So many of us make dogged resolutions amidst the New Year’s Eve fireworks frenzy, but the majority of them fizzle out as speedily as a sparkler. Why” Because we fail to set goals. No, scratch that. Because we fail to set goals the right way. Whether your eye is on the prize of expanding your business, developing your career or generally improving your life here on Earth, goal-setting is there to keep you on track. As a former career counselor once revealed to us, half the battle to attaining success is planning S.M.A.R.T.-ly – i.e., with Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely forethought. Translation: Learn to think first so that you’ll be much more likely to act later.
Until the human brain develops a reliable “Off” switch, we must learn to deal with the endless tsunamis swirling through our synapses. Our minds involuntarily bombard us with daily debris such as to-do lists, inspired ideas, and irrational anxieties, all of which cloud the path. Besides meditation (good) and medication (not always so good), one sure-fire way to cut through the fog is by setting goals. Methodical goal-setting acts as a mist-melting torch that breaks the marathon down into a series of manageable sprints, and everyone from collegiates to CEOs will benefit immensely from the exercise.
S is for SPECIFIC
This first step is a doozy because you must force yourself to identify problems, (gulp) acknowledge shortcomings, and, harder still, imagine possible solutions. When describing the goal, avoid being vague, instead focusing on precision and simplicity.
Problem: “My cash flow is now trickling, and my firm soon won’t be able to handle its accounts payable.”
Poor | “Secure more clients.”
Better | “Join the local XYZ Business Development Group.”
Best | Add to the above with… “Attend at least one networking function per week, leaving only when I’ve met three new people, exchanging not only business cards, but also a legitimate conversation about my field of expertise and my firm’s range of services.”
M is for MEASURABLE
A true goal has a quantifiable result, and you set yourself up for inevitable dissatisfaction if you have no way of determining whether or not you have achieved it. If the outcome falls short of the original goal, then you’ll know to push harder and/or reevaluate. If the outcome is = or > the original goal, then you’ll be pleased as punch with yourself and will likely be inspired to reach higher thanks to the injection of confidence.
Problem: “My office is chaos, and it is affecting my productivity because I’m wasting time everyday looking for paperwork.”
Poor | “Clean up the mess.”
Better | “Set aside 30 minutes each day to go through piles and file paperwork until the clutter is gone.”
Best | Add to the above with… “Only deal with each item once, immediately determining what stays and what goes. Devise filing system for the must-keep items, and, if necessary, enlist help of an organized coworker or friend for guidance and perspective.”
A is for ATTAINABLE
It’s a nice idea to reach for the stars, but keeping one’s feet on terra firma by setting your sights on something that you can actually accomplish is a better action plan. Granted, you’ve got to put some effort into it and work towards something meaningful, but the more impossible the goal, the less likely you are to take it seriously and the less motivated you are to even attempt to go after it.
Problem: “My bank account is close to depleted, and I can only afford the rent for three months if I was laid off today.”
Poor | “Save $5 per day.”
Better | “Save $500 to put into my savings account this month.”
Best | “Over the next month, save as much money as I can by only going out to dinner only 1x per week, making my lunch everyday, finding a part-time retail job on the weekends, dropping my dusty gym membership, and selling two pair of gently worn trousers on eBay (that I have no chance of ever fitting into again).”
R is for REALISTIC
Though we sometime overestimate our willpower, most of us understand our weaknesses. It is one thing to be unrealistic by discounting our ingrained behavioral patterns, but quite another to delude oneself by ignoring physical restrictions and the laws of science. Taking it one step further, it is also naïve to think that we can control others’ actions; therefore, concentrate only on circumstances that are truly within your control.
Problem: “I want both my wife and I to look good for my upcoming high school reunion.”
Poor | “Lose 30 lbs and convince my wife lose weight too so that she can wear that dress I bought her for our 1st anniversary.”
Better | “Go to the company fitness center every day during lunch and try to find a neighbor to walk with my wife every morning before she goes to work.”
Best | Add to the above with… “Start my own neighborhood fitness group with friends and implement small lifestyle changes like taking a healthy lunch and snack to work everyday, eliminating tempting foods from our house, and playing volleyball on the weekends instead of drinking at the neighborhood bar. (Hopefully, my wife will see the positive results and want to join in.)”
T is for TIMELY
Just as you must have a way to measure a result, you must have a deadline for completing it. Without a deadline, your goal will be Dead On Arrival. Realize that the actual time span does not matter so much. A week, a month, a financial quarter or a calendar year, create a timeline that makes sense and is all those things listed above: specific, measurable, attainable, and realistic.
Problem: “I want to work abroad.”
Poor | “Find a job overseas and move there by the end of the year.”
Better | “Decide on a city within the EU, visit there, find a job and move there by the end of the year.”
Best | Add to the above with… “Research employment restrictions for my top two desirable countries over a two-week period. By two months’ time, choose a country and network like mad to find someone who can provide insight on working in that country in that industry. For one month after that, research possible employers in a particular city. Within three months after that, set up interviews and purchase airline ticket. Within two months after that, secure position, find a temporary place to live, and put items into storage.”
Go For The Goal
Goals help you focus on your future, but don’t go overboard at first. Instead of a meticulous laundry list of 50 to-be-improved items – which is sure to intimidate you, bringing you down – start with maybe just five short-term, three medium-term and one long-term goals. Once you knock the short-terms out (or make them part of your everyday routine), then you can replace them with a few new ones. Ditto on the mediums.
No matter where you start, just start. Do that, and you’re practically halfway there already.