SMART Goals vs. Dream Big

This is the time of year when many people are asked to set New Year’s Resolutions for the coming year. Many more do a more specific job by setting Goals for the year. I’m no different, but I use a system that I first learned about when I was a member of Toastmasters International several years ago. This system has actually been around for over 20 years, in the context of project management and more recently, personal development.

The system I’m referring to is “S.M.A.R.T. Goals.” The letters in “SMART” help you remember the attributes of goals that have a higher likelihood of being met. And that’s important, because everyone knows someone who has failed to meet their goals, or New Year’s Resolutions, because those goals were unrealistic or not planned well.

The letters (usually) stand for the following: S=Specific, M=Measurable, A=Attainable, R=Realistic, and T=Tangible.

A Specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. A general goal would be, “Get in shape.” But a specific goal would say, “Join a health club and work out 3 days a week.”

A Measurable goal is one where you ask such questions as “How much? How many? How will I know when it is accomplished?” And when you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement.

An Attainable goal is one where you can put yourself in the right place at the right time to develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. You see opportunities to bring yourself closer to achievement, where once you might have overlooked those opportunities.

A Realistic goal is one that is set at a level at which you are both willing and able to work toward. The surprise is that a high goal is frequently easier to reach than a low one because a low goal exerts low motivational force. If you truly believe your goal is realistic, it probably is.

A Tangible goal is one you can experience with one of the five senses: that is, taste, touch, smell, sight or hearing. (Intangible goals are your goals for the internal changes required to reach more tangible goals.) When your goal is tangible, or when you tie a tangible goal to an intangible goal, you have a better chance of making it specific and measurable and thus attainable.

There are articles about this system that go into more detail, but I’m sure you get the idea. There is one more concept I want to bring up, though, and that is the now-popular advice to “Dream Big”. How can you do this if you’re trying to pay attention to “Realistic” and “Attainable”—Don’t they contradict one another? Well, I’m not saying you can’t do both, but at this point I should mention another bit of advice regarding goal-setting: Breaking down larger goals into smaller goals. You can indeed Dream Big if you’re willing to do the thinking and the work toward breaking down that goal into its component steps. Then make each step a SMART goal!

So, what are your goals for 2011? I’ll divulge one of mine: I’m planning on doing a massive update to my web site this year. More on that in another post...