Living (and running) SMART

Somewhere in your career, or maybe in school, you learned about SMART goals. SMART goals are the first step in creating an actionable plan to achieve success. Creating SMART goals works in life and running as well as business.

It is generally accepted that the SMART acronym was first written down in November 1981 in Spokane, Washington. George T. Doran, a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company published a paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”. – A Brief History of SMART Goals 

The original definition of the acronym S.M.A.R.T. was Specific, Measurable, Assignable/Agreed-to, Realistic, and Time-related/Time-bound. There have been variations on this to make it more usable outside business management. Those include: Strategic, Significant, Stretching; Motivating, Meaningful; Attainable, Action-oriented, Ambitious, Aligned, Achievable; Resourced, Reasonable, Relevant, Results-based; Time-based, Time-limited, Timely, Time-sensitive, Tangible, Trackable. I’m sure there are more you can add to the list.

Whether I am working with runners or life coaching clients, the definition that I believe works best, which is pretty close to Doran’s definition, is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant,  and Time-sensitive. So let’s look at goal setting within that frame work. Clients come into coaching with a goal in mind. Usually it’s a very broad goal. “I want to run a marathon” or “I want a more fulfilling job” or my favorite, “I want to be happier.” Yikes. It’s understandable that most people don’t know how to move forward from there. Everyone one of us is creative and resourceful however and by contemplating  the answers to some questions, we can begin to shape some goals with which we can realistically begin to shape future we desire for ourselves.

Specific…What is it that you really want to achieve? If the answer is that you want to be happy, I would follow that up with what does happiness look like? What does a better job look like? Answering those questions will help steer the way to specificity. Vague goals don’t work because they are hard to plan around. If your goal isn’t specific enough you won’t know what to do today to work towards it. So a specific goal maybe something more like, “volunteer with an organization that has meaning to me” or “go back to school to finish my degree” or “build the skills necessary to move to the fundraising department in my organization.” Finishing a marathon is a specific goal, and therefore has a plan attached to it. For many who has never run before, though, or maybe have achieved a 5k so far, its not a good place to start. It may not meet some of the other criteria, and be a better longer range goal.  When I finished my coaching core classes and began the certification process over 6 months ago, my obvious (specific) goal was to become a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, and in working with my mentor-coach, my desire was to deepen my understanding of coaching, which without the next piece of criteria isn’t that specific.

Measurable…What does success look like and what will determine that you’ve reached it? Crossing a finish line is obviously measurable. How do you measure happiness or fulfillment? Or a “deepened understanding?” When I work with clients, we discuss big goals, those major changes that they want and usually the reason they came to coaching.  Those can be 6 month or 1 year or 5 year goals. In working with my mentor-coach, I was focused on the next 6-12 months and ultimately achieving certification as a professional coach.  The measurement that I laid out with her however gave me a better sense of measurable – and specific – benchmarks along the way. I will know I’ve succeeded when I am familiar with the process of coaching and feel more confident that I want to pursue this as a career; I feel comfortable with the material I’ve learned and it feels like the skills come naturally to me; I can write comfortably about coaching concepts in my blog without consulting “the book.” Check.

Achievable…What can you actually, realistically, do? Here we need to take into account other commitments we’ve made that make realistic demands on our time. We need to consider our real physical limitations and make adjustments accordingly. I use the words realistic and real here because I want to stress that achieving the most meaningful goals will be challenging at times and require us to stretch. There wouldn’t be the same sense of accomplishment in achieving a goal that didn’t require some sacrifice or ask us to move beyond our comfort zone. Going back to school will take time. Training for a marathon is hard. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t physically capable of doing it. There will always be voices inside our heads telling us we are too young, too old, too fat, too slow, too weak, too poor, etc. trying to talk us out of our goals. That’s different and we’ll talk about those saboteurs and gremlins another time.  What I’m focusing on now is setting achievable goals that don’t set us up for failure. The goal should be to walk, then run, then register for the marathon. And at your first job out of college, while it’s good to be focused on the CEO job, it’s good to be open to the progression that will get you there.

Relevant…What does this goal have to do with everything else going on in your your life? What does it do to other goals and desires you have? What will it do to support or complement them? What change will achieving this goal accomplish in your life? If your goal is to run a marathon, it’s important to understand that training is time-consuming and requires a lot of energy (and time to nap after long runs on a Sunday afternoon). A goal to go back to school however supports a goal of getting a better job. Buying a house supports a goal of wanting to start a family. When I first started pursuing my interest in coaching, it was to complement my goal of transitioning my business into something that would give me more flexibility and be something I could do beyond retirement age. Getting certified as a coach was relevant to my life plan.

Time-sensitive..A goal isn’t really a goal without a due date to which you can hold yourself accountable. So what’s the due date? Target dates should have a little bit of wiggle room so, again, you’re not setting yourself up for failure. And they should be realistic, and have some progressive bench-marks built-in. For example: “I will run a 5k in 10 weeks, a 10k in 3 months, a half-marathon in 6 months and a marathon before next summer.”

So decide on your SMART goals and write them down. Have long-range, mid-range, and short-term goals that complement and support one another and the life you want to create for yourself. Then begin to put a plan in motion that will help you reach your goals. Goal setting is simply creating the end zone. How you get there takes planning; a process of doing, training, conditioning or learning that when executed will make the goal that much more achievable. More on planning another day…

IMG_6050The New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory. Washington Heights, New York City. March 2017.


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