As a social work graduate intern, I returned to H.O.M.E. after being away for the holidays during my school break, excited to start 2019. During an outing into the community, I asked the residents of the Good Life Senior Residences program about their New Year’s resolutions, and I noticed a pattern.
First, most residents said that they didn’t set any resolutions, because it is too hard, and they never achieve them. And, for those residents who had set goals, they were all very vague: “I want to be healthier”, or “I want to lose weight”.
I understand the residents' ambiguity, and I am guessing that if I were to poll strangers on the street, most would have a similar answer. Either we don’t set goals because we never achieve them, or, when we do set goals, they are so vague that it is unlikely that we achieve them, and so we become discouraged from setting goals in the future. What a nasty feedback loop!
Goal setting can be an intimidating process.
How do you even begin? It can feel overwhelming to create goals, and I believe that it is the feeling of being overwhelmed that often causes many of us to quit on a goal before we even really begin. And yet, without setting goals, we run the risk of stagnation or maintaining habits that many of us would like to change.
So, what is a person to do? I am generally not an advocate for looking for life’s answers online (there are way too many!).
But, one especially popular idea that you can easily find online is the concept of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. I have personally used SMART goals in my own life, and while it is not a magic wand, I think that going through the process of creating SMART goals forces us to ask basic and important questions.
What goal is too big?
Let’s take the example of a goal: I want to improve my health. This goal is admirable, but it is not SMART. A goal this vague is overwhelming!
What part of your health are you going to focus on? Are you going to address all aspects of your health at once? How will you know that you have met your goal and that you are now healthy? Will you work on this goal for one month, one year, or forever?
It is important to be ambitious and have big dreams, and yet a goal this big, and this unclear, makes it difficult to even get started. Instead, if you use the model of a SMART goal, you can begin to break down your big goals into more manageable and attainable ones.
Turn an ambiguous goal into a SMART one.
S: By becoming specific, you can now turn “I want to improve my health” into “I want to walk 3 miles without stopping, by March 31st.” Now we have something to work with!
M: By making the goal measurable, you can know if you were able to walk 3 miles, or 2.5 instead.
AR: Depending on your ability, walking 3 miles is a goal that is both attainable and realistic; becoming generally healthy is less so.
T: Finally, by giving the goal a time-specific period, you give yourself an end date, which is crucial to goal setting.
Becoming healthy is a lifelong pursuit, and if you try to take it on all at once, you can be so overwhelmed you quit. By giving yourself 3 months to walk 3 miles, you give yourself a timeline to work within. It is much easier to maintain your motivation for a specific goal over 3 months than for the rest of your life.
Why are SMART goals beneficial?
Critically, SMART goals allow you to reflect on your progress toward your goals. If you end up walking 10 miles without stopping, then congratulations, you smashed your original goal!
If you were able to walk only 2 miles instead of 3, you can reflect on if walking 3 miles was unrealistic given the timeline? Or, was the weather too poor to walk, and upon reflection, you should set a more realistic goal for the time of year?
The point of SMART goals isn’t to beat yourself up if you do not meet the goal, but to give yourself an opportunity to reflect and better understand what your specific goals are, and what barriers get in the way of achieving them.
So, give setting SMART goals a try, and don’t get too hung up on trying to make the goal perfect. It is more important to try, practice, and potentially fail, than to make a perfect goal. Good luck!
Jack works with residents who live in our Intergenerational Housing program. Find out more about our program!