We set ourselves goals all of the time, from the short-term kind to the long-term type, there is no avoiding them. They serve a great purpose in life; they can motivate and inspire us to achieve great things, to become better people, to reach our full potential.
But, then there’s the flip side.
How many times have you set yourself a goal, only to later give up on it when the sheer reality of it becomes overwhelming? Me too! This overwhelm occurs because the things we’re going after appear too complex, too big, too scary, too different to the comfort zone that we’re used to.
What we need is a way to break the goal down, to make it less complex, smaller, less scary, closer to our comfort zone.
This ancient Chinese saying sums it up perfectly: To be able to reach our goals, we must take a first step… and then keep on stepping. Or in other words, we need to break our journey down into single steps to focus on, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the 1000 miles ahead.
So, my lovely reader, I’m here to show you how to get SMART.
I first stumbled upon this life-changing acronym during my teacher training, and it’s a weapon that I’ve kept in my armoury ever since. It’s a really useful tool for approaching any goal, no matter how big or small, and can easily be applied to your day-to-day life once you understand the principles of it.
You could think of it as writing a recipe for making your dreams come true. Just like a recipe, you will know what you’re making, you will have a list of all of the items that you need to begin and most importantly, you will have a clear, simple, step by step guide to making your final product.
So what does being SMART mean?
S is for Specific:
What are your goals today? This month? This year? The next 5 years? Get through the to do list? Get fit? Drink less? Loose weight? Travel? Be smarter? Be more confident? Own a property? Find love? Get a new hobby?
Let me stop you there! These are all waaaaaaaaaay too ambiguous.
Each step towards your goal MUST be specific. Take some time to consider what your goal really means to you. Put some thought in to the What, Why, Where, When, Who and How of it. What items do you want to scrub off of your to do list the most? Do you want to be able to run 5k in one go? How much alcohol do you feel is acceptable to drink in a week? How much weight do you want to loose? Where and how do you want to travel? What do you want to learn about? What does being confident really look and feel like for you? What kind of property do you want to own? What are you looking for in a partner? What hobby do you want to try?
Really get into the detail of your goal, narrow it right down to make it clear and concise so that you have something very specific to aim for.
M is for Measurable:
You want to know that you’re making progress on your journey, don’t you? Being able to look back and see how far we’ve come can be a massive motivator and confidence boost when we’re trying to achieve something that feels as big as Mount Everest. That’s why each step of your journey should be measurable.
Ask yourself questions about each step to decide on your own measure of progress. Use measurable questions such as ‘How much?’, ‘How many?’, ‘How far?’, ‘How often?’. Ultimately you have to ask yourself , and decide upon an answer to, the question ‘when will I know that I’ve achieved that step on my journey?’
Another important aspect of this is to congratulate yourself every step of the way. Keep the momentum going, celebrate and appreciate your achievements.
A is for Achievable:
You have to be able to achieve your goals, or what is the point in setting them in the first place? That said, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t shoot for the moon. If you find that you don’t have the skills, knowledge, resources, time, energy or money to reach your goal, but it is something that you know you definitely want to achieve, get creative. Do some more planning, add in more small steps to your scheme which help you gather the elements that you need to progress.
R is for Realistic:
I can’t stress enough how important it is that each step of your journey is Realistic. You wouldn’t try to swallow a whole, family-sized pie in one go, would you? (If you can do that, you belong in the Guinness Book of World Records, by the way!) No, you would cut it up into bite-sized chunks that you can manageably chew, and hopefully enjoy. And you have to approach your goals in the same fashion.
Be brutally honest with yourself about what you can realistically manage on a consistent basis. When we over estimate what we can achieve in one step, we only set ourselves up to fail. It’s better to have one hundred tiny, but realistic and manageable steps that you can easily follow and achieve, than 10 giant leaps that you won’t be able to stick to and that will only serve to throw you off course.
Break your end goal right down. Focus on one item at a time from your to do list. Start by walking a prolonged distance. Swap one glass of wine for a soft drink. Cut out that daily bar of chocolate for your first 1lb of weight loss. Choose your travel destination and start compiling a list of useful websites. Research courses in your area for the thing you want to learn. Find places to get information about developing confidence. Figure out how you can cut back on your expenses in order to start saving up for a deposit. Join a dating site. Research what equipment you will need for your new hobby.
Just one realistic step at a time, that’s all you need to take.
T is for Timely:
Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. I don’t know about you, but I certainly work better under a little bit of pressure or with a deadline in mind. This is why adding a timescale to each of your steps can be really useful. When adding your timings to your plan, consider the following: When do you want to achieve this step by? How long is it realistically going to take you?
Not only can a time frame give you that little bit of motivation to actually act on each step, it can provide a break point to aim for, a place where you can stop and reflect upon what you’ve achieved so far. Bear in mind that your time scale should also be specific, measurable, achievable and realistic, otherwise, once again you’re going to set yourself up to fail.
Setting yourself targets with these 5 words in mind will revolutionise the way you approach your goals from here on in. Give it a go for yourself!
This is also a useful approach for anyone who is struggling with the day-to-day stuff right now.
Mental health issues can really make the simple things feel just as huge as a life-long goal, I know. I’ve been there myself. But getting SMART with your day can make a massive difference when you find yourself in that negative place. Why not make a plan for those bad days? Break the day (or the situation that triggers you) down into small, simple, SMART steps to help you through.
The steps could be as simple as ‘sit up’, ‘brush your teeth’, ‘walk to the end of the street’… what ever it is that you know you need when you’re in that scary space, allow yourself to have it. Give yourself a simple set of instructions that you know you’ll be able to follow, even if you only follow one of them, that’s progress, right?
You can achieve anything that you put your mind to.