In business, there is an oft-repeated concept – create SMART goals. In case you’ve never heard of a SMART goal, SMART is an acronym that stands for:
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely
The general wisdom parlayed at company seminars is that if goals are SMART, you’ll have better odds of achieving them. This goes for personal goals, too: instead of stating that your goal is to “lose weight,” you should aim to “lose ten pounds by June.” This way you know what you are chasing, you can check progress, and you aren’t setting yourself up for failure.
Now go and conquer your dreams.
But setting SMART goals isn’t enough. There are too many uncontrolled variables between setting a goal and achieving that goal. To revisit our example, let’s say you set your goal in January to “lose ten pounds by June,” then go through a break-up in February, or lose your job, or get sick. Depression hits, and losing weight gets pushed to the back burner. By March, you’re back on your feet, but now you only have three months instead of six, and during your downslide, you gained a few pounds. It just seems like too much. So screw it, maybe next year, right?
Sometimes it isn’t a big life event that keeps us from achieving our goals. The portion of our brain that plans long-term might be aspirational and good, but the part of our brain that makes short-term decisions can be an evil son-of-a-gun. On the same day that we set our SMART goal to lose weight, we might pick up a jelly donut (or a dozen). According to studies, the short-term, emotional part of our brain beats the long-term part of our brain, responsible for abstract reasoning, almost every time.
So do we just abandon long-term goals altogether?
Not at all! Set SMART goals. But instead of leaving goals to be dealt with in the distant future, break goals down to ONE habit that you can cultivate daily.
“Lose ten pounds by June” could break down to “do one active thing each day that is interesting and challenging.” At first, that might just mean walking around the block. Thirty days later, you might be running a few miles – you have to keep it interesting and challenging, right?
Six months later, even if you’ve forgotten all about that goal you conceived back in January, you will find that you made a strong positive change in your life and you’ll notice the results.
The beauty of habits is that if you focus on one at a time and push yourself to complete one task (almost) every day, you’ll find that it won’t matter whether you are happy or sad, in love or heartbroken, well or sick, you will eventually feel compelled to stick to the habit. We all know this goes for BAD habits, but the science is the same – it goes for GOOD habits as well!
So stop chasing goals – start cultivating habits.