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What S.M.A.R.T. Goals Are Missing

As you set goals for the new year, don't just make them S.M.A.R.T—make them S.M.A.R.T.E.R.

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As the year comes to a close, most of us use this time to reflect and set goals for the new year ahead. Like many triathletes, you may be looking to start off the next 365 days with a bang—and with goals that are motivating, exciting, and challenging.

Why Setting Goals is Important

Your brain needs guidance, and goals give the brain purposeful direction. We receive so many inputs from the world and then filter those inputs based on what we know and what we’ve experienced. Without direction, you’re on cruise control likely to repeat patterns from past experiences. Goals allow you to create the future and not simply repeat the past.

Why Most of Us Resist Setting Goals

While setting goals is important for direction—and most of us now that—it can still be an uncomfortable process. It’s not uncommon for self-doubt to surface as soon as a new goal is set. Emotions like self-doubt, worry, and anxiety are all self-preservation mechanisms your brain uses to tell you to settle down and keep your goals easy. Additionally, it is common to resist setting goals until you know the guaranteed step-by-step process to achieve them.

While resistance is normal, it should not stop you from setting goals or avoiding big goals. It is possible to overcome doubt by consistently challenging self-imposed limits. The way to figure out how to achieve a goal is by setting it, creating a plan, and taking massive action.

What is a S.M.A.R.T. Goal?

One of the most well-known goal setting techniques is the S.M.A.R.T. goals model. In 1982, George T. Duran laid out the steps that went to shape goal-setting for year in an article titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” While his method was highly acclaimed when written, the words within the acronym have changed over time to suit the goal and the goal-setter. As the method became widely used for setting personal goals, the original acronym needed an upgrade. The most common variation encourages people to make goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

  • Specific – the goal is clear and targets a specific area for improvement
  • Measurable – you can measure and know when the goal is accomplished
  • Achievable — you are in control of the outcome of the goal
  • Relevant – the goal is relevant and meaningful, for you and makes sense within the context of who you are or who you want to be
  • Time-bound – the goal has a time frame for accomplishment

While many people believe effective goals must include all five criteria, it is actually not necessary to.

What is a S.M.A.R.T. Goal Missing?

S.M.A.R.T. goals provide a simple framework for setting goals that you are more likely to achieve. While the clarity is useful, the effectiveness is lacking. The acronym is missing two very important additions that elevate your overall success potential: emotion and re-evaluation.

Emotion is an essential component of any goal setting process, because it is the motivating factor to go after any goal. What you are actually going after is how you think your end goal will make you feel. The emotion is the fuel. It is not the accomplishment (placement in a race or promotion at work), it is how we think those accomplishments will make us feel (proud, successful, confident, etc). When you spend time thinking about the emotion you want to feel, as part of setting your goals, you are able to utilize it as a part of the goal achieving steps.

The other necessary component of any goal setting process is re-evaluation. Often it is assumed that the outcome of the goal is the only learning point. However, whether the goal is achieved or not, taking the time along the way to re-evaluate the goal and the action you’ve taken towards the goal offers important information for next time. Re-evaluation does not need to be complicated. The simpler, the better. Here are three questions you can ask as you work through the steps towards your goal:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What would I do differently next time?

Be honest in answering these questions. The answer to the last question gives you different actions to take next time.

It’s time now to take your S.M.A.R.T. goals and make them S.M.A.R.T.E.R. As you set goals for the new year, remember to find the emotional connection to your goal. Tap into the energy that you want to feel after the goal is achieved. Don’t wait until you achieve it. Use that emotion to your advantage now. In addition, take the time to re-evaluate along the way and after your time frame has passed. There is always key learning waiting for you.

Vanessa Foerster is a mental endurance coach who works with athletes, especially triathletes, to build mental endurance to match their physical endurance.