Words make the difference between an inspiring goal and one that loses steam quickly. Whether you are trying to make a change in an organization or in your daily habits, you probably have been told to make your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound (or some variation of words to fit the acronym).
The problem with this guideline is too much emphasis is put on making goals specific and measurable with a deadline. Not only does this make goals boring, the other two factors – attainability and relevancy – are often assumed and discounted. Why would you set a goal that wasn’t important or one that couldn’t be achieved? Because the goal sounds good.
But goals that sound good are often not met if they don’t also feel good.
Goals must generate a positive emotion to truly be smart.
Yes, you don’t want your goals to be ambiguous. Nonspecific goals such as deciding to be a better leader or a healthy eater can mean anything and leave you feeling more guilt than satisfaction. General productivity goals can stifle the creativity needed to make work more efficient.
So a good goal should be specific, but it should also inspire action, not mandate it. The inspiration is best driven by a deep desire for the end result. You need to feel how important the goal is to you and that you have a real chance at succeeding before you will whole-heartedly commit to making it happen.
BRAIN TIP: If you want a permanent shift in behavior, make sure the goal gives you a sense of excitement, hope, pride, or fun. Goals focused on making more sales or losing weight will lose steam if you aren’t emotionally engaged in the vision of what the increase in revenue or loss of pounds will give you. What will people be doing and feeling differently once success is achieved? What deep desires will you fulfill once you meet your personal goals? If your visions conjure more fear than excitement, you might spend more time finding the reasons for failing than you do on reaching your milestones.
Descartes got it wrong when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” When it comes to changing behavior and achieving goals, the truth is, “I feel, therefore I am.”
In my last job as a corporate training manager, I was busy rolling out organizational change programs when my boss asked me to change my priorities. He wanted me to focus on leading the team in charge of rewriting the corporate HR policies. He gave me the goal, the resources and the deadline. I argued about priorities. He won the debate.
The first team meeting was minimally productive and full of conflict. Afterwards, I again argued with my boss, this time saying, “Why me? I am not an HR policy person. I don’t see this as the best use of my time.”
He said, “You are my only staff member who has successfully run a project team before. These changes are critical for the turnaround of this company. You are the only one I can count on to make this happen.”
If he would have made this point first, I would have felt the relevancy of the task and accepted the attainability with confidence. I was now proud to accept the assignment.
If the goal inspires a desired emotion, you are more likely to do what it takes to achieve it and possibly, go beyond expectations.
And it must be a desired emotion. Please do not use fear or shame as a basis for your goal, at work or at home. Although the fear of consequences may motivate action, the results are often short-lived. And most life-style choices or big organizational changes require flexibility and creativity, both squelched in the presence of fear.
Define the Relevancy first, then ensure the Attainability. These two factors drive the psychological commitment to any goal whether it is a personal goal or one you set for your team. Without an emphasis on these two factors, SMART goals feel dumb.