Good riddance 2017 and helloooo 2018!
Although I can’t say 2017 was a terrible year (some good stuff did happen), we enter 2018 with the hope that this year, finally, will be our year. And yes, yes, we say that every year, but do not fear, this year will actually be your year.
But around this time, when one week into January you are starting to realize your resolution of going to the gym every other day and reading a new book every week is just not gonna happen, don’t feel hopeless. It’s not you, (it’s me). But no, all jokes aside, do not blame yourself for the chronic inability to keep up with New Year’s Resolutions, it happens to the best of us.
Instead, after a week of inevitably failed resolutions, it’s time to revisit those goals of yours for 2018 and set some SMART goals. And these should have a significantly higher success rate than that goal to stop procrastinating you set for yourself every single year.
What are SMART goals?
Even though these goals are undoubtedly a smart move, they’re called SMART goals because they share these characteristics:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable
R - Relevant
T - Time-bound/based
This type of goals, first mentioned in the 1981 issue of Management Review, are used as a goal writing guide - criteria to fill as you go over your ambitions and plans for any time frame, whether that be for the next month or the next decade.
Let’s go through the parts of a SMART goal - I’ll use the common resolution of “eating healthy” as a recurring example for each part of the goal writing process.
This is the most important part of a goal - if it is not specific, it is harder to perceive, and thus harder to achieve.
Setting specific goals means outlining exactly what is involved in the achievement of this goal. It means answering who, what, when, where, why, and how. The point of being specific in your goals is to eliminate any guesswork or breathing room from the process of achieving your goals. This way, you do not have to spend more time thinking about the goal than you do actually working on them.
Instead of saying “I will eat healthy”, specify which foods you will include in your diet and which foods you will eliminate. Say, “I will eat healthier by skipping my Dunkin coffee in the mornings and eating an apple instead.”
This is something concrete your brain can focus on and immediately start implementing. You won’t spend time deciding whether this food or that food qualifies as healthy, or whether you can eat this donut and just make up for it with a salad tomorrow.
There’s no time to be vague when you’re trying to improve yourself, don’t let the lack of specificity in your goals hold you back.
A measurable goal has fixed criteria for seeing how far along you are in your goal achieving process. This is usually something tangible, something that can be tracked over the course of your goal. Having a measurable goal also means you can set mini-milestones for yourself over the course of the goal, to help keep your motivation up.
For something like losing weight or reading more, it is easier to find a way to make them measurable - track the number of pounds you lose or books you read.
Measuring the goal of “eating healthy” is a little bit harder in that there are not many inherent measurements involved. You can decide to count calories as a measure or use a points system (like they do in Weight Watchers, I believe) if you are willing to dedicate yourself to the task. But to make the goal as simple for you to follow and reduce the chance that it’ll be too hard to keep up, my measurable part of the eating healthy would be to count the number of days I “skip my Dunkin coffee in the mornings and eat an apple instead”.
This way, you have some way of quantifying your goal and a way to track your progress on achieving this goal instead of just wondering whether or not you’re any healthier one month into the new year.
For a goal to be achievable, it has to be within reason. You cannot expect to lose 30 pounds in a month or go from reading one book a year to one book a week. Setting a goal that is not reasonable will only serve to demoralize you even further.
Instead, break up this larger goal into chunks. Start with ten pounds a month or one book a month. This way, you are building the foundational skills to eventually reach your target performance.
In terms of eating healthy, making this goal achievable can change from person to person. If you currently eat junk 24/7, you need to start with one new meal replacement at a time. Switch out one unhealthy food for one healthy one for the first 2-4 weeks, and when you develop that habit, you can start to introduce more healthy foods into your diet.
When considering whether your goal is achievable, decide whether you have the habits or skills in place to achieve it. Do you have the discipline or eating habits yet to completely change your diet? Or do you have the time to read one a day? If not, revisit your goal to minimize it a little, break it into a more manageable chunk.
The relevance of the goal is a highly personal characteristic. Is the goal you are setting truly necessary at this point in your life? Will it make a positive impact? Or is it something you do not care that much about and is unlikely to play a large role whether or not it is achieved?
As difficult as it can be deciding whether a goal is relevant or not, keep in mind that the course of your life will change as you grow older, so different goals can be relevant at different times in your life.
Ideally, your goal would follow the 80/20 rule. A goal that only takes 20% of the effort but leads to 80% of the gains. This way you are maximizing the positive impact your goal will have on your life while minimizing the chance it will be too difficult to achieve.
For the goal of eating healthy, you must decide whether changing your diet will impact your life. Will your health be positively impacted by changing your diet? Most likely, your answer will be yes. And as it will be for most health-related goals.
Although the relevance of goals is usually less of a factor for personal goals, keep in mind it can be an important factor for professional or academic goals. If you want to learn 10,000 new words or change a business model, first ask yourself if that will actually help you with your English grade or earning money.
Last but not least, your goal should have a clear beginning and end. Create a timeline for your goal that is reasonable and has definite checkpoints to ensure that you are making progress on your goal. A goal with no end has no sense of urgency, no sense of motivation for completion.
A goal to lose weight has no basis if you say you’ll do it “someday”. You have to self-impose a deadline in order to increase the chances of you achieving it.
For the goal of eating healthy, you can go month by month, introducing new foods into your diet, until at 6 months or one year this goal has developed into a habit and maybe doesn’t need monitoring anymore.
The timeline of your goals will be greatly affected by what the goal is, so keep an open mind when picking dates or stretches of time. But remember, even though you want this timeline to be realistic (i.e. achievable), you also do not want to push it off for longer than necessary and set a date too far into the future. This is why starting will smaller goals that are part of a larger “vision’ can be helpful.
And if you want to be even smartER, add these two steps to your goal-setting and achieving process:
E - Evaluation
After the endpoint of your goal (or perhaps during one of your pre-established checkpoints), evaluate the progress you have made on the goal. Have you achieved what you set out to achieve? Were there unforeseen circumstances? Did you forget to account for one part of your life that interfered with your goal? Do you have too many goals that are just working against each other?
Identify anything that is making it harder to achieve your goal and work on fixing that with the next step.
R - Revision
Once you identify if there are any problems, revise your goal as necessary. Most often, you’ll realize that you need to make the goal more specific to eliminate any wishy-washiness and to make the process easier on yourself. Once you revise your goal to better fit your situation, now you can go back to trying to achieve it.
But on the other hand, maybe you found that you have successfully accomplished your goal. Well, good for you! Now, go make another one.
Just to drive this goal-writing idea home, here’s an example of one of my (many) SMART goals for this year.
Goal: I will write more this year.
S - For at least 30 minutes every day (preferably from 5-5:30 pm), I will work on an article (research, writing, or editing).
M - I will keep track (with a habit tracker app) of the days that I complete the 30 minutes of writing as well as how many minutes I write.
A - I definitely have time to write (I just need to make time) and have done it before. Thirty minutes is not too much to write a day.
R - Yup, this is relevant - writing every day should hypothetically bring me to more regular uploads.
T - I will do this for the month of January, after which I will revise the goal as needed. I will have checkpoints at the end of each week.
That was my first draft of my SMART goal. I’ll see if it works this month, and depending on how it goes I’ll add to/change the goal as needed. Hopefully this means I'll finally stop having such an erratic uploading schedule :D
And as always, thanks for reading!