Happy 2013 to you. I have been traveling for personal reasons and soon will be traveling for professional reasons; so, I haven’t been as active at updating the blog as I was at the end of last year. Since the start of a new year is always associated with creating goals for the year, I’ve decided to write about my goal setting process. I have tried numerous methods for setting goals throughout my life, and after a lot of trial and error, I’ve found the following goal setting method works best for me. Looking back on some of my past goals, there was really no way for me to succeed. In the writing of goals, I ensured my own failure. Some goals were accomplished but most weren’t. Eventually, I learned about S.M.A.R.T. goals. By following this method, I am creating goals that are attainable while still presenting challenges. Here is the method I use with some examples.
The S in the S.M.A.R.T. acronym means specific. This aspect is where I have failed in most of my past goals. I remember in college that I set a goal to get healthier that year. However, getting healthier is a vague goal. What does that mean? Lose weight? Exercise more? Eat better? By setting such a vague target, I made achieving that target nearly impossible. How could I define success when I couldn’t even define what I was doing? A specific example would be to lose weight. This is a bare bones starting example for the S.M.A.R.T. process. I could make it even more specific by adding in reasons for or benefits of accomplishing the goal; I could add in the individuals, locations, requirements and constraints involved. An example of this more elaborate goal would the following statement from 2012. I had set a goal to test for my green belt in Cacoy Doce Pares (CDP) under Master Zach Whitson at the Ryer Academy’s Filipino Martial Arts camp in Pittsburgh, PA.
The M in the acronym stands for measurable. In my engineering career, measurable data is the key to showing progress. For whatever reason, it took a while for me to transfer this concept to my personal life. If I couldn’t measure my progress, how did I know if I was on track to complete my goal? In short, I never did know. The measurable part of the goal is something that is easily described. For example, my goal to get my master’s degree in creative writing had the measurable part defined by the university. I needed to take 39 hours of classes and get at least a B grade point average to graduate. So, the measurable part was taken care of for me. For the weight loss example used above, the measurable part could be a specific weight, i.e. my goal is to lose ten pounds. This is specific and measurable. In Counterpoint Tactical Systems (CTS) and Cacoy Doce Pares, Master Whitson has broken down each belt level into blocks of material. This makes it easy for CTS students to set measurable goals because as we learn and become proficient at the block, we are measuring our progress towards the next goal.
The A in S.M.A.R.T. is attainable. I want to set goals that challenge me, but I also have to set a goal that is realistic and possible for me. If I set a goal to be a starting point guard in the NBA, it would be challenging but not realistic for my set of skills. I could set a goal to win $20 million in the Powerball lottery. This is specific and measurable, and it is even realistic because with every ticket that I buy there is a miniscule chance it could happen. But it is not attainable because I am not in control of that outcome. If the goal is realistic and possible, then I am in control of the outcome. If my goal is to lose ten pounds, I could achieve that goal through diet and exercise. If my goal is to pass my next belt test, it seems as if that outcome is out of my control because Master Whitson evaluates my performance for the test and either passes me or fails me. However, in the creation of the curriculum, he set out the criteria for advancement. So, it is in my control to learn and practice the material to meet that criteria.
Goals should also be relevant, which is the R in S.M.A.R.T. This is one of the easiest parts of personal goal setting. I’ve found that this is more difficult for goals that are set as part of a team. The example in the paragraph above about becoming a point guard in the NBA is not relevant to me because professional basketball is not an interest of mine. So, that goal (while unrealistic) is also set to fail because I have no interest in it.
The final part of the goal setting process is one that everyone is familiar with. It is the Timely or Time-bound portion of the S.M.A.R.T. process. This is the deadline for accomplishing the goal. Most often this is a target date, but it can also contains steps that build toward the success criteria. For example, I could say that I want to lose ten pounds by June 1st. This statement defines a target date. I could also say that I want to lose ten pounds at a rate of one pound per week for ten weeks. That statement defines a similar target goal but has individual steps within to be accomplished. Each of these approaches has its strengths and weaknesses. I personally like to set a target date because it gives me the flexibility of setting my own schedule for meeting a goal. Having a target date also increases the risk of failure because as it is written, it does not contain a plan to accomplish the goal as in the second example. Again, neither is better than the other; I use one type of goal for one objective and the other where appropriate.
Here is my CTS goal for this year. My goal is to pass my second Brown belt test at the 2013 Iron Mountain camp. It’s specific, measurable in that there is curriculum for the second Brown belt, achievable and relevant toward my progression in the CTS art, and it is timely in that I have a target date. I also create goals that are steps in my longer term goals. For example, I have a goal of getting my black belt in CTS at the 2015 Iron Mountain camp. In order to do that, I have to pass the belts in between where I am now and my black belt. Therefore, the goals for passing those belts are progressions towards my black belt.
I write dozens of goals every year, and I fail at some of them. This is okay because the goals that I set are just tools to help me get where I want to be in life. If I don’t meet a personal goal within the time frame that I set, I don’t consider myself a failure. I’ll look at the goal to see if maybe it wasn’t as realistic as I thought or if maybe it wasn’t as high a priority as other goals. The key is to work on tasks that advance my skills and my life in the direction that I want it to go. This works for me in ways that it might not for everyone, but this process is worth trying to get the most out of your aspirations.