with measurable. What are the measurable results that will quantify success? What does the result have to be for success to be obtained? Results can be thought of as the finish line. It is where we’ll end up at the end of our goal pursuit, as long as we do everything in our power to achieve.
Lastly, we have T. T stands for time-based. In order to create a sense of urgency around goals, it is important to put a time stamp on when those goals should be completed. Putting a time frame on goal achievement also helps develop a consistent action plan as an effort to accomplish the goals in the amount of time allotted.
How do I develop a S.M.A.R.T. goal?
In order to understand how to develop a S.M.A.R.T. goal, let’s take a look at an example. I recently set a personal goal of achieving a body composition of 7% body fat by July 2nd by lifting weights four days a week and playing basketball two days a week and monitoring my weekly caloric intake.
How is this a S.M.A.R.T. goal? Because all of the criteria of a S.M.A.R.T. goal are covered.
It is specific because the goal of 7% body fat is quantifiable, which also makes it measurable and results-based. It is strategic because I have an action plan that will help me achieve my desired results. It is time-bound because I have set a deadline on when I would like to achieve my goal. It is measurable and results based because I have a very specific measure to quantify my desired result. As of now, it seems attainable because I often lift weights at least four times a week and am playing in two basketball leagues that have weekly games, so I will be getting an adequate amount of resistance training and cardiovascular training in to help my shed the body fat I want to shed. However, I will say that I will have to re-analyze my goal if the frequency of exercise does not seem to be attainable for me.
Why am I not achieving my S.M.A.R.T. goals?
To piggyback off of the last point that I made, this is where analysis comes into play. The biggest downfalls of S.M.A.R.T. goals come from a few different places.
One place is that the S.M.A.R.T. goal wasn’t specific enough. If we take a look at my goal, and it was just to lose body fat, that’s somewhat specific, but it’s not specific enough to the point that it is measurable or results based because there isn’t a measured result that quantifies success. Sure, you could make the argument that any loss of body fat counts, but does the goal simply end after that? And considering there is no time stamp on the goal, is it a continuous goal or does it simply stop once there is a slight decrease of body fat? Clearly, there are a few elements that are missing from the S.M.A.R.T. criterion when the goal is not specific enough. If there is no strategy either, there is no action plan, so there’s nothing to execute in order to achieve the desired result.
Another pitfall of S.M.A.R.T. goals is they’re not attainable. This is possible the most crucial area to analyze because of its importance. If a goal is too easy, we’re not pushing our limits, and we are not evolving as a person. If a goal is too hard, we’ll never feel success, and our self-esteem will plummet. The attainable part is important because it needs to be a “just right” challenge. Lev Vygotsky created the theory of the”zone of proximal development”, which describes how growth can be developed by pushing just slightly beyond our current boundaries. It’s also vital to keep in mind that what works for some doesn’t typically work for all, so we must have an honest self-awareness to set some truly attainable goals.
A third pitfall is failing to set a measurable goal. If your goal is to “be happier”, how is that measured? Are you measuring it with the number of times you smile each day or the number of times that something brings you joy? Sure those can be measured, but will the results end up helping you improve your well-being? Quick disclaimer, don’t set a S.M.A.R.T. goal, or any type of goal, for being happier because happiness comes and goes like the wind.
The last pitfall is not setting yourself a time frame to complete your goal. Not having a time frame turns into a nightmare quite quickly because there is no finish line. Not having that finish line can be daunting because there is no end point. It can also create a lack of urgency to take action in order to complete your goal.
What should I do if I don’t achieve my S.M.A.R.T. goal?
Analyze, analyze, analyze. Was it specific enough? Did you have a strategy? Did you have a measurement for your results? Was it attainable? Did you set a time frame on it? If the answer to any of these questions is no, that’s where your goal was underdeveloped. Despite the disappointment that comes with not achieving a goal that you set out to achieve is that you now know where you can get more detailed and try again! And another great part about this is that you learn more about yourself in the process. And the more that we can learn about ourselves, the better life we can create for ourselves.
Happy goal setting!
Wilhelm, T. (2017). Shared leadership: The effective ingredient for PLCs. Chapter 13: Goal setting and SMARTe goals. Corwin Publishers.