I remember when I first started goal setting I came up with things like, “Be a better husband.” That sounds like an admirable goal. As a husband, shouldn’t I want to be a better one? Absolutely, I should. However, while it sounds good, it’s a poor goal. The intent is fine. The problem is in the execution.
After all, how will I know when I’m better? Also, if I’m marginally better, I mean like a single step better on some cosmic scale, by the time I die, then I’ve accomplished that goal. However, is that what I meant? No, it’s not. What do I need to do next to be a better husband? And quickly you can see how this seemingly sound goal is not such a great goal at all.
So how do we develop better goals? There’s an acronym that’s been around for awhile that can help: SMART. There are various ways to fill out the letters. Here’s what I use:
- Realistic / Relevant
- Time bound
“Be a better husband” isn’t specific. “Be a better listener” is more specific. That will certainly help me be a better husband. However, what constitutes being a better listener? It has the same problem as the original goal statement. This is better, “I will intentionally listen and refrain from speaking when my wife is explaining a problem or issue.” It’s clear what I’m trying to do. It’ll help me a better listener because I’m not interrupting. And that ultimately helps me be a better husband.
Given that listening goal, I can measure it. We should develop measurable goals because that gives us a way to track our progress. For instance, I could count number of occasions for success and number of times of success and compare those numbers over a period of time. For instance, my first week if I succeed 50% of the time, I might pat myself on the back. The second week I’d shoot for 75%, etc. By the end of the month I might look to be up to 95% of the time.
The way I use attainable here comes from Tony Stoltzfus (coach22.com). Is this a goal that’s dependent on me taking action? If so, it’s attainable. Let’s take that listening goal and change it a bit. Let’s say the goal becomes this, “My wife and I will have better communications.” This goal already fails the specific and measurable criteria. However, it’s also not something I’d classify as attainable. The goal is dependent upon my wife acting and doing something. In other words, it’s not something I can take action on and bring to success. The listening and not interrupting goal is all mine. That should help achieve the intent of better communications, but I’m not dependent on my wife to meet that goal.
You want to make sure your goals are centered on you. You can’t force change on anyone else. They must choose to change on their own. What you can do is change yourself in a way that encourages them to change. They still have to make that choice. You can’t control the other person. Don’t make your goals dependent on them.
Realistic / Relevant:
The first is pretty simple: I need to write goals I can actually attempt and accomplish. I may have to stretch greatly, but I should be able to get them done. There’s no point setting ourselves for failure. Let me give you an example. What if my goal was this, “I want to be the starting goalkeeper for the US Men’s National Team by the next Word Cup finals.” This isn’t a realistic goal. I’m 38. I’m out of shape and certainly out of soccer shape. I haven’t played a competitive game in over 10 years. On the track that you’d look at towards the World Cup, I never played above high school. And we’re already in qualifiers for the next World Cup finals.
Along with being realistic, they need to be relevant. Setting a goal of being able to score a personal record (PR) on my 5K distance has nothing to do with becoming a better husband. If we’re talking about the qualities and characteristics that make a better husband, I want to be more fit so I have more energy but the personal record has nothing to do with that. That may make sense as a fitness goal but not as one that’s centered around being a better husband.
We want to set a time criteria for our goals. Go back to “I want to be a better husband.” The time period is not set. That’s why I said that if I make a single step in that direction by the time my life is up, I’ve technically accomplished that goal. When I was talking about measuring listening and not interrupting, I set percentages based on what week it was. So I might say that my goal is actually this, “Within a month, I want to listen attentively and not interrupt my wife at least 95% of the times that she explains a problem or issue to me.”
When we set a time boundary we want to make sure it’s realistic. For instance, if I said, “I want to learn Calligraphy overnight,” that certainly is a time-bound goal. The problem is it’s unrealistic. Calligraphy takes time to master because of the muscle memory involved. There’s a lot of practice and repetition in order to do it well. So just as I need to be realistic on the long end of the time scale, I also need to be realistic on the short end.