From time to time we may feature some of the ideas we have written about in our newest book, The Nu Nomad. SMART ASS goals is one of those ideas.
The Danger of Forgetting Our Dreams
Most of us have dreams of ourselves in some future, living a life that is light years better than the one we currently have. Your dream may be of living in far away islands, winning a Nobel Peace Prize, or completing a marathon while your amazingly beautiful love interest cheers you on at the finish line. Whatever your dream, you’ve probably come to accept that getting from here to there is not as simple as you’d like. I mean this damned current ordinary life gets in the way. My own dream consists of a tuscan style home surrounded by grapevines and beautiful setting suns – but every time I move towards it inevitably one of my kids gets sick, the car needs repair or the air conditioning breaks (living in Texas that’s serious stuff).
Too often our dreams take back seat to the fires we’re putting out around us. Before we know it, years can go by and our dream is still that – a dream, only older and seemingly more elusive over time. One day you might find yourself at the kitchen table with your kids asking, “What did you used to think you were going to be?” and you might not even remember what the dream was. If this dream was something that really reflected your life passions that would be tragic.
So how can we prevent the loss of our next dream into this mental haze where nothing gets realized? Well, obviously, the dream must transform into an actual plan and actions over time to bring it into reality. In my recent post, 6 Stages to Successfully Design Your Lifestyle , I discussed Prochaska’s stages of change and the importance of contemplation and planning. Let’s get down to a more concrete level now. What does good planning and action look like? Well, in my world it’s about being a SMART ASS.
Being a SMART ASS
Being a SMART ASS is about knowing how to properly design goals so that they can be executed with the greatest chance of success. SMART goals have been around for a long time. For all of you who have ever sat through a corporate meeting while some consultant explained this to you in the buzz of fluorescent lighting as the smell of cheap coffee and perhaps a stale croissant sandwich (if you were being treated well) rose to your nostrils, I apologize for going over it again. But bear with me – it’s solid stuff.
So let’s revisit SMART goals in light of lifestyle design. When you are setting goals it’s easier than you think to create a goal that will lead you to failure before you even begin moving towards it. Remembering SMART goals will help you create goals that are actually executable.
S – Specific
State your goal specifically. As a coach one of my pet peeves are people who will say their goal is “just to be happy”. Just wanting to “be happy” is a sure-fire way to failure. What does “being happy” mean to you? Get specific!! For one person it may mean getting out of debt, for another it may mean finding a spouse. Dig down and get specific about what your goal is.
Your goal must be measurable. This is related to being specific. I mean, it’s pretty hard to measure happiness (although a lot of psychologists have created tests for this – we’re not going there). Create a goal that you can measure so that you’ll know when you have arrived. You can measure if you are out of debt. You’ll know if you’ve gotten married. Want to travel for a year? You’ll be able to measure if you did that.
A – Action Oriented
This is a somewhat subtle but important point to understand. Your goal must be stated in action oriented language. For instance, a person may want to lose weight. In order to lose weight they will likely need to diet and exercise. The catch is that they may diet and exercise and still not lose weight in which case they will feel they have failed. So, if the goal is stated, “I want to lose 50 pounds” that person may end up feeling like a failure for causes beyond their control. It’s possible that 50 pounds is no longer reasonable for their age even with proper diet and exercise. What is more important is that this person sustain the healthy action over time. If they get discouraged that their weight loss is not occurring and they go back to being sedentary and eating twinkies, in the long run the purpose is defeated. On the other hand, if the person stated their goal as, “I want to maintain a low carb diet and exercise 4 times per week”, then success or failure is within their control. Likely the result of these actions will be weight loss but the mental shift is in making the goal be about the positive action- not the outcome.
R – Realistic
Make a realistic goal. A goal like, “I will work 40 hours per week towards my new business” may not be realistic if you already have a 40 hour per week job and maybe even a family. Don’t delude yourself into failure. Take a careful look at your current situation and know what is realistic in terms of what kind of actions and time commitments you can promise to.
T – Time Oriented
Your goal needs to have a time component. By when do you plan to pay off your debt? For how long will you maintain diet and exercise before your re-evaluate? Your time component also needs to be tested for being “realistic”. It may be realistic to set a year goal for paying off your debt. It may not be realistic to think you can do it in 3 months. Without a time limit attached to your goal it is too easy to slip into that future where the goal has faded into the mist. Even if you set a goal for a life habit you intend to continue forever (such as proper eating) set yourself a time at which you will stop your actions and evaluate how it’s going. It will also give you an opportunity to tweak your actions or perhaps even set a greater goal if things are going well.
OK, so there are SMART goals. They may be new to you or you may have seem them many times. While they are fundamental in understanding proper goal setting, I always felt they left out some very important aspects of ensuring successful movement to your goal. And so I created SMART ASS goals. Here are my additions:
A – Accountability
– Make yourself accountable to someone. It’s too easy to slide our goals under the rug and pretend we never made them if we keep them private. Tell another person your goals and ask them to hold you accountable. For some people this can be a family member or close friend. Other people use coaches just for this function. Make sure to set a regular time (weekly works well) when you will check in with that person and report in on your progress towards your goal.
S – Structure
– Create structures to help yourself meet your goals. A structure is a concrete thing in your environment that exists to remind you about your goal or to make it easier for you to take the actions towards it. Want to take off for a year to Budapest? A simple structure could be to tape pictures of Budapest to your bathroom mirror as a reminder of your goal. Want to get out of debt so you can take the trip to Budapest? Another structure could be to remove all credit cards from your wallet and put them into a safe deposit box so that you cannot be tempted to use them next time you’re out shopping.
S – Small Steps
Finally, break your goals into small steps. “The elephant is eaten one bite at a time”. Stating a huge goal can feel overwhelming and keep you from taking action. However, breaking it into small steps can help you realize that it is actually doable. It will also give you a lot more chances to notice and celebrate your successes along the way. (I’m all for celebrations!)
It may take some up-front time to sit down and get your goals to fit SMART ASS criteria. However, remember that in Prochaska’s model those people who spent more time in contemplation and planning were the people who maintained their goals overtime. Put a bit of extra time in now and save yourself a lot in the future!
You can read about SMART ASS goals and how to apply them to becoming location independent in our newest book, The Nu Nomad.