The new year is a great time to set goals for personal improvement. For those struggling with anxiety, depression or substance abuse, that may mean striving to attain better control or eliminate a condition. While any effort toward an objective is helpful, one of the most effective ways to hit your target is to follow what’s called the SMART approach to goal setting.
SMART is an acronym for:
Setting smart goals helps ensure the right focus and appropriate expectations as you start taking steps in a new direction. If goals are too large, too vague or too open-ended, you may have a hard time meeting them. Business expert George T. Doran is generally credited with creating SMART goals, which are used often in business applications, and like a lot of business strategies, they work wonderfully in many general areas.
Here’s what SMART goals look like:
A good goal is one that includes details like who, what, when, where and why. A goal such as “be happier” is vague, which makes it hard to know whether you have achieved it. A better goal might be focus on the happiness a specific activity or hobby brings such as, “I will spend more time on painting because it brings me happiness.”
The best goals have a quantity associated with them so you can evaluate your progress toward them and adjust your approach as needed. Using the example above, you could make it more measurable by saying you will paint for four hours each week. If, over time, you look back and see that you’re only painting three hours per week, evaluate ways to dedicate another hour. Being aware you may have to overcome other feelings, such as guilt, to dedicate time to yourself and not focus your time on things you think you should do that do not bring you happiness.
One of the problems with goal setting is that we sometimes dive in full of enthusiasm eager to make as much progress as possible, which leads to objectives that simply can’t be reached. For a person with a history of alcohol abuse, deciding to stop drinking altogether by March may not be realistic. And when we fail to meet our goals—even the unreasonable ones—it can be disappointing and frustrating.
If what you need in your life is to better manage your depression, setting the goal to learn to ski it is just one action. This isn’t to say you can’t have goals that are related to your enjoyment of life and personal fulfillment, but take time to assemble a set of relevant objectives.
While you want to give yourself a reasonable amount of time to achieve your goals, allowing too much time can keep you from making progress. Deadlines provide motivation and help you prioritize goals over the many other tasks vying for your attention.
Short- and Long-Term Goals
In setting goals, it can be helpful to create both short- and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal for battling depression might be:
- Get out of bed by 7 a.m. each day.
- Clean the kitchen every Saturday.
And long-term goals such as:
- Obtain the certification needed to start a new career.
- Repair my relationship with my brother.
Someone who struggles with anxiety might have short-term goals to “share my opinion at the next staff meeting” or “practice relaxation exercises every other day,” and long-term objectives such as “complete the introductory public speaking course at the community college” or “plan and take a vacation to a new city this summer.”
For those looking to get a handle on substance abuse, short-term goals might be something like:
- Do not drink alcohol today.
- Get information on a treatment program, and take steps toward creating a plan.
- Complete a six-week inpatient treatment program this fall.
- Find a new place to live and relocate by the first of next year.
Behavioral Change Takes Time
When it comes to modifying behavior, it’s important to be aware that it takes time to turn a goal into a habit. How long it takes is a function of many factors including the behavior, your commitment to making the change and your circumstances. But be prepared for a period of time ranging from two to eight months, according to many experts.
Setting a Goal for Greater Wellness in 2017
Have questions about SMART goal setting or want to talk with someone about your challenges? We’re here to help. Contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.