By now, many people who have set new year’s resolutions are likely struggling to keep up with them or, perhaps, have already given them up! For many of us, goal-setting is anxiety-provoking because it requires us to face the potential to fail and the potential to change. Ironically, many of us set our goals in a way that winds up setting us up for failure. For example, we may set goals that are unclear, undefined, unreasonable, and/or unmotivating. Or we may neglect to break down our goals into clear steps that are needed to attain them.
So I thought this would be a fitting time to introduce SMART goals—a way of setting up our goals that sets us up to persevere and succeed. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. According to cutting edge research, these 5 adjectives describe the most effective and motivating method of creating goals…
Make your goals SPECIFIC. Often times, we make goals that are vague, abstract, and unclear, such as “I am going to start working out” “I am going to be a better person” “I am going to make more money…” What do these aspirations mean to you? What would they look like to you if you translated them into action? What do you need to do specifically to bring them to fruition?…
How in the world can you achieve these goals if you’re not clear on what they look like in action and what they mean to you? How do you even know when you’ve achieved them? Make your goals as specific and clear as possible so that you can easily identify them once you’ve accomplished them. This will alleviate anxiety and help motivate you to keep moving forward with your goals. Examples of specific goals might be… “I am going to run 1 mile after work every day” “I am going to say something kind and encouraging to at least one person every day” “I am going to increase my sales by 10%.”
Make your goals MEASURABLE and quantifiable so that you know the appropriate steps to take toward your goals and so that you can clearly identify when you have accomplished them. That is, put a number on your goals. How many? How often? How long? To what extent? Examples: “I am going to walk to the end of the block once per day this week”; “I am going to engage in a conversation for 5 minutes twice per day this week”; “I am going to reduce my smoking from 1 pack per day to a ½ pack per day until the 27th, at which point I will reduce my smoking to 1/3 pack per day.”
Make sure your goals are reasonably ATTAINABLE. Don’t set unreasonably high or unfair standards and expectations on yourself. Give yourself tasks that you KNOW you can accomplish, and start there. Maybe you know you can’t write an entire book chapter in one day, but you know you can write one page in one day. Maybe you know you can’t run a whole mile today, but you know you can run to the end of the block today. Start there and work your way up! At least you’ll do SOMETHING rather than taking the all or none approach (e.g., If I can’t run a whole mile, then I might as well not run at all). For goodness sakes! Don’t sabotage yourself like that! Personally, I live by small goals, from the moment I get out of bed in the morning to the moment I go to bed at night. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t accomplish half the things I’ve accomplished in my life. Small goals add up and become big goals! There is no goal that isn’t good enough!
Also, don’t set goals that are out of your control, such as “I want to make others understand me/support me/like me” or “I want other people to buy my product.” When you make your goals depend on other people’s choices and feelings, you are setting yourself up to fail. It is ok to desire these outcomes, but frame your goals in terms of what is within your control. For example, “I am going to communicate clearly so that others can understand me better” “I am going to practice kindness in hopes that I connect better with others” “I am going to implement feedback from my target population to maximize the likelihood that people will buy my product.”
Make sure your goals are REALISTIC. Giving yourself unrealistic goals is a recipe for self-sabotage. This may sound obvious, and yet we still have a tendency to set unrealistic goals. OR we set goals that may be realistic for others but not realistic for ourselves. Ask yourself what is truly realistic for YOU and be honest with yourself. Similar to before, maybe jogging every day is not a realistic starting goal for you, but simply putting your jogging clothes on is. Start there, and work your way up. Don’t compare your goals and accomplishments with others as well. Other people have different journeys, chapters, and hurtles. It is useless to set your goals based on others.
Remember the old adage by Loa Tzu:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Be proud of your single steps!
Make your goals TIMELY. Set a measurable time frame for your goals so that you don’t leave room for yourself to procrastinate or slowly give up your goals. Give yourself a clear target date or deadline (e.g., “I will accomplish xxxx by 5:00pm today”).
I hope this discussion of goal-setting has inspired you and motivated you. Setting your goals in this way helps alleviate anxiety around uncertainty and potential failure and gives you greater agency over your goals. These skills also promote greater self-confidence and feelings of pride and accomplishment. I encourage you to re-evaluate your new year’s resolutions and make them SMART-er!
Until next time,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.