By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |
The start of the year tends to bring New Year’s resolutions. While some of them will work out, most resolutions are forgotten quickly. After the holidays, many of us want to get back to the gym and lose those few pounds that we gained eating holiday treats and feasts. Some of us are looking for a new beginning and want to reinvent ourselves. Our intentions are good but in the end we may be just adding more stress by giving ourselves unrealistic expectations.
This may be a good time to think about some goal setting. We all need goals whether we are professional athletes or just regular folks trying to get back in shape. Setting goals gives us short-term motivation and long-term vision. Goals help us to organize our time and resources, and focus our acquisition of knowledge. Setting clearly defined goals will raise our self-confidence, and give us a sense of pride for accomplishing those goals.
One of the easiest ways to make our goals more powerful is to use the SMART mnemonic. There are many variations, but SMART usually stands for:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-bound
For example, one could state a goal “to be happy.” This would not be a SMART goal for many reasons. It is not specific (or significant) because happiness means different things to different people. It is also not measurable (or meaningful) because it cannot be clearly defined. Since it is not definable and measurable, it is probably also not attainable (or action-oriented). In addition, it may not be relevant (or rewarding) because we rarely recognize when we have actually reached the point of “happiness.” It is also not time-bound (or trackable) because one cannot give a deadline to achieving it. Wanting to be happy is an expression of desire, not a goal. It is no different than “to get back in shape” or “to lose some weight.”
In order to make SMART goals, we should state our goals as positive statements and be precise. We should also prioritize our goals and write them down. It also makes sense to focus on the process rather than simply on the outcome, and stay open minded. Sometimes goals change because priorities change, and sometimes we learn something new during the process that changes the big picture. Being committed and persistent is great, but we should not be inflexible. A disciplined person should also be open to learning. It makes no sense to stay on the course that has been proven to be wrong during the journey. Pursuing a goal for the sake of pursuing it after it has been proven not SMART is not very smart. Great goals should be regularly re-evaluated and revised. We should conduct our own SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis in a continuous cycle, and re-assess where we are in relation to our vision. Goals, at their best, are dynamic and evolving like we are.
Dr. Tomi Wahlström is Vice President of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy.