Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Upgrading SMART Goals

Some of my goals work. That is, they move smoothly from initial idea to completion. Others hang around forever because they get stuck in the process of moving from an idea to a result. 

1. A wish that things were different.  (Inspiration)
2. A commitment to seek a new outcome. (Motivation)
3. Changing behavior to pursue the goal. (Action)

When a goal gets stuck, it is stuck on step 2. There's nothing wrong with leaving an idea on a wish list, but until you are motivated to make a commitment you aren't  making progress on the goal. 

When goals work, they do so for several reasons. First, they clearly identify what we hope to achieve. Second, they tell us whether we are on track or not and whether we are making progress or not. More often than not, a goal that really succeeds does so because it has meaning for us. 

The Traditional SMART Goal

Over the years, I have learned and taught that goals should be SMART:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Time bound

While this is a good list of characteristics for goals, I think it can be better. 

My Revised SMART Goal

My current version looks like this:

S – Specific
M – Meaningful
A – Actionable
R – Realistic
T – Time bound

So, let's consider why I think the two changes I have made are important. 

Measurable vs. Meaningful

In his book *Drive*, Daniel pink distinguishes between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. He referenced the University of Rochester study which revealed that graduates who had Cole's focusing on meaning as opposed to external rewards generally ended up with happier, more successful lives. Rich and miserable is not my definition of success, and I hope it isn't yours. I am now looking at my goals in terms of the meaning that accomplishing them would have for me.

I still think there is value in quantifying goals and measuring the results. I still understand that what gets measured gets managed.  I still think it is important to talk about making goals measurable, but I think this can be done as a topic inside making them specific. if you tell me you're goal is to weigh 149 pounds, your goal is both specific and measurable. I have no problem with that. I just think you can cover that under the label "specific".

My next step, one the original acronym doesn't trigger, is to ask why this school has meaning for you. Anthony Robbins talk about giving yourself enough reasons to satisfy your goal. If your goal is to quit smoking, here are some reasons you might have:

. You want to save money on cigarettes.
. You realize it is a disgusting habit and you have trouble getting dates. 
. Your health, perhaps even your life, is at stake.

All of these reasons are plausible, and depending on your situation anyone of them may give you meaning. The point is that without thinking about meaning, you haven't really empowered your goal. That's why I suggest that you let the "M" in SMART stand for meaningful. 

Achievable vs. Actionable

In the GTD language I have adopted from David Allen's book *Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity*, goals are outcomes. You finish them by taking actions. I don't know how to do an achievement, but I can figure out how to do  an action. Every goal should have a corresponding list of things to do.

Well we are considering the list of SMART goals, can you tell me when something would be achievable but not realistic? I have always had the impression that somebody picked the acronym then went to find letters that would satisfy it. Why don't we just expand the scope of "realistic" and give ourselves room to make sure we are doing things to meet our goals?

Let's Get Real, Or Not

We ask if a SMART goal is realistic as a sanity check. At some point it makes sense to be certain the goal is realistic--unless that's the point. It is sometimes helpful to set a breakthrough goal, a goal that defies reality, or seems to. Somebody wins the Olympic medal, somebody solved the problem of powered flight, and somebody will be the first person on Mars. When it  comes to checking reality, give your project.the benefit of the doubt

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
— Henry David Thoreau

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