Nebulous aspirations, visions of grandeur, and vague wishes for a better life can sometimes give us fleeting moments of pleasure; yet, when they remain ungrounded in reality, they can also lead to frequent disappointment or worse— discouragement. How we express our dreams, how we craft our goals, and how we tell ourselves what we are going to do can make all the difference in how we feel about how we spend our attention.
When I coach my clients, we start every session reviewing each goal in their Week’s Plan, keeping the Pilot Fire SMART & SEXY goal checklist in mind. Each of the nine qualities in the checklist helps us craft goals that make it easier to slip into Flow, that sensation of losing ourselves doing something we care about. This article describes three of them.
Before the week gets away from you, take a few moments to revisit some of your goals. Give them the test. Will your goals help you focus? Do they offer opportunities to lose yourself pursuing them?
The first three qualities, the ‘S-M-A’ of SMART & SEXY goals, are commonplace, even boring, yet they are the three legs of a stool that bring whatever you aspire to achieve closer to your grasp. Consider them essential, faithful like a golden retriever fattened up on table scraps, as reliable as gravity. Always, first, check if your goals are:
Specific • Measurable • Achievable
To help you appreciate this Trustworthy Triumvirate, I first turn your attention to their evil triplet counterparts who seduce us with their high-falluting principles then subtly erode our ability to focus on anything in particular: namely, Vague, All Encompassing, and Lofty.
Here are some Vague, All Encompassing, and/or Lofty goals:
- A soulmate
- Reach for the stars
- Grow my business
- Be more assertive
- Get organized
- Make a difference
- Follow my bliss
Do any of these sound familiar? I think a lot of us wish for these things, but I wouldn’t call them goals. Not only are they Vague, All Encompassing and Lofty, they contain no instruction, and no end. The word goal comes from the Old English word gol, which means boundary, and is related to gǣlan, to hinder, impede. A goal is an obstacle to overcome, a line to cross, a target to hit.
A goal requires effort to take action in relationship to an object with the intent of completion.
That’s a geeky way of saying your goals need to be Specific, Measurable, and Achievable.
Make your goals Specific.
Start with a verb and clearly define your goal in terms of what action you will take in relationship to what object. Answer specifically, WHAT will I do and HOW will I do it?
If you want “Balance,” your goals might be:
- Come home from work for an early dinner on Wednesday.
- Plan a hike this weekend.
- Take my son to the library to pick books we can read together.
Make your goals Measurable.
Clarify the quantity in a goal. Ask, HOW MUCH do I need to do to say I finished? At what distinct point can I cross it off my list?
Instead of “Grow my business,” your goals might be:
- Sign up 30 more customers.
- Hire 30 more employees.
- Make 30% more profit.
Instead of “Be more assertive,” your goals might be:
- Introduce myself to 3 new club members.
- Ask at least 2 of my burning questions at the company retreat.
- Bring 10 good ideas to present at the design review.
When goals are measurable, you know when you hit the target; you know when you cross the finish line.
Make your goals Achievable.
Make sure you have the opportunity, the means, and the environment to reach your goal. CAN YOU really do this? And HOW are you set up to succeed?
Knowing whether something is achievable comes from experience. Big, hairy, audacious goals have their place in terms of long-term motivation, but smaller, clean-shaven, somewhat challenging, yet achievable goals help us more easily focus more on what’s at hand, and they let you figure out what works.
If you want “A soulmate,” you might try signing up for a ceramics class and seeing who else loves throwing clay as much as you do. If you want to “Make a difference,” you might start by offering to pick up some groceries for the old lady next door. You might make a bigger difference than you think.
Then, clear the path, make the time, find the right tools. In fact your next goals might be to do those things first.
This may sound like a stilted way to make plans, but if you are having trouble completing your goals, or more importantly, your goals aren’t motivating you and helping your focus, it’s worth some of stilted retraining. Soon enough making your goals Specific, Measurable, and Achievable will become second nature, and Flow will come to you more easily.
Flow happens when you have a task at hand you have a chance of completing, you are in control, and you have the opportunity to focus.
You might also try Triggering your goals. (That’s the ‘T’ of the SMART & SEXY goal checklist.)
Once your goals are tuned up, go do them.