Goal setting, Emotional Attachment, and Inverting the Hierarchy

‘In the absence of clearly defined goals we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia’ Anon


I am sure you know someone who has made a new year’s resolution – it may even be you! I also suspect you are familiar with the statistics relating to success rates – Forbes suggests that only one in four are still on track with their goal at the start of February, and that under 10% actually accomplish their wish.

Why is it that going to the gym twice a week, reading one book a month, or leaving work on time seems so appealing and easy to do on 1st January and yet, for many, is nigh on impossible four weeks later?  Why do people find it so hard to deliver the dream?  In some instances, the goal may have been totally unrealistic, and defeat has become an inevitability consequence; however, for others, the inertia is often due to a lack of focus, accountability and emotional attachment.

Having a method around goal setting and reviewing can help.  The SMART methodology was first described by John Doran and over the years has been adapted in several ways; for example, Realistic is sometimes replaced with Relevant and more recently the acronym has been extended to SMARTER with the additional letters promoting the themes of Evaluation and Re-Adjustment.

Building on this, you may find it useful to use the mnemonic SMARTIES.  This incorporates a couple of additional steps into the process and provides a structure for setting, evaluating and achieving personal goals.

Here is an example:

The dream – ‘I want to be healthier’.

Specific – What does being healthier mean to you?  Is it losing weight?  Exercising more? Reducing sickness absence from work?  Without clarity of language, any progress made will be arrived at through chance rather than judgement.

Measurable – If the goal is losing weight – how much? Exercise more often – how often? Reduce sickness absence – to what?

Adaptable – Sometimes advances are better or quicker than expected, whilst there may be other times when progress is tortuous and tough.  Whatever the pace, there is no harm in adjusting the goal posts and resetting the vision, especially if the other option is to give up. For example, if you have suffered and injury how will you adapt your goal of exercising more?

Realistic – Being healthier is a realistic goal for most.  Running 100 metres in under 10 seconds is within the capabilities of only a few.  The goal must be in line with reality!

Timebound – Clarity around when the goal will be achieved is required to avoid drift and create motivation. E.g. When will the weight be lost by?

Inspected – When and how are you going to pause and see how you are progressing and who else can provide help in keeping you accountable. e.g. I will weigh myself every two weeks, reveal the result to a friend and set a new fortnightly goal.

Ego – How much has the goal come from within, as opposed to being forced upon you?  Give yourself a score out of ten that indicates how important the outcome is to you.  If the score is less than eight, then failure or disengagement is likely to be on the horizon.  The next step must be in creating the emotional attachment that will anchor you to the required action.

Separation – A similar question is used but instead of thinking how important success is to you, ask how important is it to others?  Ideally both scores should be high; if there is a gap between the two then some work will need to be done on alignment with others before taking the first step.

 If you are struggling with goal setting try working your way through SMARTIES.