Most people associate goal-setting with the beginning of the year (think New Years Resolutions,) but I am a firm believer and advocate of setting goals all year round. Personally, I strive to become my best self each day I am alive and even on those terrible, horrible, very bad days I try my darndest to learn something from them. It’s certainly not easy and luckily I have an extremely supportive partner and some awesome friends, colleagues and mentors who help me through the messy bits.
One area that I find always keeps me going when I’m down is to keep growing, learning and striving towards my future goals. This keeps me grounded in my current actions because I see them as leading me towards a greater vision I have for myself. A tool that I’ve come across in my work as a psychotherapist and that I plan to start using more, is the creation of S.M.A.R.T. goals. What are S.M.A.R.T. goals? Well, I’m go glad you asked! S.M.A.R.T. goals are:
1 | S — Specific
Why is this criterion important? Because of the power of intention. The more specific we can get about a goal, the more opportunity we will see in our lives that will support us in achieving these goals. I also believe that when we get super specific about our goals, the Universe begins to conspire to help us reach them.
So, how does one make their goals more specific? Well, take a look at your goal and see where you can get more detailed. Are you thinking you want to save up to buy a new car? Start visualizing exactly what type of car you want and imagine what that will feel like to have your dream car. Do you want a new job? Start to imagine the exact job title you'd like and what exact organization you want to work for.
This visualization will not only shift your mindset towards achieving that goal, but can also provide inspiration towards concrete behaviors you can start taking to put your goal in motion. Remember that intention drives action, and so the more tangible we can make those intentions, the better poised we are to make things happen.
2 | M — Measurable
Similar to making your goals specific, make sure they are measurable. This criterion is vital so that you have a way of assessing whether or not you've truly met your goal. For example, instead of stating "I want to make good money," state "I want to make $100,000 a year." Or instead of saying "I want to get in shape," say "I want to run a half marathon." Making your goals measurable also aids in helping you break down your goal into more bite-sized chunks, such as increasing your income by 10% each year or running a 5k and a 10k before that half marathon.
3 | A — Achievable
I'm all for dreaming big! In fact, I'm constantly empowering and encouraging my psychotherapy clients to dream bigger and break through imagined glass ceilings. However, your goals need to be realistic so that you 1) believe that you can achieve them and 2) so that you experience the positive, reinforcing effects that result from achieving your goals (leading you to even bigger, better ones!) If your goal feels unattainable, it will be more difficult for you to persevere through the up and downs (and even failures!) along the way of getting to that place.
4 | R — Relevant
Your goals should be relevant to your big picture vision for your life, in tune with your calling and aligned with your values. If your goals are lined up with all of these, then the actions you take towards your goals will feel natural and will come from a place of authenticity. They will also come with more ease — now this is different from ”easy.” Think of a ballerina’s graceful movements…they are far from easy. In fact, they took hundred if not thousands of repetitions to appear that way. The dance practice is difficult at times, no doubt. But if the movements are in line with the purpose of inspiring audiences, it will look effortless.
5 | T — Time-bound
What’s more motivating than a deadline? When I was in grad school, I could knock out a research paper in a single day (with a pot of coffee. Eek!) How so? Because I had a deadline that was looming and I knew that I needed to complete my assignments on time in order to pass my classes. Why not similarly impose some deadlines on ourselves to motivate ourselves with our personal and professional goals? Let’s say I want to build my private practice and see more clients. I might say “I want to say 18 clients per week.” Well, how am I going to get there? Maybe I want to network with 5 doctors. Well, if I network with 5 doctors over the course of a year, that probably won’t get me to my goal. But if I network with 5 doctors by next month, then now we’re talkin’!
As much as S.M.A.R.T. goals can be a helpful tool for personal development, keep in mind that people change! Our values evolve over time, or interests can shift and priorities can re-organize depending on life events. Goals need to be flexible and change with us. So keep re-evaluating your goals. Ditch the ones based on old thinking patterns (i.e. “I want to lose 10 pounds”) and replace them with new ones that fit the more mature you (i.e. “I want to feel great and live a long life!”)
Now it’s your turn! Let’s do some fun homework. Take out a journal or open up a blank Word document and write out a few goals that you have for yourself. Now see if you can go through (and if you haven’t already from just reading this article. I know you, smarty-pants!) see if you can transform them into S.M.A.R.T. goals.
- How does it feel to get more detailed about your goals? Does it feel scary?
- Does putting a deadline on a goal makes it more nerve-wracking? Or does it have the opposite effect of giving you a safe frame to work within?
- How does it feel to nail down the specifics of the goal? Does it feel overwhelming? Or does it feel more doable?
I’m so curious to hear how this exercise impacts you. Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below. Thanks for reading and be well!
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping people live more peaceful, meaningful lives. Through holistic therapy in Pasadena and here on the blog, my mission is to provide people with the support and tools they need to live their best life.