Thursday, February 4, 2010

How to turn a plain goal into a S.M.A.R.T. Goal

S.MA.R.T. Goals
On the very last night of the year, a large sparkly ball falls down after a countdown. A new year comes as expected. It is a ritual that everyone takes part in. There is a smaller ritual that also happens right around the same time, New Year’s resolutions. I’m sure you’ve either heard most of them, or made them yourself. The common ones include giving up smoking, losing weight, starting to exercise, quit drinking and spending more time with family. Unfortunately for most of those resolutions, they will fall down just like the large sparkly ball. The pattern repeats next year with more of the same resolutions made, swiftly broken and forgotten.

Why does this happen? Is everyone but the most strong-willed individuals unable to keep a resolution or to work toward a goal that is good for them? Thankfully, the answer to that is a no. The problem is not with the people making the resolutions, but with the resolutions themselves! Setting a goal to lose weight is the same as getting into the automobile one morning and going for a two-week vacation not knowing where to go, how to get there or what to do once you're there, a recipe for a disaster. If you have no destination and no plan, you’ll end up nowhere.

What are the problems with the goal to “lose weight?”

You want to lose weight, but you need to be realistic in how much you can safely lose as well as defining your goal more precisely. If you make a goal that is too hard, you won’t keep up and will stop working on it. If you create one too easy, you’ll get bored and won’t put in the work. A computer novice can’t have a goal of learning everything about computers in one year, that feat is just not attainable by most people. Don’t simply pick a goal of playing in the NBA or becoming a millionaire, you need to have an attainable goal. Your goals need to be both attainable and realistic for you, different people will have different goals. Don’t pick rock hard abs, 140 pounds and 8% body fat, that very difficult, but it can be a long term goal, just build up to it with a few successful goals. Let’s assume you settle on dropping 25 pounds. Our improved goal is now “I want to lose 25 pounds.”

Step two is to pick a time boundary for our goal. Do you want to lose two pounds a month for a year or 10 pounds in two weeks? This is very important, because once you have a time limit, you can’t procrastinate and it helps you create a timely plan for achieving the goal. Let’s say we want to do it right by the end of the summer. Now we know we need to lose roughly 3 pounds per month. The improved goal is now “I want to lose 25 pounds by September. “

The third step is going to sound a little silly, but is very crucial. You need to know exactly how much is your current weight to find the success point and you need a simple way to measure your progress. Fortunately this is very easy for weight loss, just step on the scale, measure yourself at the start, and every week or so. Your further improved goal is “I want to lose 25 pounds and have a weight of 140 pounds by September.”

Now that you have a goal that you feel is realistic, attainable, measurable and has a deadline, you need to do one more improvement. You need to come up with a specific plan of action, which will let you succeed. Do you eat less, or do you exercise, do you cut sodium or do you cut carbohydrates? Having a plan allows you to stick to it, and it can also help you make adjustments if you are outpacing the goal. Of course in the planning stage, you might realize that your goal needs fixing. Feel free to go back to a prior step and adjust your plan to better suit yourself. Maybe eight months is not enough, or you can do better then 25 pounds. You really want to create the perfect plan for yourself, so adjust it as much as needed. Create a pace and measure your progress against it. Let’s say you believe that going to the gym twice a week, adjusting your diet and eliminating prepackaged food will allow you to meet your goal. Great, set a schedule and stick to it. Now you have “my goal is to lose a total of twenty-five pounds by September, to end up with a final weight of 140, to do so I will go to the gym twice a week, cut out prepackaged foods and adjust my diet. These actions will help me lose three pounds a month for eight months.” That goal is much easier to fulfill then the plain “I want to lose weight” because in essence, this is a specific guide. It tells you what you need to, how often to do it and allows you to measure your progress. All that remains is just a little bit of hard work.
How can one turn all of their goals in such action plans? There is a little cheat-sheet. This is a S.M.A.R.T. goal, now just because of how it sounds, but because it is a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reliable and Timely goal. You can remember that handy acronym any time you with to improve on a goal you have, and increase your success rate (according to’s source, “The first known uses of the term occur in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham. [1]”

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