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Making your dream a reality means breaking it down to small, manageable goals and tasks.
That means planning and committing to getting things done. Otherwise a dream stays just a dream.
It also means creating new habits and become more disciplined about our approach to priorities.
The SMART goal system is deceptively simple and a huge help in goal setting.
SMART stands for:
- Set a goal (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely)
- Monitor your progress
- Arrange your world for success
- Recruit a support team
- Treat yourself
1. SETTING GOALS is so important that it’s even further defined by the SMART system.
Your goals need to be:
- Specific – you need to be able to describe the goal clearly and in detail.
- Measurable – how can you quantify your goal? If you are going to write a book, then a measurable quality might be to say that you are going to write one page in your novel every day.
- Attainable – don’t set a goal that might be impossible. Again using our book example, it would be difficult to write 20 pages a day, every day of the week. By making a goal attainable, you are making sure that you will achieve it, or even surpass it.
- Realistic – Is it realistic for someone who wants to become an actor to make a goal to get their first lead role within a month of auditioning in Hollywood? Unlikely. A more realistic goal might be to audition and be accepted into an acting class.
- Timely – This is the time you give yourself to achieve your goal. “I will write the first chapter of my book in the next 30 days.” or “I will drop my acting portfolio off at 5 agents’ offices this week.”
This is not complicated. It’s just a matter of asking yourself the right questions when you are setting goals for yourself. These questions provide your goals with all the support they need to successfully achieve them.
- Who: Who is involved in your goal? Do you have someone who will take part?
- What: What do you want to accomplish?
- Where: Is there a location tied to your goal? The gym, a coffee shop where you can work uninterrupted, etc.?
- When: What is the time frame by which you will reach your goal?
- Which: Are there specific actions or objects you will need? A laptop, software for your project, a time tracking app?
- Why: How will you benefit from achieving your goal? Why are you doing it? Ask yourself what will happen if you don’t do this? Be invested in your goal.
- And lastly, when you have answered all these questions, is the goal you’ve just described specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely?
This is what it might look like if your goal is to get healthier with a 5 day diet challenge:
I will make a 1200 calorie whole foods eating plan for next week and follow it at least 5 out of 7 days.
I will write my plan out on my kitchen whiteboard and track my food in MyFitnessPal.
I know I can do this because I will plan it in advance
I know I can be disciplined at least 5 days of the week and maybe more
At the end of 5 days, I will have completed my goal
It’s specific because you have a calorie count and a commitment of 5 days.
It’s measurable because you will see the plan on the board and track your intake.
It’s attainable because you believe in your ability to stick to your eating plan for most of the week.
It’s realistic because it’s a healthy calorie level and you are committed to following it.
And it’s timely because you have 7 days to reach your goal.
SMART goal setting is key to long term success because it allows you to change one small thing at a time.
Look at your big goals, the ones that will take several weeks or months to achieve. Now break them down into small specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goals.
Remember that changing how you do things and gaining new habits depends on one critical factor.
You have to want to change.
Set goals for something you really want, not because it sounds like something you should do. And when you succeed, set more goals until the behavior becomes a part of you.
2. MONITOR YOUR PROGRESS – the key to the SMART goal system
If you don’t monitor your progress, all the dedication in the world keep you on track.
Tracking is what keeps you honest about your goals and is key to detouring back to your plan before losing much ground.
It’s easy to over and underestimate what we do during our busy days. Does this sound familiar?
“I called the French consulate about the requirements for an extended stay visa, but the office was shut down for lunch. I’ll try again tomorrow.”
“I only had my phone with me at lunch, so I voice dictated some work on my book. I think it was probably the two pages I committed to doing today, but I’m not sure.”
“I drank a lot of water today. I’m not sure how much, but it was a lot.”
Without tracking, you have no way of knowing whether you hit your goals for the day or not, and the frustration you experience when you find yourself falling behind will be worse because it was avoidable.
If your goal was to increase your water intake, you first have to decide how much you’ll drink but how will you know if you hit your goal without consciously measuring and tracking your water throughout your day.
There’s no need for complicated trackers. Measure the amount of water that fits in your favorite water bottle once and calculate how many you’ll need to drink total per day. Then just add a series of little drop icons in your planner (like this: ) and check them off as you finish each bottle. Write your daily goal in your planner and check it off when it’s completed.
Make your tracking system as simple or complicated as you like. As long as you use it, it’s the right one for you.
3. ARRANGE YOUR WORLD FOR SUCCESS.
Arranging your world for success is like getting your car tuned up before a road trip. You get the oil and water checked, have that pinging sound looked at, check the tires, gas it up, and have it cleaned.
You think through every possible scenario and emergency and then carefully pack up everything you might possibly need.
It’s exactly the same when you create goals to make your dream a reality.
What will you need to make the changes easier? What in your home and workplace might be obstacles to your goals? Do you need help, like a coach or mentor?
Leaping in without thinking will almost always lead to failure due to unanticipated problems.
But preparing yourself and your environment for your plans will greatly increase your odds for success because you will have thought through and dealt with problems before ever getting on “the road.”
To use a cooking example – One of our first units in culinary school was Setting Yourself Up for Success. It involved two key ideas for cooks – resetting your kitchen and pantry and learning to use Mise en Place (literal translation: to put everything in its place. The measuring and laying out all of your ingredients before starting to cook).
By resetting my kitchen and pantry, I eliminated the ingredients and tools that were unnecessary to make room for those I would need to achieve my goal of learning plant-based cooking. Out went over processed gravies and sauces and in came herbs of all kinds and natural thickeners. Fresh ingredients no longer went into the refrigerator in the bags they came in with. They were washed, dried and carefully stored in containers for upcoming recipes. My tools and ingredients were separated by function so that I could find anything I needed at any time.
If you need to spend an hour a day on your goals, you need to take the time to decide how to create the environment you need. If your family demands your time too much, perhaps getting up an hour earlier would give you the peace you need. Or going to a Starbucks on the weekend while your husband watching the kids.
Resetting the People in Your Life
Setting yourself up for success means not only pushing away habits and behaviors that are going to get in the way of your goals , but also the expectations of people in your life.
One of my friends, who embarked on a very focused weight loss program, used to have a girls’ night out every week with her friends. Lots of wine, snacks, and laughter.
She gave up on those evenings while she was losing weight and redefined them afterward, bringing healthier food to the gatherings, limiting her drinking, and logging everything so she could balance her caloric intake over a couple of days.
It was her choice to reset her friends by telling them that she wouldn’t participate in the food and drink heavy evenings while she was actively losing weight. And afterwards, she engaged them in making the evenings more healthy by bringing foods she could eat and track. And soon everyone began switching to healthier foods on girls’ night!
Even though we want to think people are well-meaning, jealousy and fear can drive some people to tell you anything to get you off track. “You’re spending so much time on this book of yours! Don’t you feel guilty that you’re neglecting your family?” This is a very, very tough part of life and it can stop you in your tracks if you can’t come to grips with it.
Learn to deflect and distract. And if you have to, hold your ground.
If you want to make your dream a reality, you might have to fight for it.
4. RECRUIT A SUPPORT SYSTEM
Your support system is your fans, people that love you and want to see you achieve what means most to you.
A good support system for weight loss will give you help when you want it, advice when you ask for it, and a kick in the butt when you need it! Whether it’s a dieting group, your best friend, or an online forum, support is available to anyone and can be a huge help in achieving your goals.
Many people feel somewhat ashamed when they begin a diet. Especially if they’ve begun and abandoned diets before.
We may feel as if going alone and keeping the diet a secret will be easier than facing people who might be judgemental or dismissive.
If that’s the case, find another source of support.
Who is your support system?
Your support system can be a person physically present in your life, like a spouse or a coworker.
It can be a friend who lives across the country but will pick up the phone to share your day and tell you that you are worth all your hard work and they believe in you.
Getting the support you need is one of the pillars of the SMART goal setting system. Having emotional support is great at the best of times and critical during difficult times.
A good support system will see you through the tough times, will be cheering you on at the finish line and keep you on your feet afterward.
You don’t need to do this alone and you shouldn’t.
What a good support system can do for you.
1.They can remind you of your motivations.
Sometimes you just need someone to remind you how important your goal is. To tell you they believe in your and to get back to it.
2. They can be your accountability partner.
Being accountable to someone else can be more powerful than being accountable to yourself. Don’t lie to your support system.
3. They can commiserate with you when you falter.
When you do backslide in your habits, a good support system will listen to the reasons, forgive you for being human and remind you that a slip does not define you as a person.
4. Dismiss your excuses and get you back on track.
Tough love is support too. A good support system will understand your difficult times but they will also push you to put your mistakes behind you and move on towards your destination.
5. Help you problem solve.
Let’s face it. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. And solving problems is a big part of creating something new in your life. Your support system can brainstorm ideas with you so that you can overcome the obstacles you come across.
6. Celebrate your wins with you and be genuinely happy that you have succeeded.
A good support system will be genuinely happy for you when you make a goal. Not pretend-happy, genuinely happy. They will celebrate with you and be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Need some help in finding a support system?
- Check Meetup.com. No, it’s not a dating site, though there are several groups focused on single people. There’s a meet up for virtually any interest you can think of. Browsing it, I see groups for writers, professionals, travelers, cooks, pet get togethers, and many others.
- Look for a personal coach. I offer coaching services (at the time of this writing, they aren’t yet on the website, so contact me directly if you’re interested) and there are many others out there. You might even want to look into a life coach at the beginning of your journey.
- Find a mentor who has the time to follow your progress and offer advice.
By this point, you have Set goals, Monitored your progress, Arranged your world for success, Recruited a support system, and now you are on the last step in the SMART goal model.
Every time you complete a goal, big or small, reward yourself.
Yes, you heard that right.
When you begin the journey towards your achieving your dream, you are looking at your ultimate goal from a distance. A very big distance!
The mind has a hard time wrapping itself around the idea of so much time and work between the beginning and the end result.
That’s why we set smaller, achievable goals. They are all steps towards that big target.
By keeping your goals small, measurable, achievable, and observable, you focused on what you can do now.
And that 200 pages to write to have a completed book suddenly is 100, then 50, then only 10! 10 page increments are easy when you set up a reward system!
When you reward your achievements, you are sending your brain the message that the actions you are taking are important and deserve to be acknowledged.
How cool is it when someone tells you that not only should you treat yourself every time you reach a goal, but that it’s vitally important that you do?
Set your goal, monitor your progress, arrange your world for success, recruit a support system and now reward your hard work!
A couple of years ago, I set out on a big journey and rewarded myself with small treats along the way. My rewards varied from a manicure, a pretty Brighton keychain (that I still use every day), a new book, an hour alone to take a bubble bath and listen to soft music. I also set up a much bigger reward for reaching my goal and proudly bought and wear a beautiful watch as my ultimate reward.
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I looked forward to each new treat and it made working hard a pleasure because I knew exactly what was waiting for me at the end.
And rewards don’t have to cost you any money! A friend on a fixed budget set up a chart and placed a star sticker for every goal, she went on hikes with friends, hosted movie nights, and enjoyed hour-long candlelit baths while her husband watched the kids.
It’s less about what the reward is and much more about having a satisfying completion of a goal.
When you do something and the world just keeps moving and your accomplishment is ignored, it’s disappointing and you have no encouragement to continue the behavior.
When you reward yourself, even in some small way, for each accomplishment, you are acknowledging the achievement and you want to do it again.
Taking a moment to tell ourselves “Good job!” and reward the goal we’ve just reached, makes the moment that much more powerful and satisfying.
And that’s the big secret thing you need to know about successfully completing goals.
Rewarding a behavior reinforces that behavior.
It’s also important to keep sending positive messages to yourself. Have that manicure or read a new book, but remember to tell yourself that there are many rewards for the life you are choosing to live.
Want to read more about SMART goal setting? Get the book!
So what are you waiting for? Go set a new goal right now and tell us what it is in the comments!
And don’t forget to pick a reward for getting the job done!