Have you heard of setting “SMART” goals? SMART is an acronym that states goals should be the following:
Personally, I think that list is DUMB.
Deadly (as in it will kill your goals)
More than you need
OK, I just wanted to make up my own acronym. To be honest, using the SMART guide can be helpful. It’s a good litmus test to check your goals against, and helps to prevent you from some common goal-setting errors.
It doesn’t address what I believe to be the biggest mistake in goal setting.
This mistake causes people to give up on their resolutions and prevents them from reaching their goals.
It’s the mistake of setting a goal based on outcome rather than input.
Or setting a goal based on pay instead of work.
Or tracking accomplishments rather than efforts.
Let’s say your goal is to lose 24 pounds this year. Is that a SMART goal? Let’s test it.
Specific – I see no vagueness in this goal. If it were up to me, I’d prefer it say “24 pounds of fat“, but that’s getting picky. Specific. CHECK.
Measurable – Very measurable, just step on a scale.
Achievable – Yes, there is no reason why you can’t achieve this. There is a reason why you may not, but we’ll talk about that later. It is possible.
Realistic – 24 pounds lost in one year equates to two pounds per month. Yes, it’s realistic.
Time-bound – The one-year is a very specific time limit. 365 days. March 1, 2013 is the deadline. Perfect.
So it’s definitely SMART. That means guaranteed success, right? Not quite. And you know that, because this isn’t your first rodeo. Here’s what happens to most people:
Day 1: Weigh-in. The scale is pretty disturbing to watch. This sends adrenaline and motivation pumping through you like crazy. You could be one of the 300 Spartan warriors. Today, you eat healthy, and you exercise to the max. Great job.
Day 2: You weigh in. HOLY COW, you dropped one pound in one day! You do some quick math, and figure out if you stay on this pace, you’ll lose your yearly quota of 24 pounds in three and a half weeks. Then you have 48 weeks left in the year to be on a beach with some models. You will fit right in. Heck, someone might even want your autograph! Working out today is FUN. You can’t get that image of a skinny you in all your new clothes. Eating healthy is also easy, and with good cause. Your body is a fat-burning factory.
Day 3 – Day 7: At some point, your weigh-in doesn’t go so well. Maybe you plateau for a few days straight, or even put weight back on. The horror! Instead of seeing it for what it is (water weight, normal fluctuations, or an un-birthed food baby), you convince yourself that you were born to be a fat cow. The goal now seems unreachable, and you are defeated. If you have good willpower, you may not quit for another couple weeks or months, but eventually everyone runs out of the emotional energy to overcome this frustration.
If your attempts at weight loss have ever felt like a yo-yo, this probably hits some pretty strong chords. Or if you think you’re accustomed to hitting a wall that you eventually lose to, this also applies.
Now – here’s the secret decoder ring in your cereal box. This is how you beat the evil boss of frustration:
ONLY TRACK YOUR EFFORTS
In our example, that means you set your plan (or better yet, habits) up front. I’ll be making a follow-up post on setting habits in the next couple days.
For now, let’s say your habits are to run some distance every day, and eliminate sugars from your diet. Guess what you track. How many days you’ve run, and how many meals you’ve had without sugar. That’s it. Throw away the scale. Or check your weight once every few months. It’s useless to watch that number. It would be like staying an extra hour at work every day, and watching your paycheck for a raise. With time, it will come, but it’s not under your direct, daily control.
So your tracking sheet would look like this:
Did I run? YES
Avoid sugar at breakfast? YES
Avoid sugar at lunch? YES
Avoid sugar at dinner? YES
Why does this work? Because we’re creatures of emotion. Each time we experience a victory, our body gives us a little shot of positive emotion in the form of energy. The more of those positive shots we can give ourselves, the better. And these shots don’t require you slapping any veins. Just do what you say you’re going to do.
There are some ancillary benefits, as well. Constantly achieving mini-goals like this will give you more self-confidence. It will reduce anxiety and stress. Oh, and it will make big goals seem to accomplish themselves. Freeing up your mental energy to pursue other things you want (travel, career, or a date with those models you envisioned yourself on the beach with).
Want to write a book?
Goal: published book Goal: write 1 page a day.
Want more money?
Goal: get a raise at work Goal: spend an hour each day doing something above and beyond my normal job
Grow your business?
Goal: get 10 new customers Goal: send 50 marketing letters each day
Goals of effort are based on the action required instead of the results desired
One last note – I just learned that Jerry Seinfeld, well before he was popular, performed two comedy shows per night for eighteen months. Every night. Unpaid.
That is about 1,100 free shows. I assume his goal was to be a successful, highly-paid comedian.
He could have been thinking that each day he didn’t have a #1 hit network sit-com show, he was a failure. But that’s a lot of failure – 1,100 days straight of assuming failure will cause anyone to lose hope and quit.
Instead, I think he saw the value in each show he did. He extracted the value of practice. Of improvement. He saw each show as an opportunity to grow. And therefore, he got two big successes each and every day. For 18 months.