One of, if not the most important component in attaining success is the goal itself. Certainly, it dictates the ultimate outcome of the path you're on, but also works to shape how you get there. Individual goals are as different and unique as any two people; however, when looking at the concept in general, there are a few frameworks we can use to explore the characteristics of a goal, and how effectively we're progressing towards it.
For goals to be effective, they need to be specific. Specificity creates clarity, and outlines exactly what you plan on achieving; generality leaves your outcome too vague -- and vagary leads to confusion.
For example, if you set a goal that reads, "I'm going to get physically fit", that may be as far as you'll get. Are you planning on running every day? Are you going to lift weights at home? Are you going to change your diet? By leaving the goal general, too many questions come up, and the potential for overwhelm (and ultimately giving up) greatly increases. Rather, stating your goal as such, "I'm going to see a personal trainer at the gym to help me get physically fit", creates a much more specific scenario. The specificity need not be down to every single detail, but outlining something much more targeted will help you to take the first crucial step into action, rather than being left in confusion.
Working in conjunction with specificity, making a goal measurable increases its effectiveness. Taking the example from above, if we change, "I'm going to see a personal trainer at the gym to help me get physically fit", to, "I'm going to see a personal trainer 12 times at the gym to help me get physically fit", we have not only gotten more specific, but we've created a measurable component to the goal that helps keep you accountable.
The 'A' component of SMART goals can be any number of possibilities (achievable, agreed-upon, attainable, etc.), but I happen to prefer actionable. An effective goal requires some kind of action on your part -- success doesn't just fall into your lap, after all! Going out to the gym, from our example, requires action on your part; it requires you to get moving, and if we've learned anything from physics, it's that an object in motion is going to get a lot further along than one which is not.
The notion of being 'realistic' is a tricky one. When setting a goal, we want to realistically have the ability to achieve it. Measuring the realism of a goal becomes difficult if we attempt to sabotage ourselves by setting the bar too low. Obviously, if you do not live close to a gym with personal trainers, or other commitments (ex. work schedule) do not allow 12 gym visits, then our example goal is not realistic for you. However, suggesting to yourself that it isn't realistic because you don't have the time -- but really just don't feel like going -- is not a fair argument against realism. You've got to ask yourself how important achieving the goal in question is, and use that as the filter or lens to determine how realistic it is to you.
Any effective goal that you set needs a time limit component. Time limits create accountability and an urgency for action. If you set no time limit, distractions more easily work their way into interfering with your goal. We are constantly prioritizing actions and objectives in our lives, and those with no specific end time generally get put on the proverbial back burner. Further clarifying our example goal with a time limit will help increase its effectiveness. "I'm going to see a personal trainer 12 times this month at the gym to help me get physically fit" adds the time element to the goal, but still allows for procrastination. One could wait until the final 12 days of the month, then go every one of those days and still essentially accomplish the goal. Whilst nothing is inherently wrong with that -- you have, technically, accomplished your goal -- you could use the 'time' component to further specify your goal, "I'm going to see a personal trainer at the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday over the next four weeks to help me get physically fit." This final rendition brings together all five SMART components to create an effective and viable goal.
An easy way to lose track on achieving a goal is to have one that is too complex. If your goal is so multi-faceted that you can not easily remember or explain it, then there is a very good likelihood that you will have a difficult time achieving it. Keep the goal itself straightforward and simple, but always keep it specific.
How are you going to complete your goal? What is your plan? When you have your goal outlined and ready, you should have a plan or action steps in place to help you achieve it. Of course, these plans or action steps are subject to change, as any number of variables may fluctuate over the course of your pathway to success, but you should be able to outline a kind of 'map' for yourself at any given point in the process. Without a map, you'll have a difficult time reaching your destination.
Essentially the same as the SMART component of Actionable, this step outlines what actions you're taking to achieve your goal. If you're unable to come up with any actions or action steps you've been taking, perhaps you need to reassess the process to find where the hiccup is occurring.
Taking time to review your progress when setting out to achieve a goal is crucial. Not only will it be of help at times when you may waver (such as the one mentioned under the Action section above), but also give you the chance to celebrate how far you've come along from the start. Periodically checking in with yourself will allow you to assess how you're coming along with your plan, and if any changes are necessary.
Always keep the notion of 'progress' at the forefront of your mind when achieving a goal. Combined with the Review component, you not only have a status on your current progress, but also the chance to 'amp up' the progress in future steps. Reviewing your situation is important, but it's imperative that we plan on progress in order to keep moving towards our goals.
These two frameworks are by no means the only way to define a goal, but are generally recognized and accepted for their ability to make a wildly intangible subject something tangible. My suggestion is to use the SMART framework to define and clarify your goals, and the SHARP framework to focus your actions on achieving them. Equipped with these frameworks as filters to run your goals through, you'll be able to more easily define and achieve your goals effectively!
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