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Use SMART Goals To Reach Your Target

By Audrey Seymour

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If you find yourself falling short of your goals, it’s time to set aside the inner critic and examine how you frame the goals themselves.

One wonderful system I learned in my years as a software engineering manager that continues to be popular is the SMART goal system. A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

How specific are your goals? Notice the difference between “I’d like to make more money next year” and “I’d like to increase my consultant rates by 25% and enroll 5 new clients next quarter.” Goals serve as an organizing principle when you prioritize your time, and the more specific your goals are the clearer your choices will be.

Are your goals measurable? If not, how will you know whether you’ve met them or not? Measurement doesn’t have to be about numbers, since a goal could be attaining the quality of life described as "feeling caught up with myself" as opposed to "constantly on overwhelm." It’s important to choose a style of measurement that captures the essence and purpose of each goal. Many people make the mistake of framing their goals in a way that feels dry and limiting rather than supportive and inviting.

For example, in the case above one might decide that journaling on a weekly basis would bring the desired quality of life. The goal could be stated as “I spend an hour each week journaling” or “I fill three pages in my journal each week” or “I feel caught up with myself.” Listen for that spark of “Yes!” inside that indicates you’ve made a frame that inspires you.

It goes without saying that any goal you set needs to be actionable based on your own efforts and available resources. A goal of winning the lottery would not be in this category! At the same time, allow yourself a good stretch to a goal that might feel out of reach but not completely out of sight.

A goal is realistic when it fits smoothly into the larger picture of your life. Does this goal further your vision or would it be a distraction? Is it compatible with the other goals and time commitments in your life? Is it flexible enough to allow for the unexpected?

If the answer isn’t clear when you ask these questions, another good test of the realistic requirement is to notice how you feel when you state the goal out loud. Would your life feel more expanded and aligned, or would it feel more complicated and cumbersome? Is there excitement pushing up underneath any resistance, or does it get harder to breathe?

The time-bound aspect boils down to “by when” or “how often” or “over what time period.” A SMART goal is anchored in time so that it doesn't get lost in the face of competing demands. Yet it is important to design this aspect of a goal in balance with the other factors above and what you know about yourself.

Do you have a non-negotiable time deadline and a "million things to do" but feel overwhelmed and want to avoid the whole thing? Then it might be time to revisit what really needs to be done. If you had a broken leg and had no choice but to cut back, what would remain as the top priority? Explore where you could get some breathing room so that your health doesn't have to suffer before you scale back.

Perhaps you have an open-ended goal and find yourself unmotivated without the rush of a tight deadline. Reframe your goal by designing an accountability structure.

Ultimately, the best goals are nothing more than self-remembering tools which are dynamic and alive. As your outer actions integrate more directly with your deeper sense of purpose, it becomes easier to stay on track with a light touch no matter how much structure you may need.

© 2006-2011 Audrey Seymour. All rights reserved.