Create A "Smarter" Goal

Create A "Smarter" Goal

New Year, New You?.. Probably not (if we are being honest here). While a completely new lifestyle is unlikely, the New Year does offer a time of reflection and an opportunity to consider which habits you'd like to start (or stop).

In my profession I do a lot of work surrounding behavior change.  Most frequently this involves an adult inquiring how to alter a child's problematic behavior.  The adults are often less than thrilled (understandably so) when they realize that they must actually change their own behavior first.   

I completely understand the struggle.  Creating new habits and putting an end to others is no easy task. If it was, the subject of self-help wouldn't be a multi-billion dollar industry. 

In the education profession, we love our acronyms. The term "SMART-R Goal" typically causes eyes to roll by the masses. If you can get past the cheesiness, the format is actually really helpful in creating a successful first step towards accomplishing any behavior change.  

There is some variation in what the acronym stands for, but the general gist is:

S- Specific
M- Measurable
A-  Achievable
R- Relevant
T- Time
R- Rewarded

(Be Specific!) The first step is usually to define what it is you intend to change. When doing this, it's important to be specific.  It's not enough to say that you want to "get in shape."  Maybe you want to run one mile at an 8:00-minute pace, spend less than 2 hours on your phone per day, drink 8 glasses of water,  or go to the gym four times per week.  The more specific you are, the easier it is to measure.  Also, the more information you have on your current performance, the easier it will be to set a specific goal. 

(Measurable!) There is research surrounding the positive effect that simply self-monitoring can have on achieving a goal.  Once you have your specific goal set, you need a method to measure your progress.  For this, I turn to technology. For example,  I know that when I go to the gym at least four times per week I feel so much better about myself. Therefore, my method of measurement is a simple tally.  I use the HabitBull App on my phone.  I even dropped it down to the main page on my iPhone so that I can't avoid it.  I've used this App for several months. It provides a lot of versatility and a really simple easy-to-use interface for tracking a large variety of goals in numerous different ways.

(Achievable!)  Basically, you need to be realistic. For me, it's just not reasonable to expect myself to workout every single day.  That will never happen, and then I'll start to feel defeated when I constantly miss the mark.  Just like when I'm consulting about kids--- it would be great if a child who typically shouts out 80x per day suddenly raises their hand in class 100% of the time, but we're going to need to be a bit more realistic. Identify a reasonable middle ground where they (or you) can find success, and then adjust the goal accordingly.

(Relevant!)  Does this goal excite you?  Will it bring actual meaning to your life?  Will it improve your overall well-being?  These are important things to think about, and it might require a bit of soul searching.  Don't just set a goal because you think you "should."  You really have to want it for yourself.  It should fit into an overarching idea of the life you'd like to live.  For example, overall wellness is really important to me.  This includes physical health, but also mental health, and positive relationships. In addition to adjusting my exercise routine,  this past year I noticed that I was becoming a bit of a recluse (I'm a definite introvert, so it tends to happens from time to time). I used my HabitBull App to hold myself accountable for reaching out to friends.  I set a specific goal and began tracking how frequently I reached out. It was relevant to me, and directly impacted my overall well-being. Plus, interactions often led to invitations to partake in something fun that I otherwise wouldn't have been invited to do and also brought more meaning to many of my friendships.

(Time!)  Certain goals have end dates  (e.g., I want to save X money by March 1st) while others are more on-going lifestyle changes. If yours is more of a general lifestyle change, my advice would be to set a check-in date to examine your data and see how you've been doing.  Even though my "exercise four times per week" goal is more of a lifestyle change vs. an end-date goal; I learn a lot by examining my HabitBull data each month.  It's interesting to see trends in my data.  For example, I noticed that if I work out on Monday, I tend to work out more often throughout the week.  You can find your areas of weakness and bring them to your attention, and sometimes a general awareness is sufficient to make better choices in the future.

(Reward!) Reaching a goal can be exciting, but sometimes we require a little extra incentive.  I know you all probably love your job, but the paycheck I get at the end of each month makes the long days a bit more bearable.  The Freakonomics episode that I linked below discusses a great concept of Temptation Bundling, which Katherine Milkman, an assistant professor at the Wharton School at Penn defines as, "the idea of tying two activities together-- one you should do but may avoid; and one you love to do but isn't necessarily productive."  Whatever is incentive for you, you should reward yourself often.  Do your best to pick something that you don't already have regular access to, and try not not to undue whatever good you've just done. 

The Freakonomics podcast below also discusses the Fresh Start Effect which Milkman and her co-authors define as:

The popularity of New Year’s resolutions suggests that people are more likely to tackle their goals immediately following salient temporal landmarks. If true, this little-researched phenomenon has the potential to help people overcome important willpower problems that often limit goal attainment.

In other words, don't be dissuaded by New Year's Resolution naysayers. There's research behind the idea of a fresh start. If we don't ever try something new, we might never get the life changes we long for! Just don't put all your eggs in the January 1st basket.  If your New Year's plan fizzles out by February (or January 2nd), you can find your fresh start in a new month, week, or the start of a new day!

My last tip is to take out a pen and actually jot your SMART-R goal down. Make sure it's in a visible spot, and if you feel comfortable, share it with a few folks who will assist in holding you accountable. 

Question: Are you someone who makes a New Year's Resolution?  If so, have you ever found success with one of your resolutions?


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