It doesn't matter if you are trying to succeed at losing weight, finish school, or start saving money; failing at a personal goal is discouraging. The problem could easily be that you are setting the wrong kind of goals. By using the acronym SMART, you can take control of your goal making and start accomplishing the things you set your mind to. I will walk through each element of the acronym and discuss how to apply the principle to your goal making
S - Specific
The first letter in the SMART is "S" which stands for "specific." The goals that you make need to be specific, and the more specific you make them the better they will be. For example if you decide that you would like to lose weight, and every New Year's Day you right down your resolution as "lose weight." It might seem specific at first, but as you look more closely at the goal you'll see that it isn't specific at all. Do you want to lose one pound or 100 pounds? If using the broad goal of "lose weight" and you lose half a pound, you have technically accomplished what you set out to do. However, you probably didn't resolve to lose just a pound or two.
You need to clearly define what you are after. "I want to lose 15 pounds" is much more clearly defined. Setting a specific goal allows you to know exactly when it has been accomplished. Otherwise you may give up before being satisfied that the goal was accomplished.
M - Measurable
The next letter in the acronym is "M," which stands for "measurable." You need to define how you will measure your progress and when the goal will be complete. "I want to lose 15 pounds" is already a good example since it intrinsically sets the parameters for measurement: pounds. Find a way to measure what it is that you are trying to accomplish. Will you measure your progress is number of pounds lost, dollars earned, consecutive days, or some other measure?
A good way to know if your goal is measurable is to try to draw a graph of your progress. If you can't quantify your progress in a chart of some sort, then you should probably make some tweaks to your objectives to allow for measurement.
There are certainly times when your goals are more abstract and difficult to measure. How does one measure something unquantifiable self-esteem or peace of mind? For this, you can break down goals into large goals and smaller sub-goals. We will look closer at this idea later on.
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A - Attainable
The "A" stands for achievable or attainable. If you don't goals that you can actually accomplish, then you will (oddly enough) never accomplish them. Flying to the moon with no in a cardboard box is an absurdly obvious example of an unattainable goal. However, there are many occasions where a goal that could be entirely reasonable for one person may not be attainable for another. There is nothing wrong with this fact; we all have different strengths and weaknesses.
For example, I enjoy running. I could make the goal to win the gold medal in the 100 meter dash in the next summer Olympics. However, if you met me in person you would realize that the crowd would die laughing if I tried to race against someone like Usain Bolt, not they would ever let me try. However, another world-class athlete could very realistically make a similar goal about competing in the Olympics.
If you have a goal that starts out unattainable, it is helpful to look at the root ambition of your goal. I will never race world champion runners in the Olympics, but it is perfectly reasonable for me to make running goals to beat my personal best times.
When designing your objectives it is important to dream, but also keep in mind the real-world limitations that you have. Otherwise, you may just find yourself disappointed in yourself despite some incredibly accomplishments that you have made.
R - Relevant
The "R" stands for "relevant." Make goals that you care about and that will shape your life into what you want it to be. If you feel that you are healthy and your doctor agrees, then don't make a goal to lose weight because your friends are starting some new crazy diet. Instead focus on what you care about. This is where you really get to dig inwards and find what drives you. Do you want to be healthier so you can keep up with your kids? Do you want to make some changes to stop having the stress of living paycheck to paycheck? Do you want to educate yourself about a specific topic?
Find what drives you and what things you want to change. This is also a good place to mention control. There is no point in making goals that you can't control. You have no real control over the actions of other people. For example, a goal like, "I want to be in a serious relationship by this time next year" will be very difficult to keep, since you only control half of that equation. However, it's easy to adjust your aim to items that you can control. Continuing with the relationship example, you could make a goal to introduce yourself to a certain number of new people, or to make changes to help attract the kind of person you want to be with.
Make goals that have meaning to you and that you have control over.
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T - Time Bound
Finally, we reach the all important "T," which stands for "time bound." A goal is useless if it doesn't have a start and ending date or time. It could be as simple as wanting to get the house clean in one hour, or something more long-term like earning a promotion at work in the next two years. If you don't have a set time frame you could be "losing weight" for the next 30 years. You need to have a set deadline where you can evaluate your progress and measure if you have accomplished your goal or if the goal needs refining.
Putting it all Together
Now that you understand what is involved in each component, let's revisit the weight loss example to put it all back together. We need our goal to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. A great example would be, "I want to lose one pound every week for the next 15 weeks starting on Monday." This goal is very specific and gives a weekly measurement to track progress by. It very attainable according to most weight-loss guidelines, it is relevant, and has a specific time frame.
Big Goals vs. Little Goals
When you are making goals, you will surely find some long-term goal that will take months or years to accomplish. These kinds of goals can very easily become lost or forgotten, and they can often be abstract in nature. The key to accomplishing these types of goals is to split them into smaller chunks that the SMART framework can be applied to. The goal to lose weight could be split into smaller, more specific goals relating to eating and exercising. A goal to increase one's confidence or self-esteem can be broken down into smaller goals to meet new people, speak in front of an audience, etc. By small and simple things, great things are brought to pass. You can accomplish dreams a little at a time with a little bit of planning. Work on your SMART goals for a time, think back about how much progress you have made and you amaze yourself.