Pragmatic Goal Setting

Being a financial planner exposes me to some ideas over and over again.  One of those is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, another is that one should set SMART goals.  Haven’t heard of SMART goals?  Here, try this acrostic on for size:

S Specific
M Measurable
A Attainable
R Relevant
T Time bound

Now, zoom in!

  • Specific:  The goal has to be, well, specific.  For example: I will lose ten pounds.  There’s no wiggle room.
  • Measurable: Is it in quantifiable units?  I will lose ten pounds is in quantifiable units.
  • Attainable:  Is this something that is possible?  Losing ten pounds is probably possible, other people do it all the time.
  • Relevant:  I want to be skinnier.  Losing ten pounds is how I would do that, so check.
  • Time bound:  do I have a deadline for this?  No?  Let’s make one:  I will lose ten pounds in three months.  That should be doable.

Now we have all the makings of a good goal, right?  I will lose ten pounds over the next three months.  You don’t get more SMART compliant than that.

And yet a cursory examination of the world around us shows us that attaining our goals is not so simple.  Even setting SMART goals is not enough to make the goals a reality.  I suggest a few other points to consider when making your goals:

  1. Make the goal action based instead of results based.  Our example goal, I will lose ten pounds over the next three months, is result based.  What happens when you cut calories/carbs and exercise faithfully, then lose only one pound in three months?  Are you then a failure?  I think not.  The simple fact is that you made a goal that is based on a result you can’t really control (i.e. your metabolism.)  Now, what if your goal was to adhere to a low-calorie/carb diet and exercise according to a predetermined schedule?  Why, you would be an outstanding success!  By making your goal relevant to actions you can control, you’re far more likely to adhere to your goal and get the self-esteem boost and good effects from accomplishing your goal.
  2. Make the goal flexible.  Let’s say you lose seven pounds over three months instead of ten pounds.  Does that make you a failure?  I think not.  Yet, the way goals are worded, anything less than perfect accomplishment is failure.  Setting goals that only end in failure leads to not setting any more goals.  Be forgiving when life gets in the way of goals, because it will.
  3. Make goals related to implementing actions.  Despite what certain people who profit from other people’s delusions say, you cannot just wish something into your life.  The universe isn’t a vending machine.  If your goals are to have any chance to some true, then they need to have an action plan associated with them and then the plan needs to be acted upon.  If your goal isn’t directly about changing you behavior to increase the odds of the result you want, then you may as well not make the goal, in my opinion.

Can you think of anything else I should add?  Putting these into the acrostic really goofs the acrostic up, but I think they’re important to keep in mind when you’re setting your goals.

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