The Art of S.M.A.R.T.
Blog entry by Kevin Jones, M.C., R. Psych.
Goals, we all have them. Whether we want to shed a few pounds, climb another rung of the corporate latter, or finally scale that mountain of laundry accumulating in the corner, we often seem driven to accomplish, or at least dream of reaching, our objectives.
However, despite our best efforts, there are times when success alludes us. While many of us move quickly to self-criticism or self-defeating beliefs, perhaps the deficit lies instead within the construction of the goal itself. Originally published as a management technique (Doran, 1981), the S.M.A.R.T. acronym has been adopted by psychology to improve individual goal setting. Though the exact meaning of the letters is controversial (Rubin, 2002), I frequently utilize the following conceptualization when assisting clients or setting my own targets.
A goal is more likely to be accomplished if we can pin down exactly what we are taking about. For example, a person may endeavor to become a better father. While admirable, having such a vague goal is unlikely to promote lasting change. However, a specific goal, like reading a particular book on fatherhood is more likely to induce motivation.
A person may set a goal to be a faster runner. While that may sound like a specific goal, it does not tell us how to assess change. If we can track our progress, we are more likely to continue. Therefore, a better goal would be to run 5-kilometres in a set amount of time and then proceed with measuring progress.
Even when the first two conditions are met, struggles can arise if the original goal is too lofty. While climbing mount Everest is specific, and measurable, it is unlikely to be attainable unless smaller goals are accomplished first (e.g., taking climbing lessons, scaling smaller mountains, etc.)
While being able to juggle three bowling pins for 30 seconds is specific, measurable, and may even be attainable with enough practice, it does not matter if the goal is irrelevant to you. If you do not care about the goal or its outcome, success will be an uphill battle.
The final step is to set a time limit for your goal, otherwise goals have a way of being pushed back indefinitely. Setting a deadline, and sticking to it, can increase your motivation to get things done in the present.
In conclusion, while we all have goals, sometimes our achievement is blocked not by an internal deficit but instead by our goal-setting process. Therefore, the next time you set out to create a goal, consider making an intelligent choice by utilizing the S.M.A.R.T. method.
Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”, Management Review, 70(11), 35-36.
Rubin, R. S. (2002). Will the Real SMART Goals Please Stand UP? The industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39(4) 26-27.