What is a goal and what makes a good goal? The word ‘goal’ is used so widely and so loosely that it can mean anything from vision, ambition or hope, to target, objective or even action point. I think that a good goal is lies somewhere between “vision” and “action point.” A good goal is a two-way bridge that gets you from your vision to your action points, and then makes sure that your action points lead back to your vision again.

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There are some great examples of this in the conversations that I’ve been listening to about creative entrepreneurship recently. One lady, for example, shared that she and her husband created a vision which was to have “location independent” lives. Essentially, they wanted to be able to travel the world, hang out on the beach more and move on a whim, without being, well, unemployed and poor! This was clearly an issue, as making a living usually involves being tied to a particular office in a particular location, with only a handful of weeks off a year. So they made some goals that would lead to this vision, including a goal to start a location-independent, online business which would provide enough income  to support them both. This goal obviously bridged to thousands of action points.

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The goal was the bridge between the vision and the action points, and it needed to ensure that the vision didn’t just stay a dream, but also that the vision was linked to the action points. If the action points became so all consuming that the couple ended up stuck in front of their computers building an online business for the next decade, the whole endeavour would be pretty pointless.

So, after all the prep work we’ve done, let’s write down some goals! We want these to be goals that will take us from our vision to our action points, and then back to our visions again. (For anyone who has just joined, you might want to catch up with the Goals You Achieve series here.)

‘S.M.A.R.T.’ Goals

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S.M.A.R.T. goals, i.e. goals which are “Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic and Time Bound,” whilst still popular in a lot of businesses, have also been pretty heavily criticised. Brendon Bruchard has a great, and funny, video here about why S.M.A.R.T. goals are lame. The essence of his argument, and indeed of many of the criticisms about S.M.A.R.T. goals is that good goals should be inspiring, compelling and ambitious, whereas S.M.A.R.T. goals too often lead to goals that are over-prescriptive, boring, and way too realistic!

We have an entire culture that is setting too small goals…where are the ‘putting a person on the moon’ dreams? – Brendon Bruchard

I am all for big dreams and inspiring visions, and I certainly agree that goals need to be compelling. If we just set easily attainable goals, so that we can get a sense of achievement, then our goals are a bridge that leads nowhere. All we’re doing is introducing busyness and a false sense of significance into our lives, and it really is meaningless.

However, we still need something that will bridge between the inspiring, compelling and ambitious on the one bank, and the realistic on the other. Once you know what awesome, big-dreaming place you’re heading towards, I think that the S.M.A.R.T. goal model is a helpful tool for turning that vision into a robust-bridging-goal.

Interesting fact: the S.M.A.R.T. goal model was first written down in 1981 by George T. Doran and he actually said that not every goal or objective written using the S.M.A.R.T. model needs to have all five criteria. This is a perfect reminder to use it as a tool without letting it be overly prescriptive!

If you’ve had time to do the exercises from Wednesday’s post, then you might think you’ve already written your goals. You’ve got some resolutions written down on your ‘tree trunks,’ you know why they matter and you know how they connect to your vision.

However, this is where I think turning those ‘tree trunk’ resolutions into S.M.A.R.T. goals is helpful. Why? Well, “spend more time processing” or “get more sleep” or “eat healthily” or “do less” or “give away all the things I don’t use any more” are great resolutions, but there’s not that easy to shoehorn into our everyday life. Making them specific, measurable, actionable (I prefer ‘actionable’ to ‘agreed upon’ in this context because presumably you agree with yourself!), realistic and time bound turns these resolutions into much more of a bridge between your vision and the action points that will come.

So, for example,  if your vision was to live a simple, minimalist lifestyle and one of your resolutions was to “give away all the things I don’t use anymore,” I would encourage you to turn the resolution into something like “give away five things that I don’t use from my wardrobe, my books and my music each week for the next ten weeks.” You will later turn this into action points, by scheduling in time to sort through your wardrobe, your books, your music, and more, but ” give away five things that I don’t use from my wardrobe, my books and my music each week for the next ten weeks” is much more of a bridge between your vision and your action points than “give away all the things I don’t use anymore” is.

When you’re writing your goal, look back at the “What Would That Take?” exercise and see what you said doing that thing would take. You really want to make your goal around the ‘root’ issue; that’s the best way to set a goal that will actually shift things.

Keep It Simple

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I love this pic so much!

The theme of this series is writing goals that we actually achieve, and I’m pretty sure that at least half the battle on that front is not being a perfectionist! If there is something you are looking at addressing through your goal-setting which has been a bug-bear for years, then don’t try and fix it all in one go. We need to learn to set ourselves up to succeed! The idea here is to take the one or two things we’ve identified that will improve lots of areas of our lives and nail that. Then we can come back for more!

I am actually only going to write down ONE goal which I know, if I achieve, will leave me with a much stronger foundation for everything else. Feel free to make two or three, but really do not make more than four.

Plan for Obstacles

Once you’ve set your goal, have a little think about what the obstacles are likely to be, and what they have been in the past. Then, plan for them. Allow space in your goal for error. For example, if your goal is to write 2000 words a week for the next 5 weeks, then plan to write 500 words a day so that when you have bad days, there is still some breathing room.

My favourite and most effective obstacle-buster is this: accountability. I highly recommend it!

Write Them Down

Finally, make sure you write down your goal. I have no idea why this makes a difference, but it does. In fact, research suggests that it makes an enormous difference, which is sort of spooky, but there you go – it’s an easy hack. Write it down!

If you’re interested, here are a couple of great Michael Hyatt articles on writing goals down:

5 Reasons Why You Should Commit Your Goals to Writing

The Beginners’ Guide to Goal Setting – this one goes into S.M.A.R.T. goals a bit more too

The only exercise for this week is to write down at least one and no more than four goals. This goal should be one of your tree-trunk resolutions, it should be as S.M.A.R.T. as possible and it must be written down.

Email Friends, there is of course a worksheet heading over to your inbox!

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