What We Keep Messing Up About “SMART” Goals

A blue planner notebook that says “My Secret Plan to Rule the World” with a pink background. Photo by Ann H from Pexels.

Goals should be SMART, right? Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

But a lot of us fail to pay attention to the achievable and relevant parts of the planning process. We stick to specific and time bound, and if life goes sideways or we get smacked with a global pandemic or an illness or family issues or a job loss, we think we failed at our goal just because we didn’t finish it in the time allotted.

Goals need room to breathe and adjust.

When a goal is no longer relevant or achievable in the way you first planned, going back to that goal and changing your method or timeline is not only “not failing,” but it’s actually setting you up for success.

Goals change to honor you where you are

When I turned 25, I made a five year plan. I wanted to be debt free, married, and a parent by 30.

I am 32, twice divorced, child free by choice (plot twist!), and still looking at about $30,000 of debt between my student loan and car.

And I am cool with this.

Chasing marriage-and-baby as the measurement of my success would still have me in an abusive marriage instead of nearly three years out and in the healthiest relationship of my life.

Chasing debt-free would have me still in a toxic workplace just because it paid well, rather than seeking work that fuels my passion AND talents, with time to recover from burnout and start my own business.

Last year, I started off 2020 with a pile of goals. Get two more book deals, run my online course four times, and launch a coaching practice. As I realized these goals weren’t achievable in one year while balancing my own mental and physical health needs, I revised the goals.

And then I quit my job in the middle of the year and took several months off to recover from burnout.

At that point, my goal was survival and recovery.

Now that I’ve gotten through a period of rest, I’m job seeking, I’m launching a new brand, and I have two coaching clients. It’s a humble beginning, but it’s a beginning that honors my boundaries and needs.

It is okay if you have to press pause. It is okay if you hit a life milestone and haven’t achieved what you thought you would when you looked at this time and place from the past. And it’s also okay for you to have some feelings about it and grieve the life you thought you’d have right now.

But put yourself in your five-years-ago shoes. Are you better off now? Don’t think about your goals or where you could be now if you had done something different. Just — are you better off today than five years ago, with regard to your own happiness and life satisfaction?

Are your relationships better? Are you a better communicator? Do you love yourself more? Are you happier with your mental and emotional health? Do you have hobbies you enjoy? Are you in love? Did you read a really great book or find a new musical artist that brings you joy?

Yes to any of these? Rock on. That’s awesome and I love that for you.

No to any of these? Okay, let’s make a goal to work on that for this year.

The new SMART goals

Next time you set goals, don’t just go down the acronym and make a quick 5-point goal. Think it through. Try these prompts.

S – Specific

What is your goal, specifically? Don’t put a timeframe here, that comes later. An example of a specific goal is “run my online course four times this year” and an even more specific goal would be “sell out my online course four times this year with 10 people per run.”

How confident are you that you can achieve this goal? What if you only get eight people but still run your course each time? Will you still feel successful? What if 12 people want to take it? Will you change the number of seats you offer?

Be specific but be open to a bit of flexibility.

M – Measurable

What is the measure of your success for your goal? Continuing the above example, success would be measured by running the course four times with ten people per run. If your goal is to get a job, your measurement could be a job offer with your desired salary and benefits, or it could be as simple as accepting a job offer. It’s up to you how specific your goal is and how you measure it.

In my last job, I was making $71,000 per year but I was miserable. Recently in an interview for a nonprofit, I said I would need to make at least $55,000 per year in order to take a full time role that met my financial needs. I did the math, and that’s how much I would need to pay my bills and save up for a house or other long-term financial goal.

If your goal is to graduate college, the measure of your success could be hitting all your graduation requirements for a degree. Or you could shoot for a specific GPA to help you get into a graduate program. Your goals can have layers (getting into grad school being a separate goal).

When setting the measures for success, I like to take a stretch goal approach. For instance, I want to grow my social media presence to 500 followers, but it would be really cool if I hit 1000. This way, 500 is my measurable goal, and 1000 is the next measure I would want to hit but it’s going to be fine (and still successful) if I don’t get all the way there.

(By the way, follow me on Instagram at @CaitlinFisherAuthor and @CriticalHitRecovery.)

A – Achievable

Take into account your abilities and means to achieve your goal the way you want to. If you want to go to college full-time but you also need a full-time job to keep a roof over your head, maybe part-time is the way to go because full-time isn’t achievable while also maintaining your mental health.

For me, running my course four times in a year wasn’t possible in 2020 because I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to develop, market, and run the course four times while also managing my stress. It wasn’t the right time for that goal. It didn’t mean the goal was bad, it just needed adjustment.

If your goal is to start a brand new business off the ground and make $100,000 in your first year, is that achievable? Maybe. Is it likely? Not really.

Adjust your goal to make sure it’s something you can feel good about working toward and you won’t be burning yourself out to achieve it at any cost. If you find yourself burning out, go back to your goal and rework it so that it is achievable.

R – Relevant

Does your goal make sense? Is it relevant to your long-term plans? I briefly considered buying a house this year but quickly realized that I’m open to relocating to another state in the next few years, so buying didn’t really make sense for me right now.

I also want a dog. Is that relevant to my long-term goals and my life right now? Finally, yes, I think it is. I am committed to remote work, so my “I’m not home enough for a dog” reason is no longer applicable, and I’ve wanted a dog for years now. (Is owning a dog a goal? It is now).

What could change the relevance of your goal? Would a change in your employment, relationship, or other aspect of your life change this goal? Make a list of what might impact it.

T – Time Bound

The trickiest aspect of goal setting is the timeline. Obviously a goal needs a target date for completion, or you won’t have any idea how to pace yourself and work toward it.

But this is where we get so hung up on our goals. We put all our eggs into the time-bound basket without checking back in on the rest, and then if something happens that derails a goal, we internalize it as a failure.

But the failure isn’t in you, it’s in approaching goals as a rigid and immovable force that can’t be shifted and adapted.

How to avoid the time-bound trap

I want you to look back on your life and think about all the amazing things you did, not get hung up on when you did them. Your life is full of achievements, strength, courage, and joy. These things don’t need to be timed or measured in order for them to have their full weight as positive experiences.

So here’s what I want you to do when you’re setting your goals:

  • Make a giant list of all the things you need to do to achieve your goal in your allotted time
  • Schedule regular check-ins to make sure your goals are still achievable and relevant for the time allotted
  • If not, adjust your measurement, your goal, or your timeline
  • Don’t beat yourself up about having to change your goal — your diligence and consistency will pay off, and your success is still a success even if it comes later than you planned

Work with me one on one

Setting goals is easy. Staying on top of them, and working through your brain’s bullshit, is not. I help my clients work toward their goals with accountability and mindset work (and some tough love if they’re lying to themselves about how achievable their big pile of goals is). Schedule a free 30-minute consult to see if we’d be a good fit for coaching!

21 New Years Resolutions for Minimalists

Happy New Year!

dreams

At a time when most of us are plotting the course to become a Totally New Me, I’d like to remind you all that you are doing great already. You’re enough, just as you are, and you don’t need to lose 50 pounds or get a boyfriend or achieve a certain level of income to be loved or worthy or enough. That said, New Years Resolutions don’t have to be about absolute life changes. You might find that if you focus on small lifestyle focus areas, you’ll reap large-scale rewards. I’ve put together a list of minimalist resolutions to help you simplify your life and focus on what matters most to you.

A look back

Take a moment to reflect on the year behind you. I can say for certain that when I was approaching 2018, I could not have predicted anything that was about to change for me. In 2018, I realized I was living half a life in an abusive marriage, so I left. In 2018, I lost my stepdad. In 2018, I cut contact with loved ones who damaged my mental health. In 2018, I socialized and made new friends and developed two healthy and loving romantic relationships. In 2018, I discovered a new favorite restaurant. In 2018, I accepted a book deal and wrote a book. It was a BIG. YEAR.

Related: MarketWatch – What to do when your best year at work is your worst year at home

Self reflection and goal setting

To help you reflect on your year in review and find the areas you want to work on for the next year, I recommend finding a few minutes to focus and reflect. This guide can help you out with guided questions and printable sheets to brainstorm.

First, reflect:

  • Did you achieve your resolutions and goals in 2018?
  • Do you have unfinished 2018 projects? Why?
  • Did you take time in 2018 to make a plan for your goals? Did you give yourself the time and resources needed to accomplish your goals?

Then, prepare:

  • Set clear, definable goals with measurable progress and success
  • Think about how you’ll react if you don’t achieve your goals
  • Decide how you’ll motivate yourself to reach your goals

Decide on the areas you want to improve, and then focus your goals on those key areas. The smallest consistent actions can create big improvements.

On to the resolutions

Depending on your areas of focus, here are some resolutions you may be able to adjust to your needs for 2019!

Career

  • Get in early. Resolve to arrive at your desk 15 minutes early this year. Having a few minutes to slowly get your mind into work-mode will leave you feeling more productive and less rushed. This doesn’t mean spend an extra 15 minutes working! Spend this time to close your eyes, set an intention for your work day, and get ready to work.
  • Update your resume. The simple act of updating your resume and polishing your personal brand can help remind you of your skills and make you feel more confident. You don’t even have to look for a new job if you don’t want to – just looking at your credentials and experience on paper is a great reminder of how you’re doing in your career.
  • Learn more. Resolve to read a book or take a webinar or workshop related to your career on a regular basis this year. Check out resources like Lynda, which may be available for free through your local library. Lynda has courses about almost everything.

Physical Health

  • Go to bed. You need more sleep than you are getting, if you’re like most Americans. More rest means better health, regardless of how much you’re hitting the gym. Working out while your body is exhausted can set you up for injury and burnout, so prioritize getting your ZZZs. Try to keep a consistent bedtime and wake time to teach your body your new habits and rhythms.
  • Stretch daily. Rather than commit to a year-long weight loss goal that so few people achieve without a heap of negative self-talk, choose a simpler resolution. Wake five minutes earlier so that you can stretch before you start your morning routine, and perhaps you’ll see that just a small amount of movement can help naturally inspire more.
  • Hydrate. Resolve to drink enough water on a daily basis – this will have a huge and lasting impact on your health. You’ll have healthier digestion when your body is properly hydrated, and you’ll also notice healthier skin.

Mental Health

  • Go to therapy. If your medical insurance covers therapy, find a therapist! Even if you don’t feel like you need one. It can be extremely helpful to have someone to talk to who isn’t knee deep in your personal life. They’re a neutral third party and can help you find other areas of your life to work on.
  • Try mindfulness. Many apps are available to help guide a quick meditation during your day, or you could try keeping a daily journal to jot down some affirmations, intentions, and gratitude.
  • Add plants. Houseplants are one way to improve your mood and mental health. While they’re obviously no replacement for therapy or medication, being around plants and natural microbes found in soil can help boost the immune system as well as inspire joy and decrease symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Social Life

  • Say no. Minimalism is about what to exclude from your life moreso than it’s about what to include, including your schedule. Learn to say no to some social plans so that you can say yes to the ones you really want to attend, without burning yourself out or overscheduling.
  • Try a new place. If you’re a homebody who wants to try going out more, set yourself an easy goal like trying one new place or route per month.This could be going to a new cafe to read a book, visiting a different branch of your local library system, or even taking a different route on an afternoon walk. Just try something different.
  • Give compliments. I used to be pretty quiet in public places, always staying in the shadows while my sister rained rainbow sparkles of joy on everyone she crossed paths with. “Love your earrings!” “That dress looks great,” “Your hair is awesome,” etc. etc. etc. After I went on medication for depression and anxiety, I was less scared of being seen as weird in public by engaging with people I didn’t know. Now I love to tell a server that I love their eyeliner, or give props to a coworker for a job well done in our weekly meeting. Resolve to say something nice every day. It will change your whole outlook on life.

Generosity

  • Leave bigger tips. If you normally tip 20%, resolve to tip 25% at minimum in 2019. This is a great way to be generous and make a big impact with a small change to your current habits.
  • Support marginalized artists on Patreon. Find someone on Patreon who is marginalized in an area of life where you have privilege. Donate to them monthly for the entire year. (For example, if you’re a cisgender white person, donate to a transgender person of color).
  • Declutter for a cause. When you’re decluttering and minimizing in 2019, donate linens, business casual wear, formal dresses, unopened toiletries, non-perishable foods, etc. to local agencies, women’s shelters, and other charities that help people. Even stained or torn towels and linens can be donated to most animal shelters to be used as bedding or cleaning rags.

Finances

  • Minimize your budget. Go over your past few months of bank statements and see what you’re spending money on that you forgot about, don’t really use, or are not seeing a good return on. For me, this meant finally canceling my Beachbody Coach account. I kept it active long after I stopped selling workouts and shakes, because I got an occasional commission and felt like “passive income” was a good reason to keep it up. But I hated the clutter of my monthly budget, so I canceled it and freed up a whole segment of my budget that I no longer had to think about.
  • Go “No Spend.” Resolve to have a no-spend week or month a few times a year. During this time, use up items in your freezer and pantry, learn to do without online shopping for the period in question, and give homemade or pre-owned gifts to people if an occasion falls during your no-spend challenge.
  • Live on half. If at all possible, challenge yourself to live on half of what you make in order to achieve your savings or debt payoff goals as fast as possible. If you can’t live on half of what you make, challenge yourself to spend half as much as usual on something in your budget for a month.

Physical Environment

  • Donate once a month. Make a resolution to take (at least) one full box to the local donation center each month. This is a low-stress way to declutter and minimize all year long.
  • Try Project 333. This capsule wardrobe project challenges you to go three months with only 33 pieces of clothing and jewelry (undies and workout clothes excluded). This experiment can help inspire a closet makeover in your home and help reduce future spending on clothes, once you realize you don’t even wear most of what you have.
  • Commit to one area. Resolve to keep one small part of your home as minimal and simple as possible. Your minimalist save point. It could be a whole room, or it could be as simple as your desk or one nightstand in your bedroom. Just find one spot that you’ll keep to your minimalist standards on a daily basis all year. The joy of seeing it so nice will likely inspire a similar commitment to other areas of the home.

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?