What goals do you dream of accomplishing? Maybe you want a promotion or a new job. Do you dream of starting your own business? You may want to buy a home or pay off bills. Perhaps you want to be healthier, advance your knowledge, or simply be a better person.
As you set goals, it helps to come up with criteria that will help focus your efforts and increase your chances of success. You might consider applying the popular business tool, S.M.A.R.T., to your plan. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s a method of setting goals that’s used by businesses around the world, so there may be a nugget here that you can use. Here’s a quick example.
- Specific goal: Lose 25 pounds by January
- Measurable: “I will exercise for at least 30 minutes each day and come up with a healthy eating plan” is a more definite goal than “eat less.”
- Achievable: Make sure that your goal is actually something that you can achieve. You may be in a position where it’s not healthy for you to lose that much weight within that time or, you’d have to starve yourself to do so. Your goal should be challenging but achievable. Perhaps you can lose the weight in a year instead of within a few months.
- Relevant: Your goal should align with your personal aspirations and motivate you to achieve it. Otherwise, why bother?
- Time-bound: I mentioned this briefly, but yes, you need a deadline, a sense of urgency. Otherwise, it’s less likely to be accomplished. Make sure that your goal is realistic so that you don’t burn out before you’re done!
Once you’ve identified your goal and answered the S.M.A.R.T. questions, you need to connect with the “why” behind what you’re doing — that is, what is your big picture reason for pursuing the goal? By understanding your personal “why” you can stay motivated even when things get tough. But this shouldn’t be the end of the story.
The why behind your “why”
When you look for a personal why behind an activity, you identify some benefit. If you want to lose weight, your “why” might be the ability to play outside with your kids without getting winded. For other goals, the “why” might be related to getting a promotion or being able to take a vacation every year.
But hidden within those benefits are distinct value sets. For instance, if you want to play outside without getting winded, you probably value family and a sense of connection to other people. If you go one step further and ask yourself why you want your why, these values come into better focus.
Getting in touch with your values is crucial!
Getting in touch with your deeper values ultimately can be more motivating than identifying benefits. Knowing your deeper values create a clearer, stronger sense of who you are, independent of anyone else. This can boost your confidence so that you’re able to reject, or objectively analyze criticisms from others and move forward.
Examining your behaviors and objectives under the lens of deeper values also lets you think critically about whether the path you’re on is right for you and how you frame what you’re doing. For example, someone trying to lose weight might say things like, “I don’t want to look fat!” This implies that they value appearances and outside approval very strongly. But if they say, “Getting some exercise will help me stay strong and is good for my heart!”, they communicate that they value physical independence and health. Purposely constructing mantras or conversations in a way that highlights your specific values helps in your mental reinforcement of what you’re striving for.
It can also help to find common ground with those who have shared values. For instance, if you know someone exercises regularly while you weigh your food for portion control, you can connect with them the common interest of health. And once you have that connection and understanding, it’s much easier to ask others to accept you, help hold you accountable, or to accompany you on your goal journey.
Two critical considerations about what you think matters
All this said, people often refer to an initial why in the singular, implying that there’s just one reason you might want to do something. But this is far too simplistic, as it’s possible to connect one goal to multiple values. For example, if you have a goal to eat better, then you might identify the importance of health, supporting local agriculture, longevity with family, or maximizing physical function for focus and productivity. The more positive benefits you can connect with a goal, the more you’ll have to fall back on when you get discouraged.
Additionally, it’s perfectly normal for your values to change as you grow and learn over time. Those who are settled in their careers or who are nearing retirement, for example, usually come to value passing on their knowledge and skills as teachers, rather than building more financial or social stability.
You might find that you start to lean on different beliefs or priorities to maintain behaviors or set new goals because your ideologies have changed to such a radical degree. Allow yourself some flexibility and make sure you can pinpoint what’s important to you regardless of which stage you’re in your life.
Knowing what you want from a goal–that is, the advantage you’re after–is a good start. But it’s even more important to get clarity about the values you associate with those goals and benefits. The improved sense of self and connection you get from this can be powerfully motivating. Make finding the “why behind your why” a must-do step in establishing and reaching your life goals!