At the beginning of a new time period, whether that’s a new year, new school year, beginning of a new quarter (in business) etc, people often talk about setting goals. Sometimes these goals can seem inspiring and motivating. For others, setting goals seems like a big scary impossible thing to do… usually because we feel that it sets us up for failure
If we set a goal and we don’t meet it…. we’ve failed right? Nope!
Often times the idea of setting goals can be scary, but the important thing to remember is that if you don’t complete your goals completely, it doesn’t mean you failed! If you look through what you HAVE done in working towards your goal, you might realize you’re a lot closer than you think!
Let’s use a basic relatable example – cleaning the house. Maybe your house is big, your apartment is cluttered, or maybe you’ve been feeling down for a while so your cleaning has gone neglected (trust me I can relate to that too). To even think about cleaning your space may sound intimidating or impossible because it is a lot ! So let’s say you set your goal to clean on Saturday, and half way through cleaning you get tired and need a break. Sure you didn’t complete your goal…. but did you fail? No! You might be half way away from finishing, but that means half of your goal is already completed! So really, you didn’t fail, you just didn’t fully finish… and that is OKAY!
As occupational therapists, in school we learn a lot about goal setting and how to make things achievable for our clients. It is important to work collaboratively with our client (and maybe their care team including family, family doctor, teachers, etc), so that their goals fit them and set them up for success! We often follow the format of SMART goals to set our goals, which is a wide known acronym not just for Occupational therapists. So let’s use these skills to help set our personal goals!
What are SMART goals?
SMART is an acronym that you can use to guide your goal setting.
SMART stands for – Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Based
Specific – we want to make sure our goals are specific. Why? Because the more specific you can write your goals, the easier you can break them down into pieces to make an effective plan! Remember when we thought about our goal to clean our house? If we had made that more specific it might have been a bit easier to get through. For example, if we wanted to do a deep clean of the house, that would be different than decluttering, Mary Kondo-ing, or doing a small tidy up. Once we have narrowed in on what kind of cleaning we want to do, we can break down our list into smaller categories to check off as we go! (for example, if we are just doing a small tidy, maybe we just need to vaccuum and dust, whereas if we want to do a deeper clean, maybe that requires things to be taken off shelves, clutter being purged, and baseboards being wiped). This will help you keep on track and maintain your vision for your goal.
Measureable – Once we narrow into our specific goal, we can start to think about what evidence will prove you’re making progress. This might be reevaluated as you go. For example, with our cleaning goal, maybe we are visual people (I am) and decide that we are going to make a list of all the things that we think need to get cleaned and we’ll have achieved our goal when they’re all checked off. If lists are not helpful, or are intimidating, perhaps we choose that our house is clean enough once there is no longer clutter on the floor, or once one or two specific rooms are cleaned. This way, you have a way to determine if you have completed your goal, and more importantly, you can see that progress you have made!
Make sure that when you are trying to make your goal measurable, that it is something concrete you are measuring so that you feel like your goal is done. Saying that you will feel like you’ve completed your goal for example might not be as successful because feelings can be quite varied and if you’re not specific enough you might never feel completed. For example, when I am setting a goal about cleaning my house, some days I need to deep clean the whole house to ‘feel’ clean, versus some days completing cleaning means folding the laundry and making sure the floor is cleared and vacuumed. By setting an expectation of what it will look like at the end of your goal, you can be more clear about when you will have achieved your goal.
Attainable – Set goals that you can accomplish your goal in a reasonable amount of time. This is an important one. Often we pile on the goals or expectations (think about scrolling through social media on January 1st when everyone is making new year goals), and can set ourselves up for feelings of failure if it’s too overzealous. Choose goals that are achievable in a certain time frame, and to make BIG goals feel a bit more attainable, you can break them into smaller goals. For example, maybe your goal is opening up a business. That’s a HUGE goal, which might not be attainable in the next year or so. But looking at that goal we can break things into smaller ones that are achievable within a year to get there…. maybe in one month you meet 3 small business owners and ask them questions about starting a business. Perhaps in 6 months you complete a business course, and in 1 year you have saved X amount of dollars towards your business. These goals are much smaller and you can see the completion of the goal in a reasonable time. Going back to our cleaning goal, maybe you want to deep clean the whole house this weekend – you can map it out to see if you have the time and resources (and energy) for it to be possible, and then create small goals like clearing the floor on Friday night, vacuuming, mopping and dusting on Saturday and decluttering on Sunday. This way goals are achievable and you have a better chance of pushing through to complete them.
Relevant – Make sure that your goals align with your values and your long term goals! This is a big one especially since we are so often influenced by social media. Before you set some wild goals, maybe take some time to think about your values and long term goals. For this we will move away from the cleaning example, but think about some more long term goals. Career goals are one that comes up when I think of this one – if you are setting the goal to graduate from University, is that a goal for YOU or for someone else? At the end of university, where will you go from there? What are your long term goals? If you are setting goals for yourself instead of for others, you are more likely to achieve them in the end.
In terms of relevancy, I often try to create big goals when I am feeling most like myself – maybe after a walk in the sun, a nice chat with friends, or dancing. For smaller goals, like our cleaning goals, I reflect on how I’m feeling in the moment. If I am feeling very low or exhausted for example but my house needs to be cleaned, maybe I can set a smaller cleaning goal like cleaning up my room so I have a clean safe space to be in. Sure I’ll have to clean again later, but for the time being this works best for me and will make me feel good.
Time Based – Time based is exactly what it sounds – it’s the idea that if you set a realistic, ambitious end date for motivation to complete your goal, you are more likely to complete the tasks that lead to you reaching that goal! For example, if I just said that I wanted to save 1000$, or that I wanted to paint my whole house, there is nothing pushing me to finally finish the goal. There is no set timeline for completing the goal, so getting motivated to do it is hard! Instead, try adding an end date, even if you don’t complete it by that time! If I said by the end of 6 months I wanted to save $1000, that deadline pushes me to put a bit of money each paycheque and I may even get there sooner! Even if it seems like the timeline is bold and ambitious, set that timeline and allow yourself to extend it if needed!
Setting goals is challenging and sometimes we can feel scared and overwhelmed putting goals down on paper because we worry we are going to set ourselves up for failure. But goal setting gives us that drive – if we write it down (even better, share it with a friend or family member), we have a bit more accountability and also a stronger direction as to how to complete the goal! One of my number one tip that I use to help reach my goals is to create a SMART goal and then share it with people, whether that’s your boss or just talking about it to a friend or family member. The more you share it out loud, the more motivated you might become to complete it, and the higher chances you’ll find someone who might have a connection or a skill that can help you reach that goal!
Do you have a big goal that you want to set but need help with ? Feel free to pop it in the comment section or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can try to make it into a strong SMART goal together!