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HNY! BTW: Goals Need to Be More than SMART

Happy 2019! Are you considering your New Year’s resolution(s)? If so, here are some tips that can instigate greater success.

We all know about SMART goals, right? The acronym has helped many people and organizations get serious about achieving goals. As a quick reminder, a SMART goal is defined in the following way:

■ S for Specific: What needs to be achieved? Vague goals like “make more money” or “improve my grades are not specific, and do not readily allow for an unbiased evaluation of how much progress has been made toward completion of the goal. When determining this component of your goal ask yourself, who will complete the goal, what will signify completion, how long will this goal need to be met to achieve full success?

■ M for Measurable: Goals are most effective when there is a measurable end result. For instance, running a 5K in 13 minutes, increasing revenue by 10%, or losing 10 pounds are all examples of measurable achievements. Creating measurable goals increases performance because the desirable outcome is a fixed, non-moving, target.

 A for Attainable: Can you start working on this goal today? Have other people achieved a similar goal? Do you need new skills, an adviser, or more experience to achieve your goal?

 R for Relevant: How and why is this goal relevant to you? How will the achievement of this goal add to your personal or professional life? Why do you care about success or failure?

■ T for Time bound: How long will it take to achieve this goal? In order to stay on-track with reaching a goal we need to determine if it will take days, weeks, months, or years to reach it.

As a coach, I frequently get the inside scoop on goals: how they’ve been achieved and what makes some goals- once achieved – more rewarding. I recently met with a new client, Lori, who proudly explained that she had just quit smoking. Wow, I was impressed. I have seen so many people struggle with this challenging goal. How did she do it? What allowed her to be successful?

Let’s start with recognizing that Lori’s goal fit the parameters of a SMART goal: it was specific (no smoking), measurable (no cigarettes purchased or smoked), actionable (once she made up her mind to quit, she started the next day), relevant (she wanted to do it because her boyfriend had recently quit and wanted her to quit too), and time bound (she would use a nicotine patch for 2 weeks but be nicotine-free after that).

There was more to Lori’s success than the goal being SMART.

Lori had longed to quit smoking in the past and had not chosen to move forward and follow-through on her desires. Something was different this time around that made her desire to quit more salient and gave her the strength to resist the temptation to smoke and to, ultimately, fall off the wagon.

From my perspective, there were two key differences this time around.

  • First, Lori had changed the way she viewed smoking and how it impacted her life. Smoking was no longer just a habit, it was a problem. It was a problem that negatively impacted her at work and at home.
  • Second, this shift in perspective put Lori into “problem-solving mode,” which meant she could effectively harness her strengths to take on this life-altering challenge.

Lori’s “Top 5” strengths are Restorative, Context, Empathy, Intellection, and Responsibility. In a nutshell, Lori saw herself as a problem solver, who intuitively grasped the emotions of others, and used her thoughtful, problem-solving and emotion-sensing abilities to get things done. She was a fixer who wanted to make other people happy.

As someone with Restorative as her #1 strength, Lori has a strong desire to find solutions to problems, and this troubling issue of smoking was bothering her. Once Lori recognized that smoking was a problem (it kept her from getting more work done, it was adversely affecting her health, it was expensive), she used her Intellection and Context strengths to think about how to quit and what had (and hadn’t) worked in the past.

The clinchers, the elements that gave this goal emotional buy-in, were related to Lori’s Empathy and Responsibility strengths. Lori’s boyfriend was strongly encouraging her to quit. As a past smoker, he knew that quitting was difficult but not impossible. Lori, for the first time, had someone who was cheering her onto success and who might be disappointed in her if she failed. These emotional elements hooked her Empathy and Responsibility strengths.

Interestingly, Lori was not fully aware of her strengths, or how she had used them, until after she quit smoking. However, when we talked through how and why she was able to make this goal a reality, Lori fully understood the connection between her strengths and her new achievement.

Creating SMART goals makes a lot of sense. Creating SMART goals that are connected to your strengths makes even more sense.


For more about achieving your goals using your strengths see Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.

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