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SMART goals are the darlings of the behavioral health industry. Insurers have decided providers must use them to concoct plans for everyone who comes in for help. But they can work for you too with some common-sense tweaks. Try them on your New Year’s resolutions.
The ABCs of SMART Goals
S for Specific: Show details of who, what, when, where, and how. Name the skills you want to learn. Tell what method you will use to make the change.
M for Measurable: Helps you know when you’ve reached your goal. Tell how many times out of how many tries is a reasonable quitting point. Like, 5 out of 7 times I did my daily workout.
A for Attainable: Make a goal you can reach. Don’t shoot for the Moon. You’re not NASA. If you’re just starting to exercise, it’s OK to set the bar low to get used to it first. Just make another goal when this one’s done.
R for Realistic: Be fair with yourself. Is this something humanly possible for most people in similar circumstances? For
example, if you’re older and not in top shape, maybe a marathon is not for you this year.
T for Time-limited: How long will you give yourself to achieve your goal? You don’t want to take too long; that way you
risk goofing off and not working on it. Too short and
you can’t get all you need to do done. Give yourself a
reasonable deadline and take it seriously.
Just to be clear, the goals I’m talking about are behavioral goals. These are goals that change what you do, extinguish bad habits and create good ones. So if your goal is to get rich, choose a behavior to change to make the money come. You could set a goal to study business in college for four years if you think you want to work on Wall Street.
How to make a goal
To make a goal that’s worth your trouble, start with a problem you want to solve. How about the couch potato that wants to get in shape? So the problem is I’m an out-of-shape couch potato and I know that because I can’t carry groceries up the stairs without huffing and puffing.
A goal is a problem turned upside down. My goal would be to get in shape so that I can carry a reasonable load up the stairs without huffing and puffing. And I think I could do that in six months so we’ll say that. I will get in better shape so that six months from now I can carry 20 pounds up the stairs without huffing and puffing.
Break it down
That’s a great goal, but it doesn’t tell me how I’m going to get there. The secret is baby steps. We have six months to play with so why not use them?
My first step would be to add one fifteen-minute aerobic exercise a week to my life. If I can do that in two weeks, I can add fifteen minutes a week of weight training. In two weeks I might be ready for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a week and then in another two, double the weight work. And so on till you get up to 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week and holding.
In this example I am reviewing my steps every two weeks. Your progress might be better reviewed monthly. Whatever you decide, stick to your review schedule like glue so you know where you are and how far you’ve come.
This could easily be done by a dedicated couch potato who really wants to be able to keep doing simple things, without incurring injury on the way.
Use the free SMART Goals Tracking Sheets I’ve made for you. Just sign up here!
What to do if your plan doesn’t work
If you have your problem, your goal, and your steps laid out and suddenly you get stuck on a step, it’s OK. Just take a few minutes when you are reviewing your progress and decide how to make this step work better.
If you had a step saying you would increase your aerobics to 30 minute a week but suddenly had a knee problem, you would need to factor that into your review day evaluation. To progress you might have to change your aerobic activity to something that doesn’t tax your knees, like swimming. You may have to accept that you can’t work on this till it’s been checked out by your doctor. Just modify your steps to reflect your new reality, but keep on doing what you can do.
Just for fun, you can look at this post, The Best Laid Plans Meet Life’s Problems, and find the goals and steps in it. You can use SMART goals for many problems, providing you are willing to take steps to reach your desired solution.
Key points to remember
First, define your problem. Include why it is a problem for you.
Turn your problem upside down and tell how you will know when you have solved it. There’s your goal.
Break it down into small, time-limited steps and when you have those nailed, take more little steps till you reach your goal.
Review regularly and modify steps when life gets in the way, but never give up!
Other helpful tips
Make yourself accountable somehow. Post your progress on the fridge, recruit a friend to do it with you, tell Facebook or whatever you have to do. Don’t let it slide.
Be sure to review faithfully according to your plan. That way you can enjoy the progress you are making and nip in the bud any difficulties that come up.
You can work on more than one goal at a time. Two or three are probably enough to keep anyone busy though. Don’t overcommit. String them out instead to get the results you deserve.
Change is hard work
As you can see, SMART goals take some tracking. Grab some of these tracking sheets so you can make and track your goals easily. They keep all your goal information in one place so you can see how you’re coming with the changes you’re making. Just sign up for the free PDF right here!