“The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach.” —Benjamin E. Mays
You have likely heard of setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals. In addition to those criteria, research in positive psychology and goal-setting has identified some other guidelines to help us create goals that will increase the positive effect of goal-setting. These are SMART+Plus goals.
According to www.statisticbrain.com, 45% of Americans “always” make New Year’s resolutions and another 17% “occasionally” make them. How many people successfully achieve their resolutions? Eight per-cent!
The statistics also show that “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” So go ahead – make a resolution, or as we also call them, a goal. Then consider that some studies show that people are 22% more likely to complete a goal when it is written down. Here are some guidelines to help define your goals to (1) make it far more likely that you’ll achieve them, and (2) boost your positivity in the process.
Set SMART Goals
The starting point is to set SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
Specific: State in concrete detail what you are going to achieve. To “lose weight”, “save more money”, “spend time with family”, or “be better organized” are not specific goals. Say exactly what you want. “I weigh 140 pounds.” “I save $100 each month.” “I have dinner with my family at least 5 nights per week.” “I write all my appointments and commitments on 1 calendar.” These are specific goals.
What specifically do you want to achieve this year?
Measurable: State the parameters of your goal — how will you know when you’ve achieved it? “I do 20 push ups every day.” “I save $100 each month.” “I spend 10 minutes clearing my desk each afternoon.”
How will you measure your goal?
Attainable: Will you be able to reach your goal in the next year? Almost any goal you set for yourself is attainable over time, but for our purposes, we want a goal you can meet in 1 year or less. At the same time, you want your goal to make you stretch and help you grow, so don’t make it too easy.
“A” can also stand for action-oriented. A goal requires you to do something. “To be a better person” is a nice sentiment, but it isn’t a goal. What specifically will you do to become “a better person”?
Is your goal attainable within the next year? What actions will you take to reach it?
Realistic: Is your goal something you are willing and able to do? To lose 100 pounds in a month is not realistic for most people. For someone mired in debt to save a million dollars in 1 year is not realistic for most people. However, a realistic goal is frequently in the eye of the beholder. What would seem unrealistic for some might be completely realistic for you. Don’t use this measure to set false limits on yourself.
“R” may also stand for results-oriented. More about this later.
Is your goal something you are both willing and able to do?
Time-bound: Set a deadline for your goal. “A goal is a dream with a deadline,” said Napoleon Hill. Conversely, a goal without a deadline is just a dream. For the purposes of our discussion, you already have one deadline – we are looking at a goal you will achieve this year. However, you could make it sooner. When you complete this goal, start on your next one. What if you don’t achieve your goal by the deadline you’ve set? Simple — set another deadline.
What is the deadline – month and day – that you plan to complete your goal?
Add the +Plus
Research in Positive Psychology has identified other criteria for creating goals such that you increase positive thoughts and emotions about your goals. These include goal orientation, goal content and goal motivation.
Goal Orientation: Choose Approach goals — a goal working toward a positive outcome — over avoidant goals — a goal avoiding a negative outcome. Approach goals promote well-being; avoidant goals can detract from happiness. Sometimes, simply restating your goal in a positive direction changes the orientation. Consider the avoidant goal: “I will stop smoking” vs. the approach goal: “I am a healthy non-smoker.”
Goal Motivation: Choose Intrinsic goals — goals that relate to your true internal needs and desires over Extrinsic goals — goals we choose because we think society or some other person wants us to. Intrinsic goals are inherently satisfying and lead to a larger payoff in terms of happiness; extrinsic goals have been shown to be frequently accompanied by anxiety and interpersonal problems.
Goal Content: Goals related to intimacy, spirituality, and generativity (a concern for promoting the well-being of future generations) lead to happiness. Power themed goals – a bigger house, bigger car, promotion at work, more money – do not. This isn’t to say you should not have those types of goals, but be aware that they often detract from happiness, rather than enhance it.
Check your goal against these 3 criteria. Is it oriented toward a positive outcome? Will pursuing the goal add to your feelings of well-being or bring stress and anxiety? Are you pursuing this goal because you want it or because you think someone else wants it for you?
You are almost ready to write out your 1st goal for the year! And studies show you must write it down if you want to improve your chances of achieving it. One final thing to consider — should you have a “performance” goal or an “outcome” goal?
Performance vs. Outcome
Suppose your objective is to win a tennis championship. If you want to win a tennis championship, you have to win matches. If you want to win a match, you have to win sets. If you want to win a set, you have to win games. If you want to win a game, you have to win points. If you want to win a point, you have to return serves. If you want to return a serve, you have to anticipate where the ball will be, and go there. If you want to win a tennis championship, don’t worry about winning matches, sets, games or points. Concentrate, focus, and practice on being where the ball is going to be.
Or suppose you want to lose 50 pounds. You can’t actually do “lose weight”. You can track what you eat. You can limit sugar and junk foods and choose more nutritionally dense foods. You can increase your activity. So should your goal be to weigh less or to do more of the activities that lead to weight loss?
There are two schools of thought on this. One suggests that goals should be results focused; that they should “measure outcomes, not activities”. (1)
However, as my examples suggest, you have little or no control over outcomes. But you can break a desired outcome into the steps you must perform that will likely lead to a successful outcome. This gives you a number of “mini-goals” that you could combine in a goal statement. Performance goals are measurable, so you know what you must do and you know when you’ve done it. This leads to a greater sense of internal control and improved self-confidence. Additionally, while you may not achieve the desired outcome, you can feel successful at having met the performance goals. (2)
Now it’s your turn. Choose whether you want an outcome goal or performance goal. State your goal in terms of the SMART criteria, than make it a SMART+Plus goal by checking the content, orientation and motivation. Then — and this is of high importance — write it down. Now, you have an Excelerated goal. That is embracing the Excelerated Life!
Excelerated goal setting — planning and achieving big goals — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
1. “Writing S.M.A.R.T Goals,” 9 Jan. 2016 <http://www.hr.virginia.edu/uploads/documents/media/Writing_SMART_Goals.pdf>
2. “Goal Setting,” 9 Jan. 2016 <http://smscsqlx.sasktelwebhosting.com/services/mental/goalsetting.pdf>