Goal setting - make 2018 the year!

The new year is the traditional time for making resolutions, although there’s nothing to stop you making them at any time of year, the problem, as always, is sticking with them and for many people the main reason it’s so hard to stick with them is that resolutions are often written as wishes or hopes rather than actual meaningful goals.  With that in mind, this blog is an explanation of effective goal-setting.  For the record, we are going to cover the idea of SMART goals briefly, in case you don’t know about them or if you want a refresher, but if you’re happy you already know all you need (and want) to know about them, then feel free to skip ahead.

Start with SMART

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic Targets.
Specific and measurable are pretty much self-explanatory, achievable and realistic may need some clarification.  Basically achievable means it can be done, realistic means that it should be feasible for you to do it in your situation.  For example, Usain Bolt was able to run 100 metres in under 10 seconds, which proves it’s achievable, but it’s hardly realistic for the average person.  There’s a huge difference between motivating yourself with challenging targets and setting goals you never really have a chance of making.

Let’s see how an average resolution stacks up against this.

I’ll lose weight.

Well actually, it could do with a lot of improvement. 

How about..

I’ll lose 10 kilos by June

That’s a lot better.  It’s definitely specific and measurable (10 kilos), it is definitely achievable and hopefully it should be realistic for most people.

Link your goal (resolution) to at least one SMART benefit

A goal describes what you want to do, which is a good start, but any goal worth the name is going to be a challenge to you, this means it is going to take effort and you may well find it a whole lot easier to put in that effort if you are clear to yourself about why you are doing it.

First of all, you need to state the benefit in terms of what it means to you rather than what it means to someone else.  For example, if you say “I’m giving up smoking because it will make my children happy.” then essentially, you’re stating it in terms of a sacrifice you are prepared to make to benefit other people.  This can lead to you becoming resentful about your goal and, frankly, taking any excuse you can find to get out of it.  On the other hand, if you state the benefit as “I’m giving up smoking because I want to be able to spend as much time as I can with my children and really enjoy that time instead of having to deal with future health issues.”, then you are being very clear about the benefit to you.

NB: Goals are something to move towards so it’s important to state the benefit in positive terms.  Smoking is a good example of this.  Every cigarette packet in the Western world has major health warnings on it, smokers know perfectly well that smoking bad for them, but they do it any way.  They give up when they perceive that the benefit of stopping outweighs the benefits of smoking.  (The idea of benefits of smoking may be hard for non-smokers to understand).

I’m going to talk a bit more about motivation in a later blog, but for right now, let’s just stick with the fact that you’ve set your goal for a reason and the clearer and more positive you are about that reason, the easier you are likely to find it to keep working towards your goal.

Turn your goal into a project

A goal is a statement of intent a project describes how you are going to turn that intent into real-world action, or to put it another way, the difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal has a plan, complete with a deadline, a budget and a set of tasks to complete.  Each goal is individual and hence will have its own project plan, but in general terms, you want to answer the following questions.
Who needs to be involved in achieving this goal?

What do they need to do?

How, exactly, are they going to do this?

(By) when, exactly, are they going to do this?

Where are they going to do this?

So let’s go back to the example of losing weight.  At first glance, it may see that you are the only person who needs to be involved in the project but actually there’s a good chance that your family, friends and perhaps even coworkers will need to be involved or at least aware.  You’re going to need to change your behaviour and they will notice the change.  Hopefully they will be supportive, but some may do their best to tempt you back into your old ways.

In terms of what and how, the only way to lose weight is to burn off more calories than you consume and there are basically only two ways to do this, one is to take more exercise and the other is to consume fewer calories.  Most weight-loss programmes involve a combination of both.  This is the point where you really have to be SMART in your thinking, with the emphasis on the realistic.  Many people who fail to achieve their goals do so because they set out to achieve far too much, far too soon.  Other people never even bother trying because they look at the size of the task as a whole and the length of time it will take them to travel towards their goal and just give up before they’ve even begun.  Be sensible about this and potentially ask for a second opinion.

Similar comments apply to the question of (by) when.  If you’re seriously overweight then you’ll probably need to start very slowly, much more slowly than someone who’s only moderately overweight.

The question of where may or may not apply, but it’s still worth considering.  In very simple terms, the more convenient it is for you to do something, the more likely it is that you will do it.  Therefore, if you have a choice of locations in which you could do something, then it’s often best to choose the one which appeals to you the most, even if it’s not technically the “best”.  For example, gyms might have a much broader range of equipment than you can store in your own home, but if you feel more comfortable exercising in private, at least to begin with, then go ahead and do what you can do with what you have (or can reasonably get).

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