Yesterday I argued that setting New Year’s Resolutions was not such a good idea. In fact, I said that you’d have to be NUTS to rely on them. Today I will describe a much smarter approach to personal growth. It’s based on the SMART+ framework I first introduced in Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology.
Q: I’ve heard of SMART goals. Are you saying this approach is an improvement on that?
A: That’s right. The goal-setting literature endorses the SMART framework, but proposes 4. more key tips for effective goal-setting.
Q: I do remember hearing about SMART goals on a training I did a while ago, but can you just remind me what SMART stands for please?
A: Sure — SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound (and, sometimes, timely).
For example, suppose you start with a vague goal of wanting to get fitter The problem is this goal doesn’t say anything about how you will do it. By making is SMART, you know you will go jogging each day, you have adapted the goal to make sure you have time for it to be achievable, and you will know whether you achieved it.
Q: Great — hard to see how it could be improved!
A: Well, Edwin Locke and other researchers would argue that you can do better. Many people frame goals negatively — saying things like “I don’t want to be lazy” or “I don’t want to sit on the couch all day”
Q: What’s wrong with that?
A: A couple of things. First of all it doesn’t tell you what you should be doing
Q: I see. So I could achieve not sitting on a couch by lying in bed! You said there was another problem with negatively framed goals?
A: Try not to think of pink elephant” for 30 seconds
Q: OK — no , a pink elephant keeps popping into my brain! Are you suggesting that telling our brains not to do may be similarly counterproductive?
A: Yes If I tell myself to not sit on a couch, I am actually more likely to think about sitting on a couch and may be more rather than less likely to do it
Q: OK, but actually I already have myself a positive goal -remember — it is to job every day this month, jogging more at the weekends. What’s wrong with that?
A: It’s perfectly fine, and can be better still if you label your progress as you go along. L stands for labelling progress. A smart goal is measurable, but research suggests its usually helpful to label progress as you go along.
Q: So that I know how I am doing and I feel a sense of achievement?
A: Exactly. Its also been shown that people who write down their progress are significantly more likely to achieve their goals.
Q: OK, so I will write down how much jogging I do each day. Easy. What’s next?
A:The U of PLUS stands for having an unwavering commitment towards the goal. That’s the problem with many New Year’s Resolutions. They are things we would like to achieve, but are often more of an aspiration, something we hope will just happen, than a commitment.
Q: So I need to be really committed to the goal. How can I make that happen?
A: Well, there are several ways. One is to tell other people, another is to remind yourself of why it is important. The same study that found that writing down goals helped people achieved discovered a similar positive effect of telling other people about your goals and sending them progress reports. These are types of “commitment devices”.
Q: What is a commitment device?
A: It’s an artificial yet often effective may of making sure you stick to your goal. It could be giving money to charity every time you don’t go for a run, for example. People have come up with some quite creative commitment devices such as posting something embarrassing on social media if they don’t carry out the step towards their goal.
Q: Hmm. Not sure about that. But perhaps I will go running with a pal, would that count?
A: Yes, as long as you don’t want to let them down.
Q: I don’t want to let them down, so I will go running with a friend on days when they can make it, and we can both keep each other accountable for our progress.
A: Great, sounds like your going to have an accountability partner, which is a great way to increase commitment to your goal.
Q:What does the final S in PLUS stand for?
A: S is for stretching. Research has found that people feel more motivated and obtain more sense of accomplishment if the goal hits the sweet spot between it being too easy and too difficult.
Q: I guess it wouldn’t be a very useful goal if I said I was going to talk to the station each day, if I do it anyway!
A: Exactly, so might set yourself a target time to walk to the station. Or, with our jogging example, you could increase the amount of time you run each week. Or work towards running a 5K. Let’s summarise your progress.
A: I think that SMART+ has added quite a bit. You now know are working towards something quite challenging and meaningful — the 5K run — and are also now going to record things and get a pal to run with you and to share progress with. Do you think SMART+ makes a difference?
Q: Yes, it feels like an inspiring goal now. I feel more motivated and confident that I will reach my goal. This will be me on my 5K run with my pal in March!
A: Glad you found it helpful. You can do it. Let me know how you get on … And for everyone else, use the comments section to tell us how moving from SMART to SMART+ can help you. Hope that SMART+ goal-setting can help all readers have a successful 2020.