Alice, a busy magazine executive I know, recently decided to learn to play the guitar. "At first I got hung up on the fact that I don't have seven hours a week to devote to practice," she explained, "and would therefore never be as great as I wanted to be. But I decided not to worry about that and decided to take weekly one-hour lesson for six months and practice fifteen minutes a day. I'm really enjoying it!"
Alice understands intuitively the best thing I ever learned about helping individuals and organizations change: you must create goals that are that are Smart: Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Without these five elements, success can be very elusive.
1. Be specific
Specific refers to choosing something that you can pin down. "Learning the guitar" is specific; you know what you need to do to. "Becoming a better person" is not. What do you mean by that? How will you know if you've done it? When we create a vague goal, we set ourselves up for failure. Because we're never quite sure when we've crossed the finish line. So be sure to create something as specific as possible – for instance, "Learn how to say no" rather than "get better boundaries" or "Take one weekend day every month to myself" rather than "make time for myself."
2. Ensure your goal can be measured
Measurable means just that – capable of being measured. People come to me all the time wanting "more": "more patience," "more time with my kids," "more happiness." I always say in response, "as measured by what?" Measurement is crucial because it makes our progress visible to us. Without it, it's easy to feel like you haven't gotten anywhere or to exaggerate in your own mind how far you've come. If your goal is to stop smoking, or lose twenty pounds, that's easy to measure. But it is possible to create a measurement for anything. I've just worked with a client to create a measure for finding a new relationship. He's going to track the number of conversations with new women per week.
In thinking about measurement, it helps to understand that it can be external (pounds, dollars, days, lower blood pressure, etc.) or internal (a sense of inner ease or peace, greater energy or excitement). The numbers for the first category are obvious. When you're measuring something internal, you need to put it on a scale, for instance -5 to +5, with -5 being the worst you ever felt and +5 being the best.
Let me give you an example. Imagine that you want to be able to be more tolerant of your in-laws. First you'd notice what your exasperation number is right now, before you learn anything new. Maybe it's a lot, say -4. You decide that your measure of success will be getting that number to a +3, feeling much more calm in your body. That way you'll know when you can declare success – when you've gotten to +3 when around your in-laws.
Page 1 of 2 – Discover how to create "smart" goals on page 2.
3. Create an achievable goal
Achievable means being realistic about what's possible. Despite what magazine tabloids promise, you're not going to lose twenty-five pounds in a week. Don't set yourself up for failure by trying something that's not possible. Look at your life and decide what you can reasonably do. That's what Alice did so well. She knows that in her work circumstances, she's not about to become a concert-level player. So she set a more achievable goal – to learn the guitar well enough to enjoy herself.
4. Make your goal relevant
Relevant means something that matters to you. If you don't really have a good reason for doing this thing, it's too easy to drop it. You've got to know why it's important to you.
5. Give your goal a time limit
Time-bound refers to creating a time in the future when you will be "done." Alice is going to take lessons for six months. Having an end-point puts a structure around what you're doing. It allows you to have something to aim for. Even if this is something you're planning on doing forever, it often helps to put a time boundary around it so that it doesn't feel too overwhelming. Then when you get to the "end," you can sign on again if need be.
When you create a smart goal, you know when you've arrived, which is crucial to creating a sense of satisfaction and completion. Without that sense of completion, it's easy to stay in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction with yourself. This is dangerous because it not only obliterates your actual success but discourages your emotional brain from ever trying to learn anything else. Conversely, when you set a smart goal and achieve it, you not only experience the joy of a job well done, you reinforce your ability to tackle something else.
For practice, look at the difference between two genuine New Year's resolutions I recently heard. Jeff's is "to lose 1-1/2 pounds each month by the year's end." Mort's is "to spend more quality time with my wife, without the kids." Whose is smart? Jeff's. He is specific, measured by a scale, achievable (experts say you can lose one to two pounds per week, so within a month it is certainly doable), relevant (he's refereeing his daughter's soccer matches and wants to be able to run around easily), and time-bound. Conversely, if Mort truly want to enact his resolution, he needs to do some work around getting more specific and measurable.
Stanford professor Carol Dweck discovered something similar when she looked at the difference between those with a growth versus a fixed orientation. When "growth" folks made plans, they included what, where, how, and when in their thinking. "Fixed" orientation planners went on willpower, saying, "I'm just going to do it." Guess which group was more successful?
|Excerpted from This Year I Will... by M.J. Ryan. Copyright 2006 by M.J. Ryan. Excerpted by permission of Broadway. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.|
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