Don’t Set a SMART goal. Set SMARTER Goals!

I hate goal setting. I’m more of a leave it to the last minute kind of person. I like to free fall. I love the excitement of the unknown, the unexpected wins, and surprise endings. But, there are some areas of life that you just can’t succeed unless you set goals. Work, education, and fitness to name a few.

My boss loves to use sports analogies when he is trying to illustrate a point. I neither play nor follow sports so I usually struggle to relate to these analogies. This morning when I sat down to write this post I came across a sports analogy that I think perfectly illustrates why we need to set goals. “Without a goal we spend our entire lives running up and down the field and never score.” Immediately after reading this I pictured two football teams just running up and down the field, no one scoring. No one winning. No one really sure what they are trying to achieve. Get the ball! Throw the ball! Catch the ball! Run! But, why? What are you trying to achieve? How do you know when you’ve won?

When I started working in the corporate world I was introduced to SMART goals. The concept is great. Don’t just set a vague goal that can’t be measured and takes forever to achieve. Those are too easy to give up on and get sidetracked. Instead, set a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

Ex: I want to lose weight. –> This goal is too vague. Most of us want to lose weight, but how much, why, and by when?

Ex: I want to lose 50 pounds over the next year and feel comfortable wearing a bikini by next summer. –> It’s specific, its measurable, it’s achievable, its relevant, and it’s time bound.

But is it motivating? Does this goal make me want to jump up and go to the gym and start eating healthier? What are the rewards? I could rewrite this to be more specific to include language about how this will make me healthier, and allow me to live my best life, blah blah. But again, that’s just too vague. We see those slogans and phrases all over social media and the internet. Have they managed to get you off the sofa and exercising? I’m betting not.

What we need are SMARTER goals. SMARTER goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound, AND enjoyable, and rewarding. Goals are easy to achieve when you enjoy what you’re doing. I set SMART goals in college to help me accomplish my goal of completing 19 credits a semester while working 40 hours a week, raising a child on my own, and caring for my sick mother. Looking back, one of the reasons I was able to achieve my SMART goals is that I enjoyed learning. It wasn’t hard to follow the reading and study plan I had laid out because I enjoy reading and learning. It was fun to immerse myself into my textbooks and was rewarded not just with a passing grade but with new knowledge and skills gained along the way.

You know what I don’t think is fun? Working out. Over the years I have used the SMART model to set up fitness goals but I just have not had the same success as I did with academics. I realize now the reason is because I did not find the tasks required to complete the goal enjoyable. Also, there was no reward along the way. I set up rewards for completion of milestones along the journey and for completing the goal itself, but it just wasn’t enough to motivate me. Then it occurred to me, what if I made sure the tasks were as enjoyable and rewarding to me as academics? Instead of developing SMART health and fitness goals, what if I developed SMARTER health and fitness goals.

Ex: I am going to lose 50 lbs over the next year so that I am healthier and feel confident enough to wear a bikini to the beach next summer. I will achieve my goal by creating a fitness plan made up exclusively of exercises that I like to do and an eating plan that does not make me feel hungry or deprived of my favorite foods. I will reward myself every month for sticking to my plan and when I succeed I will treat myself to a new bikini to wear to the beach.

Okay, see the difference? The goal is now very specific. It’s measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, but its also designed so that the tasks to achieve it will be fun. I have included a reward system that will motivate me continuously and keep me going to achieve the ultimate prize which I have set up clearly rather than just a vague overall goal.

SMARTER goals give us motivation. Think about the mouse in the maze. Would the mouse continue trying to make its way through the maze for 1 piece of cheese at the end? Probably not. But leave rewards along the way and the mouse is motivated to keep going. Would football players keep playing the game if they hated it? Probably not.

But make the game enjoyable and rewarding from start to finish and you win. This is the secret to successful goal achievement. I am developing my own fitness plan called The Michigan Wonder Woman Workout. I am working with a NASM certified personal trainer to ensure that this workout is effective. I want a workout that will improve my flexibility and balance, increase my strength, and help me lose weight. But more importantly, I want a workout that is fun! I want to be excited to exercise. I need a health and fitness plan that rewards me for my discipline and hard work along the journey.

I’ll be sharing my journey along with exercise and eating tips here. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

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