Goal Setting

Distill Dreams into Goals That Actually Work

Dreaming matters. But if dreams stay dreams, they won’t take you anywhere. In fact, dreams that stay dreams can work against you—keeping you stuck instead of leading forward.

That’s why we forge aspirations into goals. There’s a world of difference between an aspiration and a goal. Aspirations can hang vaguely in an imagined future. Good goals demand action.

SMARTER goals incorporate the best of goal achievement research. SMARTER is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Timebound, Exciting, and Relevant. Let’s take a look at just two of these characteristics.

Step into the Future and Describe What You See

Let’s say you want to break bad money habits. You’ve been overspending for as long as you can remember, and you want to use money more wisely. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. Good goals are specific. How do you get there? Step into the future and describe what you see.

In our example, you imagine a future in which you’re living simply. You have what you need, but you’re not trying to prove your worth through what you own. You’re saving and giving more than you’re spending—but you’re not afraid to splurge when celebration is called for. You’re content.

As you consider your imagined future, what resonates most deeply with you? How might you get there?

You realize that what you really want is freedom from the impulse to spend. You could set a goal for what you’ll save or create a budget to limit spending. But instead, you decide to focus on defying your impulse by giving money away. If you give away a lot of money, you’ll necessarily have to start spending less. You’ll enjoy the numerous benefits of generosity. And it won’t be difficult to use the habits you’ve learned to start saving.

So you’ve decided on generosity. Next, you’ll need to get specific about where you’ll give the money. Choosing specific causes or organizations helps cement your future.

Notice how imagining the future lays the groundwork for specificity. When you step into the future and describe what you see, you can begin to discern what kind of goal will draw you into that imagined future.

Find the Right Metric

Good goals aren’t just specific. They’re also measurable. Measurable goals make it obvious when you’ve arrived and help you track your progress along the way. Which metrics you choose matter. 

Let’s continue with our earlier example. You’ve decided to give money away. What metric will you use? Will you set a large dollar amount—perhaps deciding to give away $20,000 this year? Will you settle on a percentage of your income to give away each month?

The first option is an achievement goal. It opens up the possibility of reaching your ambitious number creatively through selling what you own, organizing a bake sale, or even taking money out of savings. The second option is a habit goal. It will help you get used to automatically giving money away. Your metric shapes your way forward. (For more on choosing between habit and achievement goals, listen to tomorrow’s BusinessAccelerator episode!)

As you’re considering what you want to achieve, think back to your dream. Do you want to hit a target weight or be able to run a certain mileage? Do you want to reach a certain number of subscribers or achieve a particular conversion rate? Do you want to write for a set period of time or hit a certain word count?

The right answer is whatever leads you deepest into your desired future.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use and believe will add value to our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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