My story with goal-setting is one of hits and misses. Mostly misses. I set goals that are too big reach in the time frame I set, or they are out of sync with all the roles I play in my day-to-day life.

But this past year I have had a small taste of success in setting a couple of goals and achieving them. It felt great! When I achieved them, it felt as if that part of my year was a little more meaningful. Afterward, I had a strange new experience with goal-setting: I wanted more. Around that time New York Times best selling author, Michael Hyatt published this book:

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I Am Not a Natural Born Goal-Setter

In the past, when I set a goal, it usually was for someone else (i.e a leader or employer) as a contribution to the group’s mission. Sometimes I would set a goal for myself, but wouldn’t write it down. And there have been more than a few failed New Year’s Resolutions over the years–except the New Year’s Resolution to “never set another New Year’s Resolution,” which I am holding on to with amazing consistency.

I came across Michael Hyatt’s Your Best Year Ever at the start of 2018. Because of the success I had at setting and achieving a few goals this past year–one of which was writing and publishing a book–I wanted to push myself even more this upcoming year. Hyatt’s book looked like a good fit, so I grabbed a copy. I’m half way through it (I am under no pressure to finish it quickly), and I have gained three great insights about what was missing in setting almost ALL of my goals.

Set SMARTER Goals: 3 Insights I Have Gained

Perhaps you have heard of SMART goals. It’s an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It is a really good set of criteria for how a person, or a group, should develop and structure a goal. And it really does work.

I have experience setting SMART goals in the past, but mainly because someone else asked me to do it. Using a SMART goal template helped and it did get the job done. Sometimes my colleagues and I met the goal. But if we didn’t meet our goal, then we could better analyze what when wrong and how to improve, because the goal was so specific. Every time we did set a SMART goal and went about achieving it, for me something was missing.

I’ll admit, when I first saw that Hyatt had “SMARTER” goals, I rolled my eyes. I thought it was going to be a gimmick, a way to market his approach a little bit differently than the rest. I was so wrong!

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In the spirit of good revision practice (I use RADaR with my students), Hyatt made one replacement, a couple of additions, and reordered one crucial element. Instead of time-bound, it’s time-keyed (that’s because he encourages two-types of goal-setting: 1. Achievement Goals and 2. Habit Goals). He reorders “Relevant” to appear at the end of the goal setting process (and there is good reason for this beyond “it makes it possible to finish off the acronym”). But the real attention-getting additions, the elements that were missing from almost all other goals I have ever set, were “Risky” and “Exciting.”

1. Risky

When someone sets a goal worth pursuing, there is risk involved. In his book, Hyatt reports, “Looking at the results of almost 400 studies, [Lock and Latham] concluded, ‘The performance of participants with the highest goals was over 250% higher than those with the easiest goals.'” Hyatt concludes, “We rise to a challenge, but we lay back when it’s easy.”

I agree. If I am not risking much, then there is little motivation for me to engage. If it doesn’t stretch me past myself, then I will just be the same person who does the same old things. Risk is going to make the goal worth chasing and will cause me to invest more of myself in it’s achievement.

This past summer, when I asked my family for time away to write a book–something that I had never done before and didn’t really know how to do it–that was risky. What if I didn’t finish it? What if I ran out of ideas? What if I couldn’t really write and I am just wasting all this time? What will they think of all that time I spent away when it comes to nothing? Having to battle these thoughts revealed the risk that was involved. And that showed me that I was on to something that I found truly meaningful.

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2. Exciting

Along with risk, we need excitement! This is what will engage a goal-setter in achieving what he or she has planned. Excitement taps into our intrinsic motivation. It’s where our hype comes from, which we all need when the going gets tough.

Last year, I thought it would be exciting to have my name on the cover of a book. That motivated me. That was exciting! There were points where I was beat down, tired, and I didn’t want to finish. But the excitement of publishing a book of my own pushed me past my desire to lay back.

In the Hyatt’s book, he poses a few excitement-oriented questions to evaluate whether or not your goal really stirs you at your core:

  • Does this goal inspire me?
  • Does it engage my heart?
  • Am I willing to work hard to make it happen?

If the answer is no, then you may need to dial up the risk and excitement a little more. And if you’re part of an organization that is making your group set goals, and you’re less than thrilled with what the group has produced, quietly set your own exciting goal within the larger group. This will help keep you motivated when you feel like skating on the group’s less-than-inspiring goal.

3. Relevant

After “Risky” and “Exciting” breathed new life into my goal-setting experience, that energetic infusion needed to be tempered with the final letter in the SMARTER acronym: Relevant.

Back in my SMART goal setting days, I struggled with what “Relevant” meant. Specific? Got it. Measurable? I can figure that out. Actionable? Don’t use “Be Verbs;” Use action verbs. Makes sense to me. Time-bound? Set a date! But, Relevant? Relevant to what? What makes something relevant?

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I think the graphic from page 118 of Your Best Year Ever says it all. Further, Hyatt says, “Effective goals are relevant to your life. This is about alignment, and it comes at the end of the list because it’s a good way to gut-check your goals before committing to them. . . . If we’re going to succeed, we need goals that align with the legitimate demands and needs of our lives.”

And now I get relevance. It’s about how goal-setting in one area, or role, will affect the others in your life. The same would hold true on a team or within an organization you are a part of. I think, in the past, I didn’t know how to manage risky and exciting by tempering them with relevant. Either I would risk too much and be unable to fulfill the demands of the goal, or I would risk too little, making my goals completely lack excitement.

Considering the relevant step in setting SMARTER goals, it allows me to dream really big. But before going public with my goal, I get a chance to evaluate it in light of all my other roles and responsibilities. This will help me find the sweet spot where a goal I set can be achievable within the bounds of all my other responsibilities, but risky and exciting enough to make it an interesting journey, one that stretches me.

I’m really looking forward to setting meaningful goals for the rest of 2018! How about you?

To what extent do you struggle with goal-setting? How would you rate your success in achieving your goals? Any advice for those of us who struggle? Reply in the comment section below!


Post Script 

Your Best Year Ever has templates for setting habit and achievement goals. They are very helpful. If you’re a goal setting ninja, and you always carry around a physical planner you refer to regularly, you can get the templates in Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner.

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I am considering getting that planner myself, but really I need to start out with rough drafts and get the hang of this. So I emulated his templates and made versions of them on Google Docs. If you’re interested, here’s the links to download:

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