I love setting goals. I always look forward to New Year’s Eve. As much as I enjoy counting down the clock to midnight, I enjoy dreaming of my goals for the next year far more.
I still have lists of goals I wrote down in 8th grade. They were cute, but they were not SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound). I have achieved some of those cute goals, but most of them were so far-fetched or so vague that accomplishing them was always going to be like trying to catch the wind.
I used to get disappointed when I’d look back at my 13-year-old list and wonder, “Why haven’t I bought a mansion on the ocean yet?”
The goal was vague and relative to my stage of life. How was I supposed to buy a mansion on the ocean when I was 20 and a broke college student in Illinois?
Goal-setting and achieving became much easier for me after I completed grad school. Through my master’s program, my peers and I were taught how to create SMART goals.
This was a game changer for me.
Goals vs. SMART goals
Learning to create SMART goals was the one thing that I needed to start achieving and advancing.
When I was in grad school, a “goal expert” presented to our group on how to set goals. I thought it was a little silly that we needed an expert to come and tell us how to set a goal. Wasn’t this what I had already been doing for years?
It wasn’t until the difference between a goal and a SMART goal was described to me that it started to make sense.
The presenter said that setting a goal is like getting in the car and navigating to a destination with no address by driving on unmarked streets … without a map … and blindfolded. Setting a SMART goal is like getting in a car and using a GPS to get to your well-defined destination. A GPS tells you where all the construction areas are, so you can avoid the slowed and stopped traffic. It tells you where the nearest gas station is to fill up. It can even redirect you if you get off course.
Exercise in goal setting
After her presentation, we were left to our own devices to write out five SMART goals, including personal, professional and academic goals. After that, we split into groups to share and discuss.
I wrote out my goals and then sat at a table with three of my classmates — Nicole, Jeffrey, and Lukas — and shared my goals with them.
Step one, I explained my goals aloud. Step two, my classmates listened and encouraged me. Step three, they critiqued my goals, effectively tearing my goals apart. By this point in our program, luckily, I had gotten to know my classmates very well and we were all very comfortable with each other. But that didn’t take away from the fact that I felt like I was bearing the inside of my soul to these people and then asking them for commentary on my life.
It was a hard table talk, but we all muddled through.
And you know what?
It really made a difference. By the end of the discussion, my goals were in much better shape with clear and realistic expectations for getting from point A (not having my goal accomplished) to point B (having my goal accomplished).
Using the other part of my brain
After our goals were mapped out with words, we then had to visualize them in our minds and draw them.
Now, I’m no artist, so my goal map didn’t look pretty. But charging my goals with a little bit of creativity was not only fun, it also helped inspire me to think outside the box on my goal journey.
It’s like another half of my brain was suddenly inspired and ready to take on this new challenge.
What I have come to realize is that setting good goals, SMART goals in particular, is a learned skill. Even though the activities I participated in with my classmates seemed a little silly and embarrassing at the time, they made a difference in how my mind thinks about goal setting.
I now know that when I set a goal it needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound. Setting a good goal allows me to do the heavy lifting at the beginning so that I can have an easy roadmap to follow to the end.
So now, when I want to read more, my goal isn’t “read more books.” It’s “throughout the year 2023, I am going to read and finish two books per month.”
I have my GPS programmed and I’m well on my way to point B.