If you live in the U.S., you’ve likely seen this acronym, used to outline to components of successful goal-setting. Goals that meet the most success are Specific (name the desired outcome in detail), Measurable (quantify the amount, frequency, duration), Attainable (based on the constructs of our world as we know it) and Time-Bound (set to be completed, in whole or in increments, within a certain time frame).
The “R” in SMART generally stands for “Realistic,” but I find that redundant. If it is “attainable,” it is realistic.
I think a successful goal needs to be Relevant- to your values, your personal view of success, and your particular life. In research published by Current Direction in Psychological Science (Locke and Latham, 2006), the authors specifically cite the role of “framing” in successful goal achievement. When a goal is framed as useful and the individual tasked with meeting that goal has a clear idea of the benefits of the goal, achievement rates are significantly higher. Conversely, when individuals strive for a goal primarily based on the consequences of not meeting that goal, they are less likely to achieve the goal.
In other words, the “Why” matters. The Why has to be the primary motivator, and in order for it to be motivating, it has to be something that you value above the things you will inevitably have to sacrifice.
For example, a common New Year’s Resolution is weight loss. An individual who can identify health benefits, social benefits and emotional benefits of losing weight has a Relevant goal. An individual who wants to lose weight, but is already healthy, has a satisfying social life, and is generally content in life, has an arbitrary goal, very likely motivated by external factors not directly tied to his or her direct experience or values. This arbitrary goal is very likely to fail, because it does not have enough meaning.
“Relevant” doesn’t have to mean “reverent.” Fun or frivolous goals can be highly relevant and can have huge payoffs. Personal development is not all serious studies and disciplined behaviors. Our playful side needs to be nurtured, too, but people often have a hard time justifying that or finding the “Why.”
Playfulness in a person facilitates better coping skills, and leisure time can enhance mood (Quian and Yarnal, 2010). Setting a goal such as, “See friends more often,” or, “Have more fun,” still needs all five of the SMART components applied in order to be successful. But if you have an understanding of why that goal is important and useful to you, it becomes relevant enough to prioritize it when other obligations or obstacles inevitably pop up.
This is part of how we can prioritize self-care.
As you review 2017 and take note of the things that weren’t quite working for you, list some new goals and take each one through the SMART acronym. See if you get stuck on the “R,” and if so, take a lot of time to clarify your “why” before setting a goal.
You may find that you still haven’t written that novel because…. it just doesn’t actually matter to you.
Take it off your list. Focus on the things that DO matter. And have a great 2018.