Anyone who knows ANYTHING about modern therapy (specifically methods with their roots in CBT) will know about effective goal setting. Some academics like to use the phrase “implementation intentions” but personally I think this sounds really clumsy and would never use the term outside of a journal article. Yeesh.

More familiar from popular psychology is the idea of “SMART goals”. Yep, it’s an acronym! I love these things…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

(some people also suggest that goals set should be Enjoyable and have a Reward, making goals not just SMART but SMARTER. Personally, I don’t think this is always necessary, and reward-driven tasks don’t always foster long-term behaviour change. Why are you achieving your goal – because you want to achieve the goal for its own sake, or because it gives you licence to eat that cake? Come on, you’re not a kid, you don’t need star chart…)

That said, SMART goal setting works REALLY WELL with kids (via CounselorEtc)

So what do the elements of SMART goals actually mean? And why is important to set SMART goals? If you don’t set a specific goal, with measurable parameters, how will you ever know when you’ve achieved your goal? A New Year’s resolution to “lose weight” is a lot different from a SMART goal to “lose 10lbs”. Well, actually, that’s NOT a SMART goal. Lose 10lbs by when? Next week? Next month? Next year? Setting a time limit on your goal makes it more specific, and the time limit you set for your goal will affect how realistic and attainable it is. If you set a goal to “lose 10lbs by next week” you are, more likely than not, setting yourself up to fail. And if you’re being unrealistic, and you fail at your goal, how will you feel about your ability to achieve your goals? Yeah, pretty rubbish. But if you want to “lose 10lbs over the next 3 months”, and maybe even specify how you intend to achieve this “…by going for a 30min cycle 3 times a week” then hey – you’re more likely to achieve that than if you just intend to “lose weight”.

And now you’ve lost your weight (or whatever it was you set out to do), something you actually wanted to do… do you need a reward? Oh wait, the completed goal IS A REWARD IN ITSELF.

I’ve recently started following the wonderful inspiration that is Kaylah Doolan over at The Dainty Squid and she is a fantastic example of someone who sets effective SMART goals (and has been doing so FOR YEARS).

Yes ok, so not every goal she sets fits the SMART model, but not all goals need to… And a number of them fit PERFECTLY! For example, one of her goals for this year, “shoot 52 rolls of film” – it’s specific (52 rolls of film is an exact number) and therefore measurable (she’ll know she’s achieved it when she has 52 rolls of film shot…), it’s achievable and realistic (she shot 70 rolls of film last year, so she can probably do it again!) and it’s time-bound – she reviews her year’s goals at the end of every year, to see how she got on!! Amazing. And this act of evaluating and assessing can be really valuable as it not only helps you set future goals, but also gives you a good pat on the back for goals achieved. And if you want them to be SMARTER goals..? This particular goal is enjoyable (she definitely enjoys her photography..!) and the reward could be a number of things – a sense of achievement, a whole load of captured memories, material for her blog…!

Yearly goals are pretty daunting to those of us who might be fairly new to the process – so you can start small (like me) and set a goal for tomorrow – like… Go for a 30 minute bike ride after work. Small steps are key.

So what goals will you be setting? x

Some more info on SMART goal-setting:

Top Achievement

Rochester University

Mind Tools


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