Setting goals involves far more than pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. Obviously, I could set a million goals, all of which are stated reasonably, and none of which have even the remotest possibility of ever coming to fruition.
Consider the following list of possible goals:
- “I am going to win the MegaMillions jackpot–but only after it tops $300 million!”
- “I am going to pilot the Space Shuttle!”
- “I am going to become a world-famous chef!”
- “I am going to run the Boston Marathon!”
Now, certainly, there are people who are actually going to do, or have already done, each of those things. However, even though the goals are completely legitimate for some, how will you know if they are good choices for you?
There is a process that can help you do just that. You may have even heard about it before. It’s called “SMART” goal setting, and the name itself is the process you go through in setting your goals
Choosing a SMART goal means choosing a goal that follows these five key criteria:
T: Time-bound (I call it “Timely”)
Let’s break down one of the four goals listed above, and see how well it fits our criteria.
“”I am going to win the MegaMillions jackpot–but only after it tops $300 million!”
Specific: Well, yes, it’s definitely a specific goal. The goal states the intended target of winning the MegaMillions jackpot. It also gives a specific limit, of only winning after the jackpot has gone over $300 million. So far, so good.
Measurable: This is also definitely a measurable goal. There is something you can show for it–your pictures in the newspaper, the burgeoning size of your bank account, and the dramatic increase in written financial appeals from every charity known to man residing in your mailbox.
Attainable: Here’s where the goal gets interesting. Generally, a goal is attainable if it is something you can work toward. Winning the MegaMillions jackpot isn’t necessarily an attainable goal because, other than spending an inordinate amount of money on weekly tickets, there isn’t much you can do to increase your chances of winning. Running the Boston Marathon, by comparison, involves a specific series of steps–training your body for the rigors of running, then training some more to be able to run a mile. As your strength and cardiovascular fitness increase, your running distances and speeds increase as well. Then you have two options–qualifying on your own merits, or running as part of a charitable group. Running the Boston Marathon is definitely something you can work toward. Winning a massive game of chance, with odds so high that you’re nine times more likely to be struck by lightning–twice? Not so much.
Realistic: Your goal not only has to be realistic, but it has to be realistic for you. Are there people who will say, “I’m going to win the MegaMillions”, then actually go out and do it? Certainly. However, if there are no steps you can take to improve your chances of winning, it isn’t very realistic. Even running Boston based on qualifying times may not be realistic for you, but altering your goal–running it in a couple of years, perhaps, or running for charity–will make it more realistic and do-able.
Timely: A SMART goal has to have a time frame, and an endpoint. “I’m going to win the MegaMillions jackpot!” isn’t a time-based goal. Aside from the fact that you have no timely steps you can take to get there, there is also no end date in sight. Without a timeline, the goal becomes more a matter of “wishful thinking”. Running Boston, by comparison, is definitely a timely goal. There are specific training regimens available to help you prepare, and there are specific milestone dates that must be reached–race registration and the day of the run itself are the two biggest.
Yesterday, I explained my family’s shared goal of running the Disney Princess Half Marathon at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida on February 24, 2013.
Is this a SMART goal? I’ll walk you through my process, and we can determine whether it is a good goal for me.
Specific: Yes. It is a specific race, on a specific date, in a specific location. There is no doubt about what my final goal is.
Measurable: Yes. It can be measured in race photos, finishing times posted online, and a finisher’s medal. These are all concrete and provable. There will be no doubt whether I do, in fact, cross the finish line of the specific race, on the specific date, in the specific location.
Attainable: Yes. It is definitely attainable. This is not an unknown, untried goal–I know that I am able to follow the training regimen to complete a half marathon, because I have done it before. I have run three half marathons officially, and have photos and finishing times online to prove it.
Realistic: This goes right along with “attainable” because my past history of three official half marathons prove that it is a realistic goal for me. It’s also realistic because my longest run to date is a 20-miler. I also know that, while working up to that 20-mile run, I ran umpteen “unofficial” half marathons–sometimes out in town, and sometimes in my basement on the treadmill. 13.1 miles? Been there, done that. I can do it again.
Timely: Not only is there an end date–February 24, 2013–but the process itself is timely. If I were running consistently, let’s say 3 miles per run, 3 times a week, I know that I could follow one of the many 12-week training plans online at RunnersWorld.com or Active.com, to name just two. I’ve even written an article on how to become a faster runner for LiveSTRONG.com! However, since I’m currently walking, but not running, I need to work up to that 3 miles per run, 3 times per week goal. I have 45 weeks to get to Disney–and I know that’s plenty of time, even if I were a total couch potato, to get myself physically trained to meet my goal.
Running the Disney Princess Half Marathon is a good goal for me. It works–now I just have to do the hardest part:
I actually have to work toward my goal.
Take one of your goals, and apply it to the SMART criteria. It will help you decide whether your goal is a good one for you. If it isn’t, you will want to revise your goal, or risk it becoming just a pie-in-the-sky, wishful thought.
Can you reach your goals? Certainly. If they are SMART ones–Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (for you), and Timely.
So what are you waiting for? Get going–you have a goal to work toward!