At Gale, we’ve previously discussed the relation between values and goals. Whereas values represent general ways of behaving or living life—for example, being “healthy” or “creative”—goals have identifiable end points—running a marathon or completing a sonata, for instance.
Thus, whereas one can accomplish a particular goal, values have no definable end points. If one of your values is “health,” you can always find ways to be healthier, even if you have already achieved your previous goals of running a marathon and meditating for 30 days.
The first step in creating meaningful behavior change is identifying your values, or your Why. Finding a compelling reason to change your behavior will motivate you to pursue your goals and will provide direction when times get difficult (as they inevitably will).
Once you have identified your most important values, changing your life—which ultimately comes down to changing your habits—becomes a matter of setting goals that align with your values, taking consistent action to achieve those goals, and, once achieved, coming up with new goals that move you even closer to the values-based life you want for yourself.
Importantly, there is a way to set goals that increases the chances you will be motivated to pursue and ultimately achieve those goals.
And the way to do this is by setting SMART goals.
What are SMART goals and how do you set them?
Over the past few decades, psychologists have discovered that goals must be created in a particular way for them to have the biggest impact on motivation and performance.
Specifically, your goals must be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based.
1. Specific means that a goal has an easily identifiable end point. You can determine exactly when the goal has been met. “I want to run 5 miles every day this week” would be an example of a specific goal.
2. Measurable means that you can accurately measure your progress toward a goal. Running around a track (where 4 laps equals a mile) or running on a treadmill would allow you to measure how close you are to your 5-mile goal.
3. Attainable refers to whether you have the ability to reach a goal. If you’ve never jogged before, running 5 miles might be physically unattainable at this point. Remember, it’s important to set goals that are in that “sweet spot” between too easy and too difficult. It’s also important to remember that, with Gale, you’ll have the opportunity to reset—and, if desired, increase—your goals each week.
4. Realistic refers to whether you have the time and resources to reach a goal. Is this goal reasonable given your current circumstances? Maybe you’d have no problem running 5 miles (it’s attainable), but because you’re working 12-hour days, taking two classes at a local college, and parenting two toddlers, running for an hour each day just doesn’t fit into your schedule. If this is the case, try to find a goal that is more realistic at this point in time. You can always change the goal as your life circumstances allow.
5. Time-based means that there is an “expiration date” on when you want to complete your goal. Saying you want to run every day this week means that you want to complete seven 5-mile running sessions in 7 days. Giving yourself a challenging, but reasonable deadline creates a sense of urgency that increases motivation.
Finally—and importantly—be sure to set behavioral SMART goals for yourself.
Remember that the ABC model, on which Gale is based, focuses on understanding how antecedents (A) and consequences (C) impact behavior (B). “Losing 50 pounds” is not a behavior; rather, it is the outcome of engaging in several different behaviors consistently: eating healthy food and exercising consistently, for example.
Just as your values refer to specific ways of behaving, so too should your goals focus on the behaviors that you want to change, the behaviors that will ultimately get you where you want to be.
So, where you have it: SMART goals, are the best way to set goals that will motivate you to make important changes in your life.