Want to change an aspect of your life? Have a dream you’d like to see come to pass? Goals accelerate your life’s progress toward exceptional. But not all goals are created equal.
People often talk about the power of goal setting–and there’s a ton of evidence supporting that. From 8th graders at inner city schools to Harvard Business School graduates, study after study shows that people who set goals significantly out perform those who don’t.
The people who set goals aren’t smarter or more hard working than those who don’t. But something about setting a goal stimulates us to make more productive choices.
And this is where many goal setting stories stop–leaving it a mysterious principle. But you need to know that not all goals are equally helpful. And when you see what makes one goal better than another, much of the mystery of goal setting goes away.
For starters, goals need to be written down and shared with others.
Least helpful–a private goal in your head
Moderately helpful–a goal spoken verbally (but not written)
More helpful–a goal written, but not shared
Most helpful–a goal written and shared with others
Written goals force you to think with more clarity and make the goal feel more concrete. It has it’s own substance–it’s a real thing existing outside of you. Also, you can (and many do) put that written goal up where you can see it on a regular basis (bathroom mirror, fridge, computer monitor, etc).
Don’t underestimate the power of reminding yourself of your goal. Patrick Lencioni (bestselling author, speaker, consultant, etc–check out more on him here), says, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.”
If the goal stays in your head, you can’t be reminded of it unless you’re already thinking of it…kind of ruining the point of being reminded to think about it.
Sharing it with others also makes it more real. It’s easier to walk away from something you’ve kept secret. It’s easier to say you didn’t really want to succeed. This probably isn’t news to you. People who have work out partners skip sessions less, people who have weekly accountability partners control their behavior less…you get the idea. This isn’t especially insightful–but it works.
However, you can do all that, using a weak goal, and it won’t do much for you. But if you craft a great goal, you can get great results without the other elements (writing & sharing). Of course, a well-crafted goal that’s written and shared accelerates your progress the most.
So what makes a goal well-crafted? The best goals are SMART:
Here’s a common example of a weak goal: I want to get in shape this year. Great idea, but too vague. You can do a hundred different things this year and that scattered effort will produce little results. Let’s make it SMART.
Specific: I want to lose weight. I want to get stronger. I want to have a smaller waistline. Pick one, but get more specific than “in shape”. What exactly is driving you to make the change?
Measurable: Is losing .001 pounds enough? How much weight? How much stronger? What waistline size do you want? Putting a number on it is crucial. For some goals you may have to get creative here (i.e. measuring the number of times you lose your temper) but don’t skip this. It might be the most important difference between a weak goal and a powerful goal.
Aggressive: People are motivated by grand goals. Losing one pound a month is hard to get excited about. But 10 pounds this month would be a noticeable change. Motivation is key to goal accomplishment.
Realistic: Because motivation is so important, you’ve got to set goals that aren’t too far out of reach. Losing 25 pounds this month isn’t realistic (unless you join a special program), no matter how motivating that might seem at first. It’s demoralizing to fail repeatedly, so set goals you can actually reach.
Time-Bounded: When will you do? When will you start? When will you finish (and reach your goal)? What are the milestones along the way?
Using SMART goals helps you go from “I want to get in shape this year” to “I want to lose 18 pounds in the next 3 months, six pounds a month.” The well-written goal inspires more and better choices than the vague, weak goal.
Are you pursuing exceptional? If so, define it. Make the various aspects of your dream life a written goal–a well-written SMART goal. Then write these goals down, share them with a few close friends, and post them where you’ll see them. You can always change the goals as you learn more. But starting with something tangible to pursue will dramatically change the pace of your progress.
In fact, I’d love for you to share some of your SMART goals for your life here as comments to encourage each other as we all pursue exceptional lives.