Think about the last goal you set.
If you have any interest in self-improvement, growing a business, or achieving, well, anything, you’ve probably read about the study that says people who write down their goals are guaranteed to be zillionaires and everyone else is doomed to toil in a cube farm until they’re 85. (Something like that, anyway.)
You’ve probably also heard ad nauseum that your goals need to be S.M.A.R.T.
That is, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
Sounds sensible, right?
You’re bright and ambitious. So, chances are, you’ve sat down a few times with pen and paper and dutifully squished a dream of yours into the S.M.A.R.T. format.
And then somehow failed to make it happen. And then blamed yourself for it.
Ugh, I have no willpower.
So lazy. Too busy.
I guess I’m just not cut out to run a marathon / launch a business / take the organization to the next level.
But chances are it wasn’t a lack of willpower or a too-busy life that scuppered your goal – it was the goal itself.
You Need a G.I.A.N.T. Goal
Now, the general idea behind S.M.A.R.T. goals is sound. After all, you won’t get far if your goal is vague, unmeasurable, irrelevant to your life, completely unrealistic, and on no timeline to boot.
What S.M.A.R.T. fails to take into account is that people aren’t robots. Even if we have a plan with specific, measurable tasks on a timeline that will get us to a realistic goal, a host of invisible, often overlooked factors affect whether we will actually do those tasks.
To achieve your next goal, address the invisible factors.
Make sure your goal is G.I.A.N.T.: Genuine, immediate, aligned, nonnegotiable, and thrilling.
What’s your motivation for tackling this particular goal? Research shows that you are far less likely to work hard and persevere toward extrinsically motivated goals. That is, if your goal is to start a business because it will impress others, or because your entrepreneur father expects it of you, you are much less likely to follow through than if you want to start a business because you crave the self-determination and, yes, responsibility that entrepreneurship demands. Find motivation for your goal that comes from within.
And, for that matter, make sure this is actually a goal of yours in the first place. A lot of us set “should” goals, especially around New Year’s. “I should do a triathlon.” “I should lose weight.” Ask, do I really, truly want this? Is this my goal or someone else’s?
Here’s the problem with pursuing a goal out of obligation rather than motivation that wells up from your soul: As soon as the going gets tough, you are liable to go “Forget it, there’s a Simpsons rerun on I’ve been meaning to watch” rather than summon the grit and gusto you need to press on.
While “Lose 10 pounds by April 1” is a good, specific starting point for a goal, your chances of success are much higher if you translate the goal into immediate actions and decisions you’ll need to make each day, moment by moment. Identify the strategies you’ll use to make those decisions and handle challenging situations.
For example, “If someone brings a treat to the office, I will politely decline and chew gum instead” or “I will go to the gym every weekday after work. I’ll bring a small snack to eat beforehand so I can’t use hunger as an excuse to skip my workout.”
Also, associate immediate rewards with the actions you’re taking. “When I go to the gym, I will listen to my favorite music on my iPod and feel strong and vibrant. After my workout, I’ll shower and spend a few minutes relaxing in the hot tub.”
Your life must be aligned to your goal. Once you’ve identified the actions you’ll need to take to achieve your goal – which may include negative actions, such as “Stop getting a jumbo Frappamochalatteccino with extra whip every afternoon” – figure out how to modify your schedule, physical environment, social environment, habits and work style in order to make those actions as close to effortless as possible.
Pack your gym bag the night before. Quit the PTA. Spend more time with that one super-healthy friend you have. Instead of going to your usual coffee shop, go to a new spot and get a skim-milk London Fog with sugar-free syrup or another low-cal treat.
A halfhearted goal is an unachieved goal. Make sure your goal is Genuine, acknowledge the changes and challenges involved in achieving it, and then commit. Focus on the outcome and the day-to-day rewards you get from the pursuit of the goal –rather than, say, dwelling on the difficulty of giving up that Frappamochalatteccino.
Here’s another place where S.M.A.R.T. falls flat. “Attainable” is often synonymous with “realistic,” which is often synonymous with “watered down.”
Pick a genuine goal that electrifies you, even if you aren’t entirely sure how to achieve it yet. (That’s what research is for.) Pick a goal that gives you butterflies and makes you grin when you think about achieving it. Pick a goal that makes you feel excited to be alive.