The NINE elements of an effective goal

“Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion.
You must set yourself on fire.” – Arnold H. Glasow

Goal setting theory talks a lot about SMART goals. There are a number of different versions of what exactly SMART stands for. I have read versions where the ‘A’ stands for agreed, attractive, achievable, attainable, acceptable, and even action-oriented. Whilst the origin of the acronym is lost, and the specific traits are not universally agreed, SMART goals still provide a great framework to improve your goal setting and help you create more effective goals.

Basically SMART is an acronym for the following traits:

  • SPECIFIC
  • MEASURABLE
  • ATTRACTIVE
  • REALISTIC
  • TIME PHASED

When you create a goal with these traits, they help you to focus on what you want to achieve in ways which psychologically improve your ability to see the goal through. Nevertheless, there are four traits which are not part of the acronym, but which are equally, if not more, important! With these four traits missing, the power of your goal setting is diluted. It is possible to create SMART goals which fail to create enough psychological engagement with your goal, and also fail to take aspects of your own psychological constitution into account.

There are nine elements to creating a goal that is really effective for you. If you craft your goal correctly, both in how your goal is worded, and what it is about, then it becomes a springboard to the motivation and commitment you need to bring that goal to fruition.

Your goal should be:

 

1. SPECIFIC

Your goal should be specific. This means that the goal is clearly identified, and free from ambiguity. It should have a tightly defined outcome. For example, “Save more money” is not specific enough. How much money? Over what time period? For what purpose?

By making your goal specific, you really nail what the goal is about in your own mind – which allows your psychological processes to kick in and help you bring it into reality. It helps allow your “reticular activating system” – those brain cells that filter perception – to bring opportunities to your attention, and help you become more aware of your behaviour in situations that affect how you achieve your goal.

 

2. MEASURABLE

Your goal should be measurable. By introducing some element of measurability into your goal, you can be much more aware and informed of your progress with the goal. Again, it allows you to have much stronger and reliable feedback. Also, by making your goal measurable, it generally helps with increasing how specific the goal is.

It should be noted that with some goals, the measurability can be whether the goal “event” has actually happened, or not. For example, if your goal was to “Watch a Tchaikovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg” then the element of measurability here is simply whether you did, or did not. With other goals, the measurability is much clearer – for example, “Run the mile in under four minutes thirty seconds”. Here, the measurability also allows you to chart your progress, which is an excellent feedback tool.

 

3. ATTRACTIVE

If your goal is not desirable to you, if you aren’t attracted to your goal, then how can you become effectively motivated towards achieving it? The best goals are ones which literally have you leaping out of bed in the morning to complete. They get you excited and inspired. Attractive, desirable goals maintain a high interest level for you in attaining your outcome. They keep you emotional engaged with the end result that you desire: your goal’s completion.

The best goals aren’t wishes. They aren’t wants. The very best goals stem from desires so deep and strong that they attract you at such a core level that the meaning you attribute to their completion becomes ingrained within your very personality – basically, completing the goal then becomes an expression of who you are.

 

4. REALISTIC

Do you have the time, talent, resources and commitment to achieving this goal? If not, are you being realistic in setting such a goal for yourself? If you’ve only just started running, then it is unrealistic to expect to beat the world record within three months!

One person’s “achievable” is another person’s pipedream, so you do have to be very aware of your own capabilities. Often times though, people can perform well in excess of what they would normally expect when they have the support, and encouragement of others who want to see them succeed. You need to strike a balance between goals that are too small to get you motivated, and goals where you are simply setting yourself up for failure.

What is realistic can also be a factor of what society has conditioned you to believe as being realistic though – and it is interesting when those paradigms are broken. In 1983, an unknown 61 year old farmer, Cliff Young, ran 875kms in less than 6 days to win the Sydney – Melbourne ultra-marathon race, beating world-class athletes by over six hours. For most people, it is not really realistic to believe that an unknown person of that age could win such a race, but it provides a wonderful example of just how the power of one’s beliefs can affect just what may appear to be “realistic”.

 

5. TIME PHASED

When you give your goal a target date for completion, you do two things. Firstly, it acts as a structure which helps you develop strategies for its completion. For example, the strategies to build a business to 100,000 customers may be very different if the time period for its completion is either five years, or five months. The second thing is, it creates a sense of urgency over its completion. Instead of merely talking about what you want to do, having a time period helps spur you into action because you start to think about when things need to happen.

Having a target date for completion also helps you to evaluate exactly where you are in relation to completing the goal. Thus, it helps provide you with a feedback mechanism, and a means to measure or chart your progress.

 

6. POSITIVELY PHRASED

Always ensure that your goal is phrased in a positive manner. Your brain is wired towards creating what you DO want, rather than avoiding what you don’t. In addition, positively phrased goals then become much more inspiring, and fun – instead of being about fixing some aspect of yourself, positively phrased goals are about extending and enhancing yourself.

Try to avoid creating goals with words like “stop, quit, lose, don’t”. Think about the positive things you gain by your goal. Ask yourself what you gain by achieving the goal. Aim at where you want to be, rather than where you don’t want to be.

For example, a positively phrased version of “lose 15 pounds of weight” might be “gain a svelte toned figure”. Instead of “stop smoking” a more positive phrased version might be “savour the fresh taste of life as a non-smoker”.

 

7. CHALLENGING

A challenging goal will bring out the best of your performance. A challenging goal will demand for you to extend yourself, your capabilities and beliefs. It will ask for you to be a better person tomorrow than you are today – in a whole host of different ways. A challenging goal gives you something to aspire to, as well as a strong focal point for you to aim your energy.

Challenges help you to discover things about yourself that you never really knew before, and by setting out to achieve them, they enable you to rise to produce a superior performance.

 

8. INSPIRING

For a goal to really be effective, it is necessary that you find the outcome inspiring in some way. The best goals leave you slightly nervous and excited at the prospect of achieving them. When the goal inspires you, it gives you energy and purpose, which will help drive you onwards towards success when obstacles appear.

When the goal is very inspiring for others, the universe conspires to help you. Call it synchronicity or whatever, but when your goal inspires others, people often appear in your life to help you succeed, to help be a part of your success, encourage you, and spur you onwards. People like to feel part of something bigger than themselves, and if you have a goal that could change the world for the better, others want to be a part of that and feel like they have helped. For example, in 1961, Peter Benenson, a British lawyer read about two Portuguese students who had been arrested for making a toast to freedom in a Lisbon bar. Benenson decided to create an organisation which would expose and confront government injustice. His brainchild, Amnesty International now has over one million members in over 140 countries.

 

9. CONGRUOUS WITH YOUR VALUES AND INTEGRITY

Most people create goals that are congruous with their integrity because it automatically creates psychological discomfort if they don’t, but perhaps the biggest error is to create goals which contradict your values structure. Basically, values are the set of emotional states that you wish to feel on a regular basis. Examples of values include: adventure, comfort, security, health, love, family, prosperity. People struggle with their goals, for example, if they create an exercise goal, but then value comfort more than feeling healthy.

The solution is to be very clear about what values you currently have, and what values it will take to achieve your goal, and then actually alter the things you value in life. Once you actually know what your current values are, together with how you prioritise them, you can mentally choose to change and alter the priority you place upon them – or even discard them altogether. By then reinforcing your new values structure with your new behaviours, you can gradually change the way you experience life. You can do this because you can actually decide which emotional states are important to you, and the priority you place upon them – it’s a choice.

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