To boost your success rate, it is important that you master setting ‘SMART’ goals – that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-specific. You’ll see this acronym or something similar used in fields such as business, self-coaching and even for students, even though it was originally designed for employee management. Nowadays, companies apply the same principles to improve the performance and productivity of their staff and students use it to set their study goals. In other words, even though we’ll be specifically applying the SMART principles to health in this piece, you can apply them to virtually any type of goal you have!
Ask yourself these simple questions to check how SMART your goals really are. Ready?
[S]: How SPECIFIC is your goal?
You need to know WHAT you’re trying to set out to do and HOW you plan to do it. These are your goal and your game plan. Clearly define it from the beginning, as being vague means a fluffy goal and leaves room for excuses and rule-bending when we are faced with obstacles, set-backs or a dip in motivation.
E.g. A goal to “be more active”.
Verdict: This is very vague – what do you mean by being active, and for what purpose? To get stronger? Faster? More flexible? Shed a few kilos? Depending on your purpose, the way you define ‘active’ becomes very different and your game plan will change accordingly too.
[M]: Is your goal MEASURABLE?
You should have some way of quantifying your progress and end-goal. If you don’t, you won’t know when you’ve actually reached success! For a dietary-focused goal, it could be anything from the number of serves of veggies you plan to eat per day, the number of mornings in the week you plan to eat breakfast. For a physical activity-related goal, it can be as simple as deciding on the number of stairs, steps or sessions that you plan to do. Being able to track your progress one way or another is also a great ongoing positive feedback and motivators (yay!). It can also ring alarm bells early on when things start going pear-shaped and you can quickly troubleshoot it before it gets out of hand.
[A]: Is it ACHIEVABLE?
The most motivating goals are said to be those that are close but just beyond our reach so that we need to invest effort and stretch ourselves to reach it. What are you asking yoursef to do? The road to success isn’t always a smooth joyride and time isn’t the only factor that we need to keep in mind. Whether you understand and are prepared for possible challenges along the way is crucial to long term achievement. Did you anticipate that morning tea for your workmate’s birthday, or that late night pizza run after a late meeting? It is important that you understand how your goal will fit into your lifestyle and schedule.
[R]: Is it RELEVANT to what you want to achieve?
There’s no point setting a goal of not drinking coffee if you’re not a coffee drinker! It sounds like an easy goal that you can tick off the list and feel good about, but it’s probably not doing you any good. Pinpoint the specific aspect of health that you’re trying to improve and make a goal that will address it.
[T]: How TIME-SPECIFIC is it?
This is the expiry date of your goal. Give yourself a timeframe in which you expect to reach your goal or reach milestones towards your final goal. Setting deadlines can be motivating and create a sense of urgency (these need to be realistic too though!). Just like thinking about whether your goal is achievable, make sure your timeline is realistic too.
Want to make your goal even SMART-ER?
[E]: Evaluate your progress
While soldiering along on your journey, think about whether the approach that you’re taking is actually working for you. Could you improve it? Assess your strategy and progress – are you managing to keep on track without feeling overly drained, exhausted or bored? is the original goal too easy or too difficult? While the end goal is important and the ultimate motivator, the journey is also just as important! Finding a strategy that is enjoyable will boost motivation levels and lead to better results in the long run.
[R]: Review your goal
This happens after you’ve reached your goal (congratulations! Woohoo!). Always look back and reflect on the whole journey – what were the most and least enjoyable parts, things you would’ve done better or differently, things that caught you by surprise or off-guard. Take note of all these experiences and this will not only help you better understand yourself (e.g. your breaking point, stress response to situations), but will also help you set your next goals more wisely.
Remember, keep calm and be SMART!