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When 'smart' isn't enough

Starting a business doing what you love, losing a lot of weight, quitting smoking, completing a triathlon -- these are all lofty aspirations.

The standard wisdom for achieving any of them is to set a goal that’s specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time driven.

This approach is often referred to by the acronym SMART, as outlined in the November 1981 issue of Management Review.

It’s easy to see why SMART goals are popular: They are clear, concise and seemingly simple. Indeed research has shown SMART goals can save time and simplify the process of setting measurable goals.

But one size doesn't fit all. If if the SMART method doesn’t work for your audacious goals, what does?

Crafting destination postcards

Stick with me on this one.

In Switch, Dan and Chip Heath say combining a “destination postcard” -- a clearly painted picture of where a person wants to be -- with the right habits is the key to achieving big goals.

Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, takes this a step further, noting that a person needs a heartfelt emotional connection to set a goal with the power to propel him or her forward.

His research defined eight characteristics of goals that lead to great achievements:

1. It's possible to vividly picture how wonderful it feels when the goals are accomplished.

2. The goal setter must learn new skills to achieve the year's objectives.

3. The goals are a must for helping the company.

4. The individual actively participated in setting this year's goals.

5. The person is able to participate in the formal training needed to achieve the goals.

6.  The individual must stretch out of his or her comfort zone in order to realise the goals.

7. Accomplishing the goals will better the lives of others (such as customers or the community).

8. The goals work well with the organisation's chief priorities for the year.

Murphy devised a new methodology such that the goals should be

(a) heartfelt

(b) animated (evoking a picture repeatedly playing in the mind's eye)

(c) required

(d) difficult

Which he referred to by the acronym HARD. 

Focusing on improvement

Perhaps trying a "get better" mind-set for personal growth and development works better for you.

When individuals embrace a “get better” approach, they tend to take healthy risks and are less afraid of failing -- essential ingredients for achieving goals.

With this method, a person would set a goal like I want to learn how to become great at marketing” rather than “I want to be great at marketing." Or the goal might be “I want to learn how to develop healthier habits" instead of “I want to be skinnier.”

Try writing down goals and then rewriting them using words like improve, progress, develop, become and grow.

Many people adhere to a “be good” goal-setting approach (setting benchmarks based on others' achievements). Yet research has shown that when people mimic others they tend to focus more on menial, unrelated tasks (to feel productive) rather than on difficult goals essential to growth and achievement.

The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.

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