So, it’s that time of year again – New Year’s resolutions. I used to start every year with the same goals – get fit, eat healthy foods, be better organised… And guess what? Like 99.9% of people who make resolutions, I failed. Miserably. Why? Because they weren’t SMART resolutions.
I had heard of the SMART way of setting goals while working in retail many years ago, but it meant nothing to me at the time. If I’d listened a bit more back then, I might not have wasted so much potential in the interim.
So how can you achieve pretty much anything you set your mind to?
You set SMART goals. That is, goals that are:
Let’s take the example of getting fit, which is one of the most popular resolutions people make every year. Does it fit the SMART criteria?
Is it specific?
Uh oh, a stumble at the first hurdle. Being “fit” means different things to different people, but I think it’s safe to say it will involve some form of exercise. How much? And what type? “Fit” to one person might mean being able to run a 5k race, but “fit” to an overweight chain-smoker might mean being able to climb a flight of stairs without gasping for breath.
Do you consider a yoga practitioner fit? Or someone who runs a marathon once a year? Or does your idea of “fit” involve bulging biceps? Figure out what “fit” means to you. Maybe it’s something as simple as being able to keep up with your kids.
Get specific about what you want.
Is it measureable?
Leading on from the above, how do you measure fitness? There is always room for improvement, so you need to define the point at which you will consider yourself fit. Is it when you can complete a series of yoga positions with ease? Is it when you can swim 50 laps of the pool without stopping?
Set a tangible target that, when hit, will tell you that you’ve reached your goal.
Is it achievable?
There’s no point giving yourself a goal of running a marathon if you’ve barely been off the couch. It’s OK to be positive and to set your sights a little higher than before, but it also needs to be well within the realms of possibility. A 5k race is much more achievable, while still stretching your abilities. Once that’s done, set your sights on a 10k. Once you’ve mastered that with relative ease, then perhaps consider a marathon.
If you’re unsure if something is achievable, set yourself a smaller goal and then build on it.
Is it realistic?
Let’s say you want to get fit in order to climb Mount Everest. Sure, that’s quite specific, and yes, if you plant a flag on the peak, that’s a pretty good measurable indicator. It’s even an achievable goal, in theory. But is it realistic? You might start out climbing hills, and then increase the altitudes, but this goal will require a lot more than “getting fit”; This goal will require a lot of time and a LOT of money.
Climbing the local mountain range on weekends is one thing – taking several weeks off from work and family, and buying expensive equipment and airplane tickets is quite another.
Examine what exactly is involved, and be honest with yourself.
Is it timely?
That is, is it measurable in time? This is a very important one. Your goal to get fit might meet all of the above criteria, but unless you set a time frame, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Without a deadline, a goal is merely a wish. You might wish you could run a 5k race, but until you challenge yourself to run it within the next 10 weeks, your chances of actual completion are slim. You’ll always be working on it, but never be able to check it off your list.
Similarly, a deadline that’s far into the future may as well be no deadline at all. Do you think that if I tell myself I’ll be able to do 100 sit-ups by the end of the year that I’m going to make any progress at all for the first 11 months? Giving myself 4 weeks, however, will help to focus my mind a lot more and give me something concrete to work towards.
Some things will require one deadline and that’s it. For instance, you might have “run a marathon” on your bucket list, but have no desire to maintain that level of fitness after you’ve completed it, and that’s totally fine.
But some things aren’t just about deadlines, or one single point in time. I might push myself to the limits on deadline day and just barely manage 100 sit-ups. Does that mean I’m now “fit”? Of course not. What most people mean when they say they want to get fit is that they want to reach a certain level of fitness, and then either stay there or continue to improve gradually. They want to be able to do 100 sit-ups 3 times a week, or swim 50 laps of the pool once a week, or run a marathon once a year…
Set yourself a deadline and, if necessary, a way of tracking your progress over time.
Example of a pre-SMART resolution: get fit.
Example of a post-SMART resolution: complete a beginners yoga class within 10 weeks, and then practice yoga for 10 minutes at least twice a week.
Specific (yoga practitioner), Measurable (class completed and twice weekly sessions), Achievable (beginners level), Realistic (one course, and short sessions thereafter), and Timely (10 weeks initially, then weekly goals).
Now it’s your turn. Have you made some resolutions? Examine each in turn and see if they meet the SMART criteria.
Comment below and let me know what your resolutions look like pre-and post-SMART.