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Rethinking SMART Goals: A Unique Twist For Personal Success

The year 1981 changed how people set goals. George Doran, a former corporate planning director, discerned the need for a simple, concise way to define goals within organizations, a way to cut through the waffle and confusion that muddied the waters of accomplishment. So, in 1981 he published his proposal that goals should be SMART.

Over the years, the original SMART goals framework gave birth to many versions. Whatever version you prefer, Doran’s suggestion to make goals SMART proved so popular that today you’ll unlikely to meet the word goal without the acronym SMART by its side.

Yet the SMART framework never resonated with me. It’s fine in theory. But in practice, something’s not right, like a pair of shoes that look great but pinch when worn.

Let’s delve into a couple of aspects:

  • Measurable: The very act of measuring progress usually incites my inner overachiever. It kindles that unyielding NGE mindset (Not Good Enough, as in not making progress fast enough; not doing well enough; or not performing often enough). In my case, measuring is neither motivating nor fulfilling.
  • Specific: Interestingly, research suggests that specific goals are no more effective than vague ones and might even be less effective for certain activities. *

Now, I’m not saying that goals shouldn’t be SMART. But here’s the point: that acronym was originally proposed for business – the world of productivity, efficiency, accomplishment, and accountability. Life is often messier and less predictable. So, I propose a fresh take on SMART, tailored for real life.

A Fresh Take On SMART Goals

My version is Small (and Sustainable – double points for alliteration!), Meaningful, Adaptable, Reachable, and Transformative. And I added two more letters, making the whole thing SMARTER. More about that later.

Let’s unpack my version.

  • S – Small

This is gold for anyone, but especially for those who set the bar of achievement too high. Trying to do everything perfectly is fertile ground for overwhelm, exhaustion, and burnout.

On the other hand, small is sustainable. Sustainable works in the long term, not just for today or this week.

Small actions accumulate. Sustain a small action and you get a big result. As Jim Kwik, author of Limitless*, says: “Little by little, a little can become a lot.”

Actionable Step: If decluttering is your goal, start with just one drawer or shelf a day. You’ll be amazed at the progress from just 10 minutes a day.

  • M – Meaningful

Align your goals with your core values. Understanding the ‘why’ gives your goal depth and staying power. It feeds motivation and leads to a deeper sense of satisfaction.

Let’s say you want to read more books. Why? Is it to learn, to escape, to feel inspired?

Actionable step: Write down why each goal is important to you. This clarity is your anchor.

  1. A – Adaptable

Life throws curveballs, and goals need to bend, not break. Sometimes, having to change course unexpectedly opens the door to serendipity and spontaneity, to wonderful things that wouldn’t have happened if all had gone to plan.

This happened when my husband and I were planning a wedding anniversary celebration. The goal was a road trip around Australia’s island state of Tasmania. Disappointingly, unexpected expenses put an end to that. So, we decided to be tourists at home instead, enjoying the delights of a beautiful river city in perfect winter weather.

So, when circumstances change, adjust accordingly. Flexibility is not failure; it’s the key to long-term success. 

Actionable step: Have a plan B. Sometimes it turns out to be the better option!

  • R – Reachable (and Realistic)

Dream big, but start realistically. Nothing kills motivation faster than a goal that’s out of reach. On the other hand, don’t set your sights too low, either. Goldilocks goals – not too hard, not too easy – are the way to go.

Actionable step: A 10-minute walk during your lunch break or after dinner is a small, sustainable step towards a more active lifestyle.

  • T – Transformative

Every version of SMART, including the original, refers to a specific timeframe here: a goal needs an end date.

True, deadlines can fuel the flames of focus and motivation. However, not all goals are quantifiable or time-bound.

An intriguing example is healthspan. In his excellent book on longevity,* Dr Peter Attia defines healthspan as the goal, not to live as long as possible (i.e. lifespan), but to live as well as possible during one’s lifespan, particularly as we age. That resonates deeply with me.

Goals like that are ongoing processes, not time-bound ones. That’s why I think Transformative is a more flexible choice.

Whether it’s learning a new skill, improving your health, or enhancing your relationships, your goal should transform an aspect of your life for the better, propelling you towards the person you want to become. Choose goals that bring positive change and enrich your life.

Actionable step: Ask yourself, will this goal improve me and my life? Reflect on how achieving it will help you grow. Visualize this transformation to stay inspired.

Making Goals SMARTER

  • eER – Evaluate Regularly

This is where you check in with yourself. Assessing your goals keeps you accountable and allows for course correction. It’s like checking a map on a long journey; it ensures you’re still on the right path.

Make sure you acknowledge and celebrate progress, however small. Never underestimate the power of the micro-win. It nourishes your motivation like fertilizer on a garden.

My reviews happen at the end of each week, right before I plan out the next one. I ask myself: What worked this week? What didn’t? Why? Was I not committed enough or have I chosen the wrong time for an activity?

These reviews are invaluable. They unearthed why I wasn’t reaching certain goals. It wasn’t because my goals weren’t meaningful or transformative enough to motivate and inspire me. They were.

It turned out that some weren’t reachable because I hadn’t allowed enough time for them. I needed to be more realistic about how long they take. So, I broke them into smaller chunks, which made all the difference. Other tasks I reassigned to a better time. That adaptation means that I clean my house at night, which works well for me.

Actionable step: Carve out time for a monthly (or weekly) review. Ask questions like: Am I closer to my goal? Do I need to make any adjustments?

Finally…

Take a moment and reflect on a goal you’re struggling with. Why not apply my SMARTER framework to it? Break it down, make it meaningful, and adapt as necessary. Shunt it around your schedule until it finds the sweet spot. Toss aside what doesn’t work and celebrate what does.

Remember, every small step counts towards a larger journey.

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