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Are You Setting and Achieving SMART Goals?Happy Holidays! Seeing as we’re just a week or so away from the new year, it seems an appropriate time to discuss resolutions and goals.

I’ve never been a big fan of resolutions, especially those of the “New Year’s” variety. However, my disdain for New Year’s resolutions has never been due to any high-minded philosophical reasons. Rather, it’s always been more about the contrarian in me consciously choosing not to do what everyone else deems important at the moment.

That having been said, over the course of the past decade I’ve become a firm believer and proponent of setting goals. In fact, I think setting goals is an essential element of creating the success you desire.

Why do I distinguish between resolutions and goals?

Well, a resolution is simply a decision to do something or not to do something. But deciding to do something doesn’t magically make it happen. It’s just the first step.

Unfortunately, making a resolution doesn’t imply any planning or effort is necessary once it’s been made. This is likely one of the reasons so many people make New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking or lose weight only to find themselves chain smoking while eating chocolate cake a few weeks later.

A goal, by contrast, is an endpoint towards which effort is directed. In other words, when you set a goal, you start with your desired result in mind and consciously acknowledge that effort will be required in order to achieve it. Setting a goal is about creating change. And, as we all know, creating change takes work.

So, if you’ve been making resolutions, I want you to stop and start setting goals instead.

Fortunately, you don’t need to wait until 2014 to get started. And, if you don’t already have goals you’re actively working on, I suggest you get started today. However, just setting goals isn’t enough…

You Need to Write Them Down

I’m constantly amazed at how many people set goals and then try to keep them in their heads, as if they could somehow hold on to those goals each and every day despite life’s constant distractions.

You need to write down your goals. Not only because writing out your goals makes you less likely to forget them, but because the act of writing them down makes them more concrete.

And, it’s not just writing down your goals that’s important. There’s obviously little value in writing down your goals and putting them in your desk drawer only to discover them nine months later and say, “Wow, look at those great goals! It’s too bad I haven’t done a thing to achieve them.”

Once you’ve written down your goals, you need to put those goals somewhere you and others can see them every day, preferably first thing each morning. This can be on the bathroom mirror, in front of your desk or on your office wall, on your refrigerator, or all of the above.

Why is it important for your goals to be where others can see them everyday? Because when your spouse, children, co-workers, employees, and others whose opinion you respect can see your goals, there’s an added element of accountability. Not only is your self-respect on the line, but the respect of others you care about is as well, and you’re that much more likely to take daily action towards achieving them. Additionally, having your goals visible to others can help when you need to set boundaries and prioritize the time necessary to work on them.

So, you need to set goals, write them down, and put them in a place where you and others can see them. But that’s not all… You need to plan SMART goals.

What Are SMART Goals?

When I suggest you need to create and plan goals in order to succeed, I’m referring to specific types of goals: SMART goals. SMART is an acronym. The S is for Specific, the M is for Measurable, the A is for Attainable, the R is for Relevant, and the T is for Time-bound.

So, why do your goals need to be specific?

A lot of therapists come to me for help marketing their practices and the first thing many of them say is either “I need to be making more money” or “I want a full practice.” Of course, my natural response is either “How much more?” or “What’s a full practice?”

Many therapists consider a 25-client week to be a full practice. But for others, that number may be only 15 clients per week. And for others who regularly see 40 clients a week, 25 clients per week is nowhere near a full practice.

So, for starters, if you want someone to help you achieve your goals, you need to be able to clearly articulate the desired outcome. I can’t help anyone achieve a goal when they can’t specifically tell me what it is they’re trying to achieve.

The same is true for those who want to make six figures a year. Is a six-figure income $100,000 a year? Is it $200,000 a year? Is it $750,000 a year? Needless to say, there’s a big difference between $100,000 and $200,000 and between $200,000 and $750,000.

When you set goals, you need to clearly and unambiguously answer the five “W” questions:

  • Who – Who, specifically, will be involved in achieving this goal?
  • What – What, specifically, is to be achieved?
  • When – What is the exact deadline for the achievement of the goal?
  • Where – Does the goal and/or working on the goal involve any specific locations?
  • Why – Why is achieving this goal important?

Answering these questions as precisely as possible will not only help others understand what it is you’re trying to create and why, it will solidify the reality of your goals in your own mind.

And having specific goals is absolutely necessary if you’re going to track your progress and success along the way, which brings us to measurable.

What do I mean by having measurable goals?

As we’ve discussed, achieving goals involves sustained effort over time. Accordingly, you need some method of measuring your progress toward the attainment of your goal. Having a measurable goal helps make sure you stay on track.

If your goal is simply to create a six-figure income, you have little to no way of tracking your progress throughout the course of the year. You either hit the six-figure mark by the end of the year or you don’t.

However, if your goal is to make $120,000 this year, it’s very easy to track and measure your progress. $120,000 a year is $10,000 a month. There are 4 weeks in a month, so that’s $2,500 per week. How many client hours a week do you want to work? Assuming your only source of income is your practice – although, I’m hoping that’s not the case – if you don’t want to see more than 25 clients per week, all you need to do to achieve your goal is make sure you average 25 clients per week at $100 per hour. It will be very easy for you to track your progress each week and make sure you’re on track.

No matter what goals you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to need to break them up into smaller, actionable steps in order to succeed. Creating and planning measurable goals helps you determine the exact steps you need to take and the precise targets you need to reach each month, each week, and each day.

What’s more, being able to track your progress towards the achievement of your goals allows you to celebrate your successes along the way. And celebrating your successes will help you maintain your momentum, enjoy the process, and have fun, which is what life is all about!

Now, why do I say your goals need to be attainable?

Isn’t making sure goals are attainable a no-brainer? I mean, why would anyone create and plan a goal that’s impossible to achieve?

Well, the problem being addressed here isn’t as much about what’s possible as it is about what you believe is possible.

Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.”

The key is that you have to believe your goal is attainable in order for you to reach it. If you don’t believe it’s possible, guess what? For you, it’s not.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to become a great pianist and you know next to nothing about playing the piano. So, you set about voraciously learning everything you can about playing the piano with the goal of becoming an award-winning pianist who’s played Carnegie Hall before the end of the year. Now, I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to what’s possible in life, but I’d have some difficulty believing that goal is attainable and chances are you’ll have the same problem.

Now, if your goal was to be able to play one of Beethoven’s symphonies by the end of the year, I probably could buy into that and I bet you could, too, assuming you spend enough time practicing. And, again, you have to believe something is possible in order to be able to create it.

Of course, what one believes is possible or attainable is a very subjective thing…

A big part of what we hope to achieve with TMI is to greatly increase your beliefs about what’s possible and about what you can create.

Suffice it to say for now, my intention is not for you to set goals that are so easy to achieve they’re largely meaningless. You need to consistently work towards expanding what you consider attainable.

Personally, I always try to set goals and then raise the bar by 50% or 100%. For example, if my goal is to make $200,000 this year and I believe that’s attainable, I would then increase my goal to making $300,000 or even $400,000 this year. Why? Because it doesn’t take much extra effort, if any, to aim for $300,000 or $400,000, and even if I don’t succeed, I’ll likely make a lot more than $200,000 by doing so.

Similarly, using the piano-playing example above, if my initial goal is to play one of Beethoven’s symphonies by the end of the year, I’d also include being able to play one of Bach’s concertos.

Raising the bar on your goals will help you expand your beliefs about what’s possible as well as prevent you from unnecessarily limiting your results – why make $100,000 less this year or learn to play only one symphony simply because you’re not trying to achieve more?

Okay, let’s talk about why goals need to be relevant

Why do goals needs to be relevant, and to whom? Well, first of all, your goals need to be relevant to you.

If you want to learn to play the piano, and you set the goal of being able to play one of Beethoven’s symphonies by the end of the year but you can’t stand classical music, good luck.

Similarly, if you’re setting goals that are important for someone else but not that important for you, finding the motivation to follow through with them consistently will be difficult at best. If your goals aren’t relevant to you, you’ll likely spend as much time and energy resisting them as you will trying to achieve them.

So, your goals need to be relevant to you and whoever else is involved with accomplishing them in order to develop and maintain the motivation and commitment necessary to achieve them.

Additionally, while we can create anything we want, we can’t do everything all at once. We need to focus. Accordingly, it’s helpful if whatever goals you’re working on are not only relevant to you but also relevant to each other.

This isn’t to say all of your goals should be professionally related or that you shouldn’t work on more than one goal at a time. In fact, I often recommend people pick two professional and two personal goals to work on concurrently, as this seems to fall within what most people find manageable and attainable.

So, what do I mean by having goals that are relevant to each other? Well, as an example, let’s say one professional goal is to make $120,000 this year. A second professional goal may be to cut back from seeing 40 clients per week to only seeing 30 per week over the course of the next six months while still increasing your income to the aforementioned level. Why do you want to go from seeing 40 clients per week to only 30? Perhaps, it’s because one of your personal goals is to spend a month exploring Italy before the end of the year. And, since you don’t speak any Italian, your other personal goal is to be able to be conversant in Italian before you go. Maybe this means being able to have conversations in Italian for ten minutes at a clip.

Of course, this is just an example. But, if you can create this kind of congruence when you’re setting and planning goals, you’ll find they’re much easier to consistently work on and achieve, which is what the “R” is all about.

Lastly, we get to the “T.” What do I mean by time-bound?

While setting specific target dates for the achievement of goals can be considered part of a goal’s specificity and measurability, the necessity of having a concrete time frame associated with the accomplishment of a goal is so often overlooked it deserves special recognition. Plus, SMART goals wouldn’t be very mnemonic without the “T.”

When therapists tell me they “want a full practice,” or “need to make more money,” after asking them what these terms mean my next question is “By when?”

Remember, unlike with resolutions, when we set a goal we’re starting with the end result. In order to achieve it, we need to know where to begin and what we need to do each step of the way.

Having your goals be time-bound allows you to work backwards from the desired outcomes and determine what you need to accomplish each month, each week, and each day in order to achieve them and put those items on your calendar so they get done!

So, now you know why your goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Learning to create and plan SMART goals will make sure you have the best possible chances of achieving every goal you set and attaining the personal and professional success you desire.

Action Steps

  1. If you’re not already setting goals in your personal and professional life, start planning SMART goals today!
  2. If you’re already setting goals, make sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
  3. Share your goals with us and let us know how we can help you achieve them by leaving a comment below this article…

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