Thinking today about goals – specifically, what is a good goal to have? And how does one go about achieving the goal(s) you’ve set out for yourself? I’m sort of in this place right now where I’m pretty sure what I want, but have no idea the specific steps that I need to take in order to make it happen. Also, I’m not certain how much of the goal depends on my efforts, vs. other serendipitous events falling into place. So, it’s a bit of a conundrum. Blogs are good places to work out conundrums, and maybe by the end of this post, you’ll have a nugget or two of advice to give me.
First: what’s a good goal? There’s the well-known dictum about SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timeboxed (the terminology varies somewhat, but that’s a typical construction).
So let’s take my mystery goal and apply the SMART test.
Specific? Oh, very. I have it all laid out perfectly in my mind.
Measurable? Yes, any objective observer could determine if this goal was achieved or not.
Achievable? This is thornier. I mentioned that I didn’t know how much my efforts could actually contribute to success – it depends in large part on other people – some specific, some general.
Realistic? Again, I’m not quite sure. I hope – with every ounce of my being – that this goal is realistic, but there’s a lot that could go wrong, and I’m not privy to all of the information necessary to really know if this thing can be done.
Timeboxed? A big FAIL on this one. I have no idea what the best timeframe would be, and again, it depends on other people.
So, looking back over this analysis, how could I make sure the goal is realistic? Hm. I could start asking questions about those areas of which I’m currently ignorant. Sometimes, however, and with some people, that gets a little touchy, particularly if one is dealing with sensitive information. And I wonder – how important is it for a goal to be 100% realistic anyway? Some of humankind’s most remarkable achievements – climbing Mt. Everest, landing a man on the moon, the perfect World Series game – probably seemed unrealistic to most observers. The important part was that the participants believed they could do it.
Maybe the important part is either (a) absence of doubt on the part of the goal-setter, or (b) the absolute desire for the outcome. Or both.
Let’s move on to timeboxed. Could I set a date by which, without fail, I could achieve this goal, assuming all other parts came together? Thinking about it, I suppose I could. The rationale for this characteristic in the SMART system is to get your ass off the couch and start working toward the goal. I read a recent article in Newsweek magazine titled “Why We Procrastinate and How to Stop that describes the phenomenon of “psychological distance” the notion that vague/abstract tasks are easier to put off than specific/concrete tasks. This is at the root of the S and M in the SMART process, but the article also talks about you can also consider a timebox – “I will finish this task by 12:31 PM on Monday, May 25th” – as another way to get your task into the specific/concrete arena.
You’ll notice that throughout this post I haven’t mentioned what my goal was. Some of those close to me will be able to guess, but the point I’m trying to make is about goals in general. My next mental excursion may talk about how different types of goals – career, fitness, relationship, hobbies – may need to be treated differently than the classic SMART definition would have us operate.