As we head into a new year, for most of us it is natural to take the time to set goals and resolutions and work towards being a better version of our self. You’ve probably heard the old advice that your goals need to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. You can’t just have the goal to exercise more, right? It has to be “I will walk 3 times a week for 30 minutes for the next 6 months.” It’s been drilled into my head that as a therapist, that is how I should do my treatment goals – someone comes in with the goal of wanting to feel better and I have to turn it in to “Client will implement 5 tools to improve mood on a weekly basis.” Sounds so warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?
You know what I say to setting SMART goals? It’s dumb.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in working with thousands of different clients over the years, it’s that we are all SO different! So if that’s the case, how can it really be that there is only one way to set goals that works? The reality is THERE ISN’T ONE RIGHT WAY TO DO ANYTHING.
I am not a numbers person. I’m a creative person. I’m a feeler. When I set numeric goals, ie I’m going to blog once a week – all it does is remind me of how how many weeks I missed my goal and makes me feel like I failed. If I set a goal to exercise 4 times a week, you know what happens? Nothing good. I hate counting so I don’t want to count how many days I exercise. Exercising on day one just reminds me I’m only a quarter of the way there! And what if I want to exercise that 5th day? I won’t because I’ve already achieved my goal. That’s helpful.
Am I saying using the SMART method doesn’t work? Of course not- for people who operate in a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely way it works great. But that’s just not everyone. Maybe your goal is you want to live more in the moment, or you want to enjoy your time with your spouse more, or you want to get better sleep. I say THESE ARE GREAT GOALS!
What I love about having more open goals is it allows me to be creative in how I achieve those goals, which gives me a lot more options and therefore a lot more chances of being successful. In setting more open and broad goals. I ask myself what kinds of things could I do that would help me to achieve that goal? I now have a huge list of endless possibilities, and chances are that even if I can’t do something on that list, there is something that I CAN!
If I was thinking about being more present in the moment and set a SMART goal of “I will only spend 15 minutes on my cell phone a day” (I guess these are supposed to be attainable so whoops, already messed up) then what happens if I spend a half hour on my phone one day? Goal not achieved. But if my goal is to be more present, even if I spent more time on my phone one day, maybe I can focus that day on really listening when my partner talks to me. Goal achieved! And in my experience, success breeds more success.
My point to all this is to say this : YOU can decide the best way to set goals or resolutions is for YOU. Figure out what motivates you, what inspires you to do better or do more? What actually helps you to change? Is it focusing on one task or goal a day? Is it setting a broad goal and finding all the creative ways to meet it each day? Or is it using those numbers so you can check off those boxes? It’s ok if what works for someone else isn’t what works for you. Because YOU are the only YOU. And that’s a very good thing.