A goal should fit into the format described below:
Specific – Your goal must be specific.
Measurable – You must be able to measure progress towards your goal.
Attainable – Your goal must be something that you can actually attain.
Realistic – Your goal must be realistic, given who you are.
Tangible – Your goal must be something you can experience yourself.
Let’s work with an example. Let’s take the goal of exotic travel. Follow the descriptions below, then think about how your own goal would fit the requirements.
Specific: You’d like to see the world. Well, the world is a pretty big place, how about we narrow it down to Europe? That’s still pretty broad. Let’s pick Greece as a specific country, and the Greek islands as a more specific location. Now you have something you can actually picture in your mind! Furthermore, think about who you’d like to travel there with. How long will you stay? Will you stay in hotels or in hostels? See, as you work through it, the picture you have in your mind gets more detailed. Is your own goal specific?
Measurable: There are two things to track for the trip. The first is the money required, assuming you need to save to pay for it. The second is the planning. It’s easier to track the money if you pick an amount you think it will cost. You can get some estimates from a travel guide or a travel agent, depending on how much time and effort you want to invest. Tracking your savings towards a desired amount is a good way to measure your progress. The second aspect, planning, is a bit trickier. You might estimate how far you are based on the total planning effort, then set milestones to help you get to the end. For example, getting your vacation time approved at work, purchasing the flight tickets, booking a hotel, and packing your bags are all milestones on the way to preparing for the journey. Is your own goal measurable?
Attainable: This is the tough one for many people. It requires that you take an honest look at yourself and your abilities. By determining what it is that you actually want, you start telling your mind to find ways to get you there. Things that seemed impossible suddenly don’t seem so far away! But you need to be careful, as you don’t want to set a goal that’s too tough, as you might get discouraged before you get there. Goal setting is a skill that you can learn and improve at. Start by setting smaller goals and pay attention to your own behaviors. As you build your skills and experience, set larger goals for yourself. An adventure trip to Greece is something many people dream about, but few believe it can actually come true in the near future. Yet for many people, such a trip is within reach if they just set their minds to achieving it. Is your own goal something you are capable of attaining?
Realistic: Are you willing to work towards your goal? Are you able to put the time and commitment into the pursuit of the goal? This is important. Every goal represents a decision you take towards the direction of your life. With every decision there are advantages and disadvantages. You must be willing to accept the costs of your decisions and recognize that it will impact other areas of your life. A trip to Greece might mean putting off that flashy new car you want, and driving the old heap another year. If you are willing to trade driving an older car (and maybe making repairs yourself) in exchange for that overseas adventure, you’ve dealt with some of the aspects of the decision and its impact on your life. What are the costs of working towards your goal?
Tangible: Think about how it will feel when you achieve your goal. Lying on the beach in Greece. Drinking a Greek beer at an outdoor cafe, eating Feta cheese and olives picked locally. Sitting on a white veranda, looking out over crystal blue waters towards the horizon. These are the things that excite you, that stimulate you to reach the goals. These are things that bring your mind and your motivation to bear on the goal. Involve your senses! Can you visualize how it will be when you reach your goal?
So, as you set goals, define them, and work towards them, keep the word SMART in mind. (Also, remember the word FOCUS!) Take one step at a time, and keep track of your progress. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve!