How many times have you told yourself you were going to make a change in your life only to find yourself struggling to keep committed after only a couple of weeks? Many of us set goals or make commitments to ourselves and others with the best of intentions. We genuinely want to make the changes. However, doing the work to make the change proves more difficult than we thought. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming.
What most people don’t realize is that goal setting is a skill. Often times we don’t take the time to sit down and reflect on what exactly we are wanting to change. We say want to eat healthier, work out more, become more organized, or a myriad of other things. However, we never take the time to figure out what those really mean to us.
That is where setting SMART goals becomes key. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. This model is used across many different fields from mental health services to business. It helps people and groups understand what they are expecting of themselves and how they will know they have achieved what they wanted to achieve. By following this model, you will create more meaningful and impactful goals for yourself.
Effective and meaningful goals are specific. This means that they have a narrow and understandable scope. Goals that are too broad or undefined easily become overwhelming and even unobtainable.
For example, you might want to learn to draw could easily start taking classes and developing skills. However, there are different types of drawing. There is realism, sketching, cartoons, contour, and many other types of drawing that the person could engage in. To save time and money, you could benefit from figuring out what kind of drawing you are wanting to explore. If you ware wanting to explore realism, it would not be beneficial to take a cartooning class because then you would be developing a different set of skills.
Making specific goals that provide scope and definition to what you are trying to achieve will give you focus. When making decisions about what steps to take in achieving your goal, make sure that you are within the boundaries you set for yourself so that you do not go off track or become overwhelmed by choices.
When making a measurable goal, you are asking how do you know you have achieved what you wanted. How do you know you have eaten healthier or learned Spanish? A measurable goal provides you with an endpoint and a frame of reference. Goals are meant to be achieved which means there is an endpoint. You should be able to look around, identify how things have changed since you started, and move on to the next thing.
Ask yourself: How will I know that I have reached my goal? What will be different? Then, figure out ways to track that. If you are wanting to learn a new language, how will you measure what you have learned? Is it the number of new words you learned or how long you can hold a conversation in that language? Give yourself the ability to notice your work and your achievements.
A measurable goal allows you to see the progress you have made even before you have reached your goal. Take the time to appreciate your progress and your work. Use that to motivate you to continue working. Then once you reach the end, you will have concrete and easily identifiable ways to show how you are different and you achieved what you wanted.
One of the most important things to consider when setting goals is whether or not you can achieve it. How realistic is it to ask yourself to make this change? Are you expecting too much of yourself? Make sure that you understand the skills and resources you have available to you.
If you want to learn to play an instrument, do you have the time to dedicate to practicing? Do you have access to an instrument or the money to purchase your own? Not taking these into consideration can set you up for failure and leave you feeling discouraged. Don’t be afraid to start small and work yourself up to bigger steps later. Once you achieve one thing, you can decide to work on something more. Building up your confidence by setting yourself up for success can help you create bigger and more meaningful changes in the future.
A relevant goal is a goal that makes sense for where you are at in your life and it adds to the larger picture of what you are wanting to work towards. Make sure that your goal aligns with your values and desires. Use this to help you prioritize and understand how important this goal is to you right now. Perhaps you may need to consider working on it in different ways or hold off on the goal entirely until other matters are resolved.
If you are wanting to go back to school to get a degree, does that degree help you get to the career you want? How much do the classes you would be taking pertain to the actual work you expect yourself to be doing? Is now the right time for you to go back to school? What other things are you already working on and do they come into conflict with the goal you are trying to set? If so, what are ways you can manage that conflict, ways you can find support or changes that you might need to make?
These are important questions to consider to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed with all the different ways that life can pull us and make sure that you are considering the bigger picture before taking action.
Healthy goals have an end. You get to decide when you are at the end. Proper planning requires timelines. If a goal is ongoing for an undetermined amount of time, you can be left feeling overwhelmed and lost. Having a point where you can stop and reflect on your progress gives you the opportunity to appreciate your accomplishments and assess where you might have struggled.
Planning a vacation requires more than just the money to pay for it. You need to schedule flights, rooms, meals, and activities in advance for you to have a successful trip. By what point do you need to have each of those done and paid for? If you aren’t able to meet those deadlines, perhaps you are not setting an achievable goal for yourself?
The best goals are goals that are well thought out. Take ownership of the process and make your goals work for you. Ensure that you are setting yourself up for success. Setting unrealistic goals for ourselves can easily damage our confidence.
If you find that you are struggling with your goal, don’t be afraid to reassess. Goals can be flexible. We cannot always foresee and predict changes in our lives. Allowing ourselves the space for change and adaptation keeps us from abandoning our goals entirely.
Hopefully, by using the SMART acronym, you can start setting goals that you find yourself following through more and more often.
If you're struggling, seek help. Sharp Wellness offers individual, couples, family, and group therapy to help support you and help you live your best life. Contact us now.
Supervised by Barbara Armitage MA, LPC-S