How to Set Goals for Success
Setting SMART Goals and Seeing Them Through to the End
January is upon us. A new year full of opportunity and optimism. One word defines this time of renewal, of hope, for people all over the world: Resolution. Unfortunately, the word that frequently follows this is failure. The new year is a great time for setting goals and placing yourself on a path of self-betterment and healthy habits. So, how can you keep your goals and let them be the catalyst of positive transformation instead of a harbinger of disappointment and self-loathing? There is no one thing that can usher in success, but you can get better odds by making your goals work for you. Let me explain.
A Time and Place for Every Goal
The new year is a great time to set a goal; the month of January is named after the Roman God, Janus, who was often depicted having two-faces – one looking back on the past, and the other facing toward the future. This month is a time of new beginnings, a time of renewed energy, a new outlook, and renewed optimism. You can see this in the new year’s postings on social media. Out with the old (the bad) and in with the new (the good) is the theme. Now, timing isn’t everything. There is no need to wait for the new year to start afresh. However, having a good starting point for a goal can be beneficial. According to research, feelings of hope and optimism have a significant positive influence on how we manage our goals. An optimistic approach to goal setting gives us a leg up on self-motivation and pure grit when executing the goal. Choosing a time when that optimism is at its height can propel us towards that ultimate success. Also, goals, or renewing failed attempts, are more fruitful when started at the beginning of a week, month, year, or other significant date. So, while timing isn’t everything, it’s certainly a start.
The Right Goals the SMART Way
We won’t go into great depth discussing SMART goals here (Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-specific), we’ll just touch on them lightly. However, SMART goals are the framework for goal setting and are a vital component to getting the most out of your goals.
S stands for Specific
If you plan to be successful with a goal, you need to get specific. You don’t just simply make a goal to run more rivers. You make a goal for how many more rivers you want to run and which rivers those will be.
M stands for Measurable
Can your goal be measured at the end as well as along the way? If your goal is not quantifiable than how do you know when it has been achieved. The goal, “I want to be a better rower” has nothing to measure your progress by. How will you know when you are where you want to be? Now, this statement, “I want to be a better rower so I can navigate the Grand Canyon” has a peak that can be achieved and there is no gray area as to when you have accomplished it.
A stands for Achievable
Is your goal even possible? If you’ve never rowed a day in your life it would be unreasonable to say you want to learn to be a better rower so you can run the Grand Canyon by next week. Having a permit would also be important to making this goal achievable. You must find the balance between effort required and the challenge posed. The reward must be worth the effort. It is better to have a smaller goal that you can achieve and create momentum rather than a larger goal you can’t accomplish and feel defeated.
R stands for Relevant
Is the goal something you really want? Or just something you think you want because others want it too. Don’t let other people set your goals for you, they will miss the mark. Your employer may set expected outcomes, but if you want to be truly successful, you need to set your own personal goals to reach those desired outcomes.
T stands for Time
When will your goal be accomplished? Choosing a specific time that indicates completion discourages procrastination and sets a clear finish line.
Goals and Processes
Just as important as setting a SMART goal is putting an appropriate system in place to propel you towards accomplishing that goal. A goal is just a wish until you create the blueprint to make it a reality.
Here is a metaphor adapted from James Clear, author of The Atomic Habit:
Imagine a paddle raft. Liken your goals to the guide on the stern of the raft. The guide sets the direction of the raft in turbulent water and determines your line through the rapids. Commit to one line/goal and the guide keeps you steady through the commotion. If your lines/goals keep changing, the guide will end up leading you into dangerous water and, possibly, leave you upside down swimming at the mercy of the currents.
However, another part of the paddle raft is even more important than the guide. The paddlers give you the means of propulsion through the currents. If the guide is your goal, then the paddlers equal the process to accomplish your goal. Your direction is determined by the guide, but the paddlers determine your progress. For instance:
- If you’re a slalom kayaker, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is your weekly practice and routines.
- If you’re an outdoor writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing process and the schedule you follow each week.
- If you’re a rafter, your goal is to run the Grand. Your system is your permit pulling research and strategies as well as your rafting preparations.
- If you’re a fishing guide, your goal is to build a successful business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.
Aligning your goals with a system is the only way to get the most out of your experience. When that system lines up with your passions, however, then you can really get cookin’.
Guide to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, 7th edition
Passion in Goal Setting
I may be going out on a limb here, but I think it’s safe to say that if you follow us at Cataract Oars, you like being on the river. Whether that takes the shape of barreling through killer waves, casting a line in the serenity of the backcountry, or something in between, being on the river is our passion. When setting goals, it is wise to always consider our passion. This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to set goals in regard to our passion, like how many fish you’re going to catch this year, but more of a state of reference for determining how we are going to execute our goals. Let me give an example. You want to be more fit – lose weight, tone up, or something else. If we look at new gym memberships at the beginning of the year, we could easily come to the conclusion that “being more fit” is a very common new years resolution. And by looking at cancelled gym memberships in February, a commonly failed resolution as well.
So, let’s take a different perspective at the goal. Let’s use our passion for the river when creating our systems for achieving our goal. How can we use that passion to help us get more fit? How about taking up kayaking? Grab the Deso Kayak Paddle and start working your way toward you new year’s resolution. It’s no secret that taking part in a sport is a great way to get, or keep, in shape. Not as well-known are the many health benefits of paddling a kayak. Some of these benefits include core strength, stamina, and weight loss. Not only are you learning a new skill, but you’re getting into better shape and spending more time on the water. Triple win. Goals that revolve around your passions are more likely to succeed because they take less will power and motivation.
Get even more out of your goals by compounding them with preestablished habits/routines. If you already take your boat or raft out on the weekends, carve in a little extra time to do some upstream strokes to get your cardio going. Or bring along that business audiobook you’ve been meaning to read and play it while you row. By combining the things we want to do, but may not be all that excited about, with the things we are already doing, we eliminate the need for will power. For instance, if you want to memorize a sales pitch, or a poem, instead of setting reminders to practice it, post it on your bathroom mirror. Every morning you are already brushing your teeth, hopefully, so you can piggyback on that time by going over the words. It’s already there. No need to carve out additional time from your day or try to remember. You did the work of inserting it into your daily routines and now it takes the work out of it for you. Of course, if you’re a fishing guide that doesn’t brush their teeth, then you could always post the note to memorize on your tackle box, because God knows you never let that out of your sight.
The main take away here is expending less energy to add new behaviors or skills. The less energy we expend to do the new activity, learn the new skill, or start a new habit, the more likely it will stick and be successful at changing us in the way we desire.
I wish you all success this year in your new year’s resolutions and goal setting. You can become and do those things most dear and precious to you. The work will be hard, but we wouldn’t want it any other way. Remember to make your SMART goals into your passions and to build them one upon another. A new year is waiting. You determine how it will start and end for you. Take hold of the oars and row into your future.