Goal Setting

In the last post, I talked about some of the reasons we set goals. In this post, we’ll get into the details of not only establishing SMART goals, but also documenting them, which is just as important.

I was a sales engineer throughout most of my career. Every year at the national sales meeting we would go through the exercise of goal setting. I hated it, I guess because they made us do it. I worked for three companies during those years, and they all attached a great deal of significance to the process. They would start with the company forecast, break that down to regions, than individual salespeople, and give us all our quotas. We would then break our quota down to the number of sales calls necessary to obtain that level of business, based upon averages. We would take it all the way down to number of phone calls per day necessary to get the required number of appointments. You get the picture.

I hated goal setting because the company set the objectives. In this section we will start from scratch and define our own goals. Believe me, it is more fun.

What is a goal anyway? It is a general statement about a desired outcome with one or more specific objectives that define, in precise terms, what is to be accomplished within a designated period. Sounds like quite a mouthful, but we have done it informally our whole lives, and now we are just going to add some structure. Goals are multi-level. By that I mean that we look at them in several different time frames. We take a major goal and divide it into bite-sized pieces that we can manage within reasonable periods.

If done correctly, the goal setting process provides both long-term vision and short-term motivation. It helps you to focus and organize your time and resources, so you can make the most of your life. By setting sharp, clearly defined goals that you can measure, you will see your own progress. You will raise your self-esteem as you recognize your ability and competence in achieving the goals you have set.

The methods of goal setting have not changed much over the years, although in the mid-eighties I learned an acronym for goal setting that still exists. They taught us that to be meaningful, goals should be:

  1. Specific — goal objectives should address the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. The goal should state specifically what is to be done, and by what date. “Continue my education” is not a goal; “obtain an associate’s degree in nursing by June of 2015,” is.
  2. Measurable — how will you know when you have achieved the goal? “Get more exercise” is not a goal; “work up to walking four miles a day by June 1st” is.
  3. Achievable — a goal should be within your control and influence, and possible for you to accomplish. If you are forty years old and have never played ball, you probably won’t ever pitch for the Yankees no matter how badly you might want to. (Unless you happen to be left-handed with a good cutter, of course)
  4. Relevant — a goal should be consistent with your system of values, and relate to them in some way. Establishing goals in an area of your life that is not important to you is just setting yourself up for failure.
  5. Time-bound — goals should have a specific, defined target date for completion. In the absence of a target date they are not goals, they are wishes.

The acronym, of course, is S.M.A.R.T., but it has nothing to do with SMART Recovery®, although they use a variant of this acronym in their program.

Now that we understand what a goal is, we can begin to set some for ourselves. A good place to start is a determination of what is important to us as individuals. In other words, what are our values? In Chapter 5, we performed a simple exercise that should be enough to start pointing us in the right direction. If you have the worksheet from that exercise, look at it now. If not, make a list of the things that are important to you, in no particular order. From that list, pick the five that are the most important, again in no particular order.

The list could include such things as health, family, or career, for instance, or anything else you consider important. This is your list, not mine or anyone else’s; there is no right or wrong. Once you decide what is most important to you, you are ready to begin the goal setting process. Start by picking a value, one in which you recognize the need for improvement, and think of a goal that would make sense.

Let us say one of your primary values was “career.” You might be tempted to set a lifetime goal to “run a company and retire rich.” That is a nice sentiment, but it’s not a goal by the SMART definition, is it? What sort of business would it be? Do you have the necessary skills and resources? What do you consider “rich”? To turn that sentiment into a workable goal, or series of goals, you have to be more specific. Lifetime goals are fine, but to be measurable, we have to be able to condense them into smaller increments.

Try looking at the next five years, what would be a reasonable goal in that period? Perhaps your goal might be a higher position than you have now, with either your current firm or another. What would be necessary in terms of skill, education, and experience to obtain that goal? What can you do to work towards your goal in the next year, what would be your incremental goal? Do the same for six-month, one-month, and one-week time periods.

At the one-week level, you can do a daily task list defining what you intend to do during the period to advance this goal. Do the same for the goals you will establish in the other four areas you picked in your values list. It all sounds very confusing, but it does not have to be. If you begin with your top five priorities, determine specific measurable goals, each with an overall time frame, it should be easy to break them down into achievable units.

At this point, it is time to start putting things on paper (or the computer, if you prefer). There are many different types of goal setting worksheets available on the web, and you can find them by doing a search. If you would prefer to make your own, it is easy enough to do. You can download this worksheet in PDF format from my website here.

At the top of a sheet of paper, first write the category or value associated with this particular goal. On a line below, write the overall goal and the date by which you expect to achieve it. Next, go through the five points of the SMART goal system, listing how this goal meets each point. The next page starts with a statement of the benefits of achieving the goal, followed by the potential obstacles and their solutions. Who are the people you might ask to help you in achieving this goal? Write them down as a reminder to contact them. Finally, what are the specific tasks that you need to perform to achieve this goal, and when do you expect to complete them? It is important to make a note on the form when you complete each of these tasks. Seeing yourself making progress towards your goals is part of what provides the motivation to continue.

Your goal worksheet will answer the following questions:

  1. Category or value:
  2. Overall goal: (if this is an incremental goal)
  3. Today’s date:
  4. Target date:
  5. Start date:
  6. Specific: (What exactly will you accomplish?)
  7. Measurable: (How will you know when you have reached this goal?)
  8. Achievable: (Is achieving this goal realistic? Do you currently have the resources to achieve this goal, and if not, how will you get them?)
  9. Relevant: (Why is this goal significant to your life and values?)
  10. Time bound: (When will you achieve this goal?)
  11. What will the benefits of achieving this goal?
  12. What are the potential obstacles, and their solutions?
  13. Who will you ask for help?
  14. What are the specific tasks necessary to achieve the goal?

Once you finish making worksheets for all of your goals, you are ready to do the weekly list discussed above. Once the incremental tasks are “out there” where you can see them, they will be difficult to ignore. Successful people understand the importance of managing their time, as it is the only way to accomplish long-term goals. As you are checking things off from your to-do list you will be building self-esteem, the single most important factor in a successful recovery.

This process will not only show you that you can achieve your long-term goals, it will also make it possible for you to measure your progress on a weekly basis. It will turn what seems like an impossible task into a manageable series of simple steps. Many of us have dreamed dreams for years, but most of them never went beyond the person on the next barstool. We talked a lot but we never did anything about it. Part of taking responsibility is learning to manage our own lives, knowing we are responsible for what we are becoming — and where we are going.

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