Updated: Nov 13, 2021
We’ve all been taught the S.M.A.R.T goal setting acronym – created and referenced by George Doran in his 1981 article - as the best strategy for achieving goals. For many years, we were urged to make goals that were:
S - specific
M - measurable
A – achievable or assignable
R – realistic
T – timely
And although I feel that two aspects (AR) are still viable components, “specificity” has its down sides, as Harvard Business School research has shown.
In addition, there’s two important pieces of the goal-setting equation that’s missing – it’s transferable, and heart-based meaning. So what I suggest is that instead of being “S.M.A.R.T” about setting your goals, to instead adopt a more relevant and science-supported strategy of “C.H.A.R.T” ing your way to Success. Besides, I like the word ‘CHART’ because it’s verb-form means to “lay out a plan” or “to make a map” – which is precisely what goal-setting involves.
C - Clarity
H - Heart-based
A - Achievable
R - Realistic
T - Transferable
1. Be CLEAR (C)
Instead of being specific, clarity simple means you can see it without obstruction. If we feed our brains a highly specific goal, it will focus on it at the exclusion of everything else – this is the role of the Reticular Activating System. Although this attention exclusivity is helpful for some aspects of our lives, exclusive focus can also cause Inattentional Blindness. This means, you may miss other measurements of your success. For example, if all you focus on is losing 10 pounds, you probably won’t notice that you gained more strength or muscle, or that your blood sugar level has dropped – both of which are also great markers of successful health improvements. If you all you focus on is decreasing how many time you argue with your spouse, you probably won't notice how many times that week he/she was generous or kind. So having a diverse set of ways to measure your progress will give you a more realistic appraisal of your progress.
So how do we get clear about our goals, without being too specific? First, give yourself three versions of your goal: “Ideal”, “Acceptable” and “Acceptable and I can improve it”.
We all have an “Ideal” goal and sometimes it may happen. But nothing in life is consistently “ideal”. So if that’s your only measure of success, you won’t consistently get the dopamine rewards that come with making progress. “Acceptable” – also trains your brain to flexible in its perspective and to consider diverse levels of success – an essential component of developing Emotional Intelligence. “Acceptable with improvement” simply means that there’s something here that I can learn from. Something that will increase my chance of success in the next phase or attempt. Receiving that lesson is also another successful outcome of your effort. Granted, learning a lesson may not have been what you intended or anticipated. But getting what you want or anticipate is not the only marker of success. You did obtain something – information to work with. An unexpected “win” - which is….. still a success. With that perspective, you are always getting small dopamine hits, but from a variety of success definitions. And small doses of dopamine are what keep us moving forward towards our goal.
2. Make it Heart-based (H)
The next aspect of C.H.A.R.Ting your Success is another helpful tool for setting a not-too-specific, yet CLEAR goal. And that is to tie your goal to a ‘heart-based’ or meaningful outcome.
Here’s an example, based loosely on a recent conversation I had with a friend:
(Friend) “I want to lose 10 pounds so I can look good in my swimsuit on vacation”.
Great, there’s a ‘why’ attached, I like it. And can you add another one that's even more CLEAR? – what does looking good is a swimsuit get for you?
Great. Can you get even more clear? what will self-confidence get you?
(Friend) “I dunno. I just like how I feel when I’m confident”.
That's terrific. But let's keep going. Once you feel good or confident about yourself, what will you do? What will that get for you?
(Friend) “I guess I’ll do more things I used to hold back on”.
Fantastic. Keep going. What do you hold back on now, that you won't hold back on when you feel confident about yourself? And why would you do that thing?
(Friend) “I’d maybe become a public speaker and share my knowledge”.
Love that idea. Why do you want to share your knowledge?
(Friend) “To connect others and feel like I'm contributing”.
Now we’re really getting clear. And if you connect and contribute to others, what will that get you?
(Friend) “I’ll feel like I have a purpose, that I’m maximizing my life”
Awesome. Now that’s a very Clear, Heart-based goal: "I want to lose weight so I can confidently connect and contribute to other people by expressing who I am and sharing what I’ve learned". By C.H.A.R.Ting Success in that way…the next time you reach for that ice-cream bar, you have a much more powerful motivator than just "looking good in my swimsuit". Are you tracking me? You’ll more likely to pull your hand back remembering that your goal is really about reconnecting to the ‘you’ that contributes and connects to other people, which is what you really want at heart. That’s a very clear goal without a focus that’s too specific.
Now the next two concepts of the old SMART acronym, I won’t mess with.
3. Make it Achievable / Assignable (A)
I still like this. Accountability and believing you can really achieve your goal, helps a lot.
4. Make it Realistic (R)
And I still like this one too. But do some research. Is the goal you’re setting based in reality? Is there evidence that it can be done? Sometimes, meeting several small realistic goals can eventually lead to one fantastic outcome that’s never been done before. But the stepping-stones to getting there involve meeting some foundational and realistic goals along the way.
5. Make it Transferable (T)
Although I still like the time-essential component of SMART goals, Transferability amplifies the value of the goal or outcome. If we can see more than one benefit from our clear, heart-based goal, benefits that can be transferred into additional areas of our life, this raises its value to our brain. This increased value in turn, increases our resilience during the naturally occurring discomfort of brain change. In other words, we can hold our ground during the tougher challenges of change, when we know the outcome will have multiple affects. Although I do like the time-related component of the original SMART strategy. It only works if it’s realistic and reasonable.
There is a false or Limiting belief many humans share and it’s this: That goals are achieved only through pressure. Or said another way Pressure, Urgency or Discomfort is the only effective source of DRIVE.
This is not comprehensively factual. Pressure often results in growth. But it is not a sustainable source of drive. Pressure – whether it’s internal or external, is only one approach to getting a result. And it doesn’t always work. Pressure can even be counter-productive, and more often anxiety-producing and exhaustive. So, if we can’t use Pressure or Urgency as drive, what else is there? There is a source of drive that is far more powerful than anything outside of us. It’s our internal drive to connect, create, expand and to grow. It’s the natural drive of all living things. And if we each can tap into that internal source of drive, in part by setting CLEAR, HEART-BASED and TRANSFERABLE goals, the experience can be far more powerful than any drive source that PULLs us forward from the outside. We become PUSHED from within to create, to connect, to express ourselves, to grow and to experience our lives fully. We won’t be able to help it. Because it’s our natural state of being.
So we can tap into this internal drive in part by C.H.A.R.Ting our Success with clear, heart-based and transferable goals. Then what else is needed to access internally-sourced drive? Learning to self-regulate our stress-response system and strengthen our brains.
But this is another future post. OR, if you want to learn more sooner… you can join me in class –
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