“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao-tzu
Making a change can seem like a huge undertaking, if not completely overwhelming. To counteract that feeling, it can help to remember that change is a process that occurs little step by little step by little step. The cumulative effect of those little steps creates the change that you want!
Once you have identified the change that you want to make (whether it is exercising or being on time or cleaning out a cluttered closet), the next thing to do is to break it down into parts. Often we do not move forward because our goal is in too big of a chunk. It’s actually several actions instead of one. Each action may be simple enough in itself, but our brain is attempting, in some way, to do them simultaneously. It’s doing its best, but it will not succeed unless you first back up and break down your goal into simple, concrete, manageable actions. Then, you and your brain can go for it. That’s where the SMART goal format can come into play.
A SMART goal is an acronym for a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic/Relevant and Time-based.
Specific – Take, for example, “exercise.” That is not specific. It is vague. What kind of exercise? Swimming? Walking? Racquetball? Where will you exercise? Outside? A particular gym? Do you already belong to that gym? Will you be exercising by yourself, or do you want to work-out with someone? Who is that “someone”? Do they have an interest and time available when you do? These are questions that seems obvious but can kill the success of a goal if they are not clearly answered!
Measurable – How often? Once each week? Three times each week? And how long for each time? One game? Thirty minutes? If you’re looking at a goal like exercise that is best done with a gradual progression from starting out small to building on your successes, it helps to have short-term, intermediate and long-term goals. Perhaps you’ll start out by just walking for 20 minutes three times the first week, then building to 25 minutes each time the second week, then 30 minutes the third week, and so on, until you have built up to the amount and frequency that you are wanting. You can increase your likelihood of success by identifying which days you will exercise on: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays? Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays? Your long-term goal may be to run a 5K by a certain date.
Attainable (or Achievable) – Is the goal something that is possible for you to achieve? Do you really believe that it is possible? If you decide to exercise every single day but have three days each week that are already so jam-packed full of commitments that you really don’t have the time or energy to exercise on those days, then daily exercise is not an attainable goal for you! However, by modifying your goal to perhaps three times each week, it becomes attainable. Seems like a very simple and obvious point, but you’d be amazed how many of us tend to overlook the importance of really looking squarely at this guideline.
Realistic (or Relevant) – “Is your goal realistic?” is very similar to “Is your goal attainable or achievable?” “Is your goal relevant?” addresses whether or not your goal fits with your vision and values and what is important to you. How does your goal matter in the overall picture of what you want for yourself?
Time-based – If you leave this one out, your brain doesn’t have a way to wrap itself around your goal and go to work for you. Having a definite date for getting started on your goal and a definite date for completing your goal increases the structure for your goal and, therefore, helps support you in accomplishing that goal. Dates also help by providing you with some motivation to get going (because, for example, you want to be ready for the 5K!)
Little step by little step by little step. But before you take any steps, put the change you want to make into a SMART goal format to increase your likelihood for success. You want to use the resources you already have to give yourself the support you need!