Setting “S.M.A.R.T.” Goals

posted June 7th, 2011 by John B.

In life you will find a great number of people (all walks of life, gender, and ages) who give up at the first “tough” hurdle in life. By the time they hit the second hurdle they’ll hate life and everybody at that point. Some may never want to attempt to try and get over the third hurdle. Where would we be if that were everybody? I’m no different, but I have learned the following strategy to deal with many hurdles that life has to offer. Abraham Lincoln (one of my true Heros) had a distinct learning disability (back then they just called him a “slow” learner), but he read many, many books and later became a lawyer , which later helped himto become the President of the United States. Albert Einstein (another one of my Heros) was considered un-teachable during his upbringing and he was one of the best minds of our time. The examples go on and on. Every story I hear like these have a common theme to them. They think or worked “smarter” and not harder in life. Working hard has its place.

You too can work & live SMARTer and not harder. Here is what I mean. If you have a goal to achieve, the way to get there is to picture the end in your minds eye, what exactly that goal is. Work backwards incrementally in time to the current day by filling in smaller goals that achieve the bigger goal. This technique is used by fitness trainers, business planners, education counselors, and in life is SMART goal setting. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. There are many other variations to SMART (small, meaningful, accountable, real, and true), but the whole concept is to get started in the right direction and the best time to start was, in fact, yesterday.

Be specific in the goal you are setting. Graduating college is a good example, because most major universities already have a class schedule (goal path) requirement set up to achieve a college degree. Some other goals are not so straight forward like starting a business, sky diving, SCUBA diving, what fitness program to start, and many more. Some goals are just too specific in nature that the goal itself is unattainable. Being the first American to be a British Prime Minister is not a goal to set when it doesn’t exist. Be specific for your life goal, but it must be real and achievable innature.

Take small measurable steps towards your goal. If you wanted to become a California Highway Patrol Officer, you can find out what is expected of you to become a CHP Officer and what the job really entails. Interviewing a current CHP Officer may be very informative and beneficial step, where as getting arrested over and over is not. Checking out the CHP website, getting fit for the academy, and reading all you can on highway patrol would be great steps. Just as long as these steps get you closer to your goal in a productive way, when they are valuable. Now, interviewing 100 CHP Officers for information, running for 8 hours a day to get fit, or camping out at the police academy are motivating, but are not going to accomplish the goal in a reasonable amount of time. Interviewing CHP Officers lets you know what the job is really like and if it is still a goal you want to achieve. Visiting the website will inform you on what is expected of you at the academy and you can work backwards from the academy start date and begin your fitness training. Reading up on California laws or the testing process may be very beneficial to your goal. All of theses are measurable steps that can be taken to achieve your final bigger goal.

The goal has to be achievable. A 50 year old, out of shape, man wanting to become a New York Fire Fighter while living in Oregon is not achievable. What is achievable is volunteering at the local fire department. Moving to New York and volunteering at that specific fire department is achievable. Many careers have an age limit, but there are many life goals that do not. I hear many individuals say, “If I only stayed in school I’d have my college degree by now.” This statement was from a 28 year old mail clerk at my company.

While talking to him I asked him if he knew the company offered a tuition assistance program for employees. He said, “No.” I asked him if he realized that if he started now he could possible be done before he was 30 years old. He said, “No.” I asked him if he knew that some colleges would also give him credit for skills he learned at work. He said “No.” As this conversation went on and on I could see the barriers that he had set in his life start to disappear or dissipate before his very eyes. I also asked him if he knew he could CLEP test out of taking some classes and save him time and money. He said, “No.” So, then I asked him what is really holding him back from getting an education besides not taking advantage of what can be offered to him. He then said, “Nothing.”

Todd has since gone on to complete his college degree. Later when I talked to him, he said he should have started his education long ago. He and I have come to the conclusion that the best time to start your education is always yesterday. My co-worker had the goal of getting a college degree, but never took the time to break the steps down into achievable real tangible items. The goal of getting a college degree is one of the most achievable goals for most to accomplish, but most view this goal as such a hardship that they never even take the first step to getting a degree.

The goal has to be realistic. Every year people make their New Years resolutions to get fit. That is a great goal to have, but that goal is where most people stop. Some even go out and join a gym in January. That is also a great start. People start to loose weight and feel good about their self image, and then February comes along with Valentines Day. Sweets take over and most quit their fitness resolution and resolve to never go to the gym again. Even if the membership was for 1, 2, or even a 3 years committed. First and foremost fitness is a lifestyle! It doesn’t come easy. Eating the right things and in the right amount takes discipline. Working out and exercising can start off as torture but can be addicting too.

Every goal you set, big or small should be realistic in your mind. Many people see joining the military as unrealistic, when in fact thousands of Americans (of various ages, sex, and races) do it every year. A very good friend of mine said that she would never be able to run a mile in her life. She said that only if she was being chased by a wild animal would she ever run. Years later a friend of hers at church got her into a women’s walking group and she discovered she was really good at it. She started off with a mile, three miles, five miles, and more. She became faster and then got into jogging the distances. Then her competitive streak started to show. The distances increased from five miles to now half marathons (13.1 miles). She is also finishing first in many of her practice runs. Along the way she saw that what she had labeled as unrealistic was just a perception of unrealistic. The goals she set for herself where more then she could have ever imagined earlier in her life. Last I heard, she had since signed up for the local full marathon (26.2 Miles). A perfect example of achieving little goals to go above and beyond what you think you are personally capable of.

All military boot camps pull that same feeling out of all those who finish boot camp. If you ever get to talk to a recent graduate of boot camp (any service) you will get a feeling that there is nothing that they cannot do. Everybody has that same opportunity in front of them, but choose not to undertake the first step in that process. The secret is that the first step into the unknown is the hardest (and easiest) to take. Give it a try.

The goals you set should be timely according to your needs. This is easy to do. Pick a time when you want to finally accomplish your goal and systematically work backwards. You have to fill in as small steps that will get you to that goal. You will then find out if your goal has to be moved back or can be completed earlier then you thought. Motivation and spare time are usually big factors in this process. If you choose to go to back to school you may choose to take one class at a time or four classes at a time. Taking one class at a time would allow you to concentrate on the single class, with your full attention. Giveing you free time for the rest of what life has to offer. Where taking four classes at a time will allow you to graduate faster and may lead to getting a better career faster. Both strategies use the SMART technique in different ways, but accomplish the same thing.

So, don’t give up at the first hurdle. Educate yourself on how to accomplish your goals in little steps and then the hurdles become an opportunity to test yourself. There will always be people out there ready to talk you out of accomplishing your goals and distract you from your steps. Just remind yourself how well that strategy has been working for them. Believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything.

John-

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