Adult life is filled with a huge number of tasks, deadlines, and choices. With so many things pulling you in different directions, it’s easy to get discouraged, spend time working on the wrong things, or forget what you were trying to achieve in the first place.
That’s exactly why you need to set a goal before you start putting in the work. With a clear destination in mind, you can stay motivated and adjust your strategy on-the-go. Setting a SMART goal is a proven method to increase your chances of following through on important decisions.
SMART is an acronym, with each letter standing for a quality that a well-designed goal should have: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timed. Let’s go over them one-by-one.
A goal needs to be specific to be effective. Saying “I need to save money” isn’t going to help you at all. How much do you want to save, and what is it for? When is the deadline? Get down to exact figures and dates.
For example, if you want to save up HK$5,000 for a graduation trip next July, you need to set aside HK$625 each month from now until June. Having a specific number in your head can be the difference between randomly doing something when you remember to do it, and successfully reaching your destination.
The next step in shaping your goal is to make sure it’s measurable. If you want to cut down on junk food, you need to make an effort to keep track of it.
For the first week, every time you have a fizzy drink, grab McDonald’s, or eat a whole bag full of sweets, mark it down somewhere. You may end up writing down that you had unhealthy food 10 times. For the next week, aim for only eight times, and keep track. Week number three, six, and so on.
Without a way to record your progress, a goal is just an empty promise to yourself.
A good goal also has to be realistic. This isn’t to discourage you from aiming high. But setting an impossible task for yourself will only chip away at your willpower if you fail again and again. A useful tip is to use your current level to calibrate where your goal should be.
Let’s say you want to volunteer more often. Setting a goal of five hours of community service a week may be too ambitious. Start smaller, maybe one hour per week. Gradually working your way up not only means you’re making progress, but that sense of achievement you get each time you hit a small goal will motivate you to keep going.
Is the goal you’ve chosen for yourself meaningful to you? Is it the right type of goal for the stage in life that you’re at right now? Is it a worthwhile goal that will help you feel better about who you are? Choosing a relevant goal can be the hardest part of the SMART process.
Think about what matters to you. Sometimes, knowing what to work on is just as important as knowing how to work on it.
Finally, a goal must always be timed. With no time limit on when you need to reach a certain stage, you won’t feel the good kind of pressure that pushes you to meet a deadline. Discuss with someone who knows a lot about the area you want to improve in, and come up with a realistic date for a progress report. Then mark it on your calendar and fight hard to meet this challenge to yourself.
Next time you need to set a goal, remember to check it against these benchmarks. It will go a long way towards successfully achieving them.