Not long ago I was listening as some of my friends chatted about what they want the future to hold for them.
I have to tell you, I was pretty disappointed. It wasn’t that they were talking about the future that disappointed me. That can be exciting. What made the conversation discouraging is that my friends had no idea about how to set personal goals. One prevailing attitude was “Well, if a good job opens up, I’ll apply for it.” There was no sense as to what constituted a “good” job or that any of them were really interested in preparing themselves to qualify for one
One of the guys always talks about how he and his wife plan to buy a motor home. When he retires, they are going to travel the USA. That’s sounds great!
As of now, they have made no plan as to how to save money for the motor home. (Retirement isn’t that many years away, and the motor home is a rather integral part of their so-called plan.) This “plan” is more of a wish than a goal. He has a dream, but does nothing to make it real.
Another friend wants to move to another state, or country, or wherever when he retires. I’ve known him for quite a while, and when he starts talking about moving or buying property, I know I have to take it with a grain of salt. He has nothing in savings. With no retirement account and facing a future of living on social security, he’s dreaming, too.
If you really want to accomplish something, you have to take a proactive position and do something. You can’t just sit there and hope it comes to you. You have to have a goal and be working towards it.
The question is this: What do you really want?
What do you really want?
What do you want out of life? Is it a lifestyle? A large house? Maybe a memory—like the wedding of the century? We don’t all want the same things out of life, but you owe it to yourself to work towards making your dream a reality. To do it, you’ll need a plan that includes a budget and milestones (mini-goals).
Change your dream into a goal. Many people say they want something, but they won’t claim it. They put no effort into pursuit.
Now, are all plans successful? Are all goals achieved? Can you get everything you want? No. But with a working plan, you are far more likely to get what you want than if you do nothing but wish.
So, what is your dream? Start making it real. Put together a plan. Set some goals.
How to determine a SMART personal goal
Haphazard action is just as bad as inaction. It’s a given: If we really want to achieve something—especially something long term—a working plan greatly increases the probability of doing so. We need guidelines (keys) for developing a smart plan.
If you do a bit of research on smart planning, you’ll find that quite a few sites feature a “smart” mnemonic that’s helpful.
S—specific M—measurable A—attainable R—realistic T—timely
Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time. These are qualities to keep in mind as you begin to make your plans. Let’s take a brief look at each of them.
Specific means clearly defined or identified. “Definite” and “precise” are a couple of synonyms for specific. Know what it is that you want to accomplish. When you set your goals, the more specific you are the better. A focus on your desired result or achievement will allow you to plan precise steps towards it.
Those precise steps you take towards your goal should make a difference. You (if not others) should be able to see what you are accomplishing, that you’re getting closer to your goal. Achieving mini-goals (kind of like passing mile markers on the Interstate) will mark progress.
Can you really do it? Do you have—or can you get—the knowledge, skills, and resources that will allow you to be successful in reaching your goal? (Determination can be a significant factor.)
“Sensible” and “practical” are other words for realistic. How does your goal fit with your current lifestyle? Many goals will allow you to gradually change; that could be called growth. But, if your goal requires an immediate, drastic change (that may be more like surgery), could you do it? Could the people in your life handle it?
An honest evaluation of motive and procedure is required. Is your goal worth the cost (in money and life) to reach it?
Time is the period over which events take place. Time is a commodity. Much like cash, you often have to spend it (make it work for you) to get what you want. Can you and are you willing to make a commitment of time in order to achieve your goal?
Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time. It doesn’t take much scrutiny to realize these qualities all segue into each other. Ignoring or underrating any one of them can result in a goal that is less than optimal.
Here are some scenarios to make my point:
Maybe you want to have the “wedding of the century.” That’s not a very specific goal. (When people hear those words, other than a sense of “expensive,” there will be huge variations in interpretation.) You’d set a better goal by saying you want to have the wedding of your choice and list what that means to you: Date, Setting, Dress, Flowers, Number of Attendants, Number of Guests, Invitations, Type of Reception… The lists would go on and on, and each of those items would have descriptive lists, dates, and methods of accomplishment.
For instance, the dress:
You could have list of acceptable designers: Lela Rose, Madison James, Alfred Angelo, or… (There are many.) What style do you want: short, long, high-necked, plunging, long/short sleeved, off-the-shoulder, ruffles, train, and/or… Choice of fabric: satin, silk, lace… There are a lot of decisions to be made if part of your goal for “the wedding of the century”—or even the wedding of your choice—is “the perfect wedding dress.”
(Guys, we could have a bright side here: Most of the time we aren’t as emotionally attached to the clothes we’ll wear to the ceremony as the bride is to hers. If this affair calls for a tux, we’re perfectly willing to rent one. That’s a lot less expensive than buying an Oscar de la Renta gown. And, that goes for the groomsmen also.)
But then, you have to consider the bridal attendants’ attire (and who’s paying for it—and how).
I’m sure I didn’t exhaust the factors that go into choosing a bridal dress, and that’s just one facet of the event. All aspects require smart goal setting if you’re to pull it off successfully.
OK. Continuing with the wedding concept, you realize the need to be specific, but you’ve got to put the process a schedule. Not all issues will be “hot” at the same time. Thankfully, you can take advantage of a professional wedding planner or wedding planning guides in books, magazine, and online that will help you prioritize—set the mile markers, so you can see how far you’ve come and what still needs to be done. Your progress is measurable.
Another thing that’s measurable is the progress you make towards being able to pay for your wedding. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is almost $27,000. That means quite a few weddings cost considerable less, but if you want the wedding of the century or something approaching that kind of extravagance, you’ll pay more. This is a factor to take into consideration well ahead of time, maybe even before you find your “perfect someone.” All you have to do is check your progress is look at your savings account balance once in a while. Of course, a schedule for saving will be necessary.
Since I’ve brought up money, a goal of being “rich” is very poor. (At what point do you become rich?) If instead you set a goal to save say $12,000 in two years time, you can make regular savings deposits of $500 a month (about $125 a week) and track your progress. Or, based on earning expectations you may have to begin saving a smaller amount and increase it as your income grows. Either way, progress towards your goal would be measurable.
Progress towards earning a college degree is certainly measurable. Students take appropriate courses and can check off the requirements in credits until they earn their degrees.
When something is measurable, you can get a good idea as to if it is attainable. If you’re 60 years old and decide you want to join the French Foreign Legion, you don’t have a SMART goal. Even if you meet all the other criteria, you fall short when it comes to age; the maximum age for joining the Legion is 39 years and 6 months—not a day over.
Let’s get back to those plans for the wedding of the century. You’re young, just out of college, and so is your intended. You’ve had a whirlwind romance. You’ve really haven’t known each other long, but you’re sure it’s Mr./Mrs. Right, and you want your wedding to be a beautiful, extravagant expression of your joy and passion: A destination setting, high-style attire, a bunch of attendants, everyone you know will be invited. The reception will be amazing (catered, of course). A designer cake. Dancing to the music of a live ensemble. Your honeymoon will last a month; where your going is a secret, but everyone will be jealous when they find out. And, the best date for both of you is about six weeks out. (Oh, and did I mention you’re both just out of college, with a lot of education debt, and have corporate entry level jobs? Also, your parents have said you can’t expect them to cover much of the expense for this.)
You’re already in debt. You have good jobs, but neither of them is high-paying. Your parents, your best source for financial backing, have already set limits. Money is an issue here.
Finding venues and vendors (food, flowers, musicians…), and accommodations take time. Can they all be coordinated to your schedule? Usually, the bride’s dress (and her attendants’ dresses) need to be ordered and altered; they’re not purchased off the rack. The invitations need to be ordered, printed, sent, and responses have to come back. And as to those, you’re hoping to tie the knot in six weeks? Well, if you were planning a local wedding, with very few guests coming any great distance, the invitations should be in their hands today. For a destination wedding, invitations should go out about three months in advance of the date. As late as you are now, how many responses do you think you’ll get back in time to arrange accommodations, or will your guests be left to make their own? (And, of course, all these issues have a financial side to them.)
Again, I know I haven’t listed all the obstacles you’d be facing. This event is not going to happen. At this point, it’s not attainable. It’s not realistic for several reasons, finances being one. Nor do you have the time to pull it off. (I’m about to address the realistic and time aspects of SMART goals.)
There are a number of reasons a goal may not be realistic. I’ve shown timing and finances to be among them. What about conflicting commitments and responsibilities? Let’s say you love adventure. Let’s say a couple of friends from your college days have decided to quit their jobs and spend a year hiking around Europe. They’ve asked you if you’d like to make it a threesome. You think about it. It sure sounds like fun. Maybe you could afford to do it, but is would deplete your financial reserves… Your friends aren’t married. You are, and you have young children. You live for your family! Both you and your spouse work to provide well for them, and there’s no guarantee your job will be waiting for you when you get back. A reasonable person is going to have to say, “No.” How could you leave your spouse with all that responsibility? To plan such a trip is unrealistic.
A more realistic goal would be to start planning and saving (budgeting) money for a family hiking trip in a few years, when your children can enjoy it and you have some vacation time built up.
I think both the wedding example and the hiking trek show that time and timing are important when you’re trying to set a SMART goal. Duration is also a time factor. A SMART goal will have a time by which it will be completed. Consider the above example of a family hiking trip: Let’s say the youngest child in the family is 2 years old. The parents (not planning to have any more children) feel that at the age of 8 that child and the older ones will all be able to enjoy the adventure. That sets the time for the hiking trip at 6 years out. They decide they want to hike in the Rocky Mountains. They determined they’ll want to set up a base camp somewhere off road, and they think they’d like to be driving a fairly new vehicle that can handle rough terrain when they go. As part of their goal they decide they’d like to buy a Jeep two years before they go on the trip. They want to pay cash for it. They pick a model they like, price it now, and estimate its future cost. Money for purchasing the car is part of what they start saving now. That should cover a good part of the time factor: They have time to save the money. If they buy the car in four years, it should still be very reliable two years later (That’s good timing.), and with the car paid for, they will still have time to contribute more funds to the cost of the trip. A milestone will have been reached with the purchase of the car.
That family has set a SMART goal. Even though I didn’t go into all the details, they’ve planned their trip with a number of specifics. They know what they want to do, when they want to do it, and how to accomplish it. They’ve set measurable mini-goals within the larger one: Funding per their budget, the purchase of the car, accumulation of equipment will be on a schedule, even physical fitness checks are in their plans. Given the couple’s ability to plan and save, the goal should be attainable, and it’s realistic given their circumstances. The time factor is met in planning and implementation.
I’ve spent this time talking and about setting personal goals using the SMART paradigm. Before I close I’d like to give one more example: At the beginning of this post I mentioned that some of my friends keep saying, when a good job comes along, they’ll apply for it. Now, some of these guys are nearing retirement age, for most of them it’s just talk. But there were some younger guys there too. Even though I’m fairly sure that one qualifier would be more money, none of them really had a definite (think specific) idea of what this good job looks like. (Or if they did, they weren’t willing to reveal it to the rest of us.) The consensus was they were just waiting and they’d know it when they saw it.
That’s not a SMART.
If any of the younger guys asked me what I thought, I’d tell them:
1) Check the company website to see what better paying jobs frequently need to be filled. If there’s one you’re qualified for go ahead and apply. If you’re not qualified see if there’s one that’s worth your time to pursue: Become specific about what you want.
2) Usually, those job listings include a list of education, training, and other qualifications the employer would like to see in applicants for the job. How do your qualifications measure against that list right now? You may not qualify now, but that same list can give you mini-goals to pursue—if you want to seek training, education, etc. (Remember, you’re looking a list of jobs that come available on a fairly regular basis.)
3) In this scenario, since you know how you measure up to the requirements, you also have a fair idea how attainable the job is—right now. Again, if you’re short but willing to do what it takes to become qualified, it could become attainable in the future. That’s a significant factor in goal setting—planning ways to make the desired outcome attainable over time..
Let’s do a “what if…” If you don’t have a college degree and the jobs you’re looking for require one, would you be willing to spend a few years working at what you do now and go to school to get one? It’s easy to say, “That would take me 6 years, and by then I’d be fill in the blank years old. Guess what: If you decide not to further your education, in 6 years you’re be that age, regardless—with or without the benefit of a degree.
The logical question after that discussion is, “What if the job I want no longer exists 6 years from now?” Well, those are jobs that have a pattern of coming available. So, what if you have to wait a bit longer? Also, that you now have a degree, is that job still attractive to you? After all, you are much more qualified for any number of jobs… You are free to change your goal. To get some perspective on this see my post setting goals .
4) The realistic prospects of getting the job you want are greatly dependent on how qualified you are. The more you have prepare yourself, the more likely you are to succeed. (I think this example shows how much the 5 aspects of the SMART paradigm are intertwined.)
5) The remaining consideration is time. When you’re setting a personal goal there are at least three facets of time that need to coordinate. I’ve mentioned them before:
Timing—Can your life now accommodate the changes reaching your goal will bring? Can it accommodate the changes required to succeed in reaching your goal?
Time—Do you have time—as a commodity—to spend on reaching your goal? If you’re young, you probably have time, especially this scenario. Some of my older friends wouldn’t. That’s why their talk about waiting for a “good” job is just talk. On the other hand, determination, or lack of it, can make a huge difference in how profitable time is.
Duration—This aspect coordinates with the idea of a goal being realistic with measurable points of progress.
Whether it’s to upgrade your job or anything else, taking into account SMART concepts can go a long way towards ensuring you set a satisfactory personal goal.
We all want success and satisfaction form life—even though our interpretations of such vary. In order to attain them we have to have plans. Unfortunately, many people have “plans” that are no more than dreams. Others have personal goals and structured plans to meet them.
Setting most successful goal should start with a worthiness analysis based on SMART concepts: specific (S), measurable (M), achievable (A), realistic (R), timely (T)
These qualities can be considered individually, but they are also entwined. When your “dream” meets these criteria it can be developed into a plan for your personal goal.