Crafting Your Identity Part VI: How to write goals that work
Whether it's the act of clarifying what you want or giving yourself clear direction, I'm not sure, but it's scientifically proven that those who write down their goals actually find themselves accomplishing them. It stands to reason that those who do not set goals don't meet their goals since... y'know... there are none. The purpose of this article is to give you a framework for HOW to write goals.
You may have heard of the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting method. It's widely popular among efficiency experts and life coaches because it truly does give the goal-setter a set-by-step process to help them create goals that are achievable. One of the biggest problems with setting goals is that they are too vague. For example, if your goal is to "write a book," you give yourself a lot of wiggle room to justify not achieving that goal.
"I can start the book tomorrow."
"I never said I would finish it by the end of this year."
"Thirty pages could be considered a small book... right?"
While there are some flaws with the S.M.A.R.T. goals method (which I'll address), it is a wonderful course of action for those who haven't had a lot of practice in goal-setting before. Sometimes you just need an "Intro to Goal-Setting" course which is what I hope this will be for you.
Unspecific goals like "get fit" are pretty much useless. There's no direction whatsoever except "fit" and since "fit" is such a relative word, it's gives way to indecisiveness driven by confusion. Instead, set goals that give you a clear sense of direction such as "run a half-marathon." It gives you a specific agenda and something to work on: running.
Goals that aren't measurable are easily under-cut, ignored, and generally not taken seriously. A goal such as "run more" isn't measurable - if you ran to the mailbox this week, have you accomplished your goal? When it's blazing hot outside and your favorite TV show is on, it would be easy to convince yourself that you have. Creating measurable goals such as "run a half-marathon" gives you a criteria by which you can judge your success: 13.1094 miles.
Sometimes we set goals that aren't actionable - such as "fitness." What does that mean? It gives you very little basis for action. If, instead, you started your goal off with an action verb - something that prompted action - you would give yourself a very clear set of instructions. "run every day."
For the dreamers out there, this one could feel limiting. And sometimes it is. It's difficult to bind your dreams by realistic standards because you never know what sort of opportunities might arise. If something incredible does come along, don't limit yourself to your goal - take it further! But if you have a realistic goal in the beginning, at least you have a finish line that you can see which gives you a focal point when things get tough. For the guy who has asthma, becoming an ultra-endurance runner might be a little unrealistic. Don't give yourself false hope - rather, give yourself something that your hope can cling to because it is big enough to require effort and perseverance but not so big that it's out of reach. Maybe a half-marathon would be doable.
This is the key to goal-setting. When we don't have a deadline or at least some sort of time frame for our goal, it's easy for us to justify putting off working toward our goal. But when we're on a schedule or have a deadline, mentally we can understand what we have to do. "Run a half-marathon" is specific (half-marathon), measurable (13.1094 miles), actionable (run) and realistic (assuming you're able to train). But if you set it when you're 20, you could easily put it off until your 40. Binding your goals by time means giving yourself a pace. "Run a half-marathon by my 21st birthday" gives you a hard and fast deadline that allows you to set a training schedule and plan in advance which half-marathon you're going to run.
Here are a few keys to working through S.M.A.R.T. goals:
Write them down
I can't stress this enough. The act of writing down your goals goes a long way toward pushing you to see them realized. Maybe it's just a mental game but it works.
I hate that goal setting has a negative connotation. It seems like fewer and fewer people are up for writing down New Years Resolutions anymore. They have become so averted to it that it almost disgusts them. I think part of the trend is because people find themselves failing in their resolutions less than a month in. Totally understandable. Why set goals if you're going to fail before you really get started? But if you know how to write goals with the long-term in mind, you might just enjoy the process. Allow yourself to dream a little! "Realistic" means it's possible not lame. If a goal is doable at all, have some fun with it! Set goals to use up all of your vacation time this year - if that one comes true, you'll love it!
Don't be afraid to adapt
Adapting your goals to your life isn't failing. If a new opportunity or unexpected hardship arises, don't feel like you're failing by changing up your goals. The pressure is off. Do what you can to achieve your goals but don't stick with something when it would be unwise or untrue to your personal brand.
Here are some of my goals:
- Write a 50,000-word book by December 31, 2015 (the end of the year)
- Average 10,000 blog readers per month by May 5, 2016 (the blog's 2-year anniversary) Sharing is the only way this site will grow - a quick Tweet from you would be much appreciated and bring you good favor (from me). Look, I've already written one up for you!
- Own a home with no debt/mortgage by March 22, 2017 (my 25th birthday)
Give it a shot! Start with something small with a 2 to 6 month deadline. See if creating a specific, actionable goal helps you carry through. To help you out, I've put together a printable PDF to walk you through setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.
I love hearing from y'all - shoot me a Tweet or an email and let me know what you've decided to conquer. Good luck!