The S.M.A.R.T. approach to reaching goals
By Linda Freeman
CORRESPONDENT | October 21,2012
Active people find more significance in changing seasons than falling leaves, dropping temperatures, ice and snow, mud, buds, and summer heat. Though many are drawn to Vermont’s five seasons, anyone active recreationally or competitively must consider each season’s conditions within the context of his or her sports or fitness training, events and expectations.
Sure, paddlers are still on the water, cyclists may have moved from the roads to the trails, hikers often prefer fall conditions, and runners are layering on and covering up, but the transition from summer sports and activities to winter is inevitable.
Those who favor warm-weather sports need to cycle through the coming months until their next season. Those who favor snow sports are finishing up the initial segments of their training and are on the brink of putting their action out on the white stuff. This is, after all, an excellent time of year to pause, to reorganize, no matter what your preference.
Recently I was tasked to review my past cycling season, determine what was good and what was not, and then look ahead. I am to develop my goals and objectives now for next summer and begin now to prepare. I am to do so, step-by-step, using the S.M.A.R.T. principles.
There are two factors at work here. First, recovery is important and to be honored. If you are a summer enthusiast, you are nearing the perfect time of year to take a break from training, to play. Winter athletes are already hard at work and need a well-designed recovery before gearing up still more. Second, having a goal gives most people a reason to train, to remain active. It adds definition and structure to an otherwise whimsical notion. This is true for just about everyone.
Knowing one should exercise is one thing, but actually doing it is another. You can tell yourselves that daily exercise is beneficial for health, well-being and weight management, but without a specific goal to strive for, to motivate, fitness becomes a vague and often-neglected resolution.
Whatever goal you might define – pass a PT test, ski the Birkebeiner, hike Camel’s Hump or lose 25 pounds, it’s important to do some soul-searching and identify that goal. Once begun, planning to reach it is an orderly process.
A Google search of Goal Setting invariably turns up principles of the S.M.A.R.T. approach. Try it yourself.
S. – Be specific. “I want to get more fit,” dead ends. “I want to run a 7-minute mile,” is specific. Or, “I want to make it through an entire boot camp class, be able to snowshoe non-stop, or qualify for Boston.” Be specific as well as significant.
M. – Your goal should be Meaningful, but it must be Measurable to succeed. You should be able to journey to your goal, one training session at a time, one preliminary event at a time. Each small success motivates and builds confidence in your growing ability. You will watch yourself draw nearer to your goal as you reinforce your belief that you will, in fact, make it.
A. – Attainable. Your goal must be attainable – a reach, yes, but also something that will become physically, mentally, emotionally, logistically and financially possible. Challenge, but do not set yourself up for failure. Another A. word is Adjustable. Your training and your goal must be organic. I often quip that “Real life gets in the way” of some of the best-made plans. Flexibility is critical. Conversely, as you climb the ladder to your personal success, you may well find that you are expanding your horizons and can take advantage of even greater opportunities. Limitations should not be self-imposed.
R. – The R word is a variation on Attainability. Realistic goals must neither be too simple nor too burdensome. You should sweat some to reach them, but there should be enough of you left over to enjoy the elation, the satisfaction and life lessons, that come from the process.
Realism sometimes works in reverse. All too often the admonition to “be realistic” is inappropriate in its negativity and discouragement. Perhaps being realistic means allowing one to dream, to “reach for the stars.” Then, of course, you must get up and out, reaching with muscles and mind.
R. also stands for Relevant. Choose goals that are important to you, goals that genuinely matter. This puts teeth into your determination and makes the accomplishment that much sweeter.
T. – Ah, Time. Designate the time to pursue your objective. Validate your desire. Time-based goals are the most easily recognized. Move faster by seconds, lift more in three months, drop a clothing size in 12 weeks, exercise five days a week, or overcome your nemesis by winning a tennis match by the end of 2012. Find a way to work time into your strategy and you will find more opportunities for celebration. Keep your goals short, generally within six months is advisable, revisit your benchmark regularly to see how you’re doing, and reevaluate periodically. A framework of time keeps you and your goals on Track – another T.
The S.M.A.R.T. approach to fitness begins with an accurate assessment of where you are right now. Even the most generic fitness activities can be broken down and put back together in a way that enables a healthier and more enjoyable lifestyle. Any struggle that can be reduced to small, manageable components can be achieved.
Possibly the end of the term S.M.A.R.T. that is the most germaine is the T, used for Timely. Now, today, it is timely for each and every one to begin. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next year. Not when the kids are older or your job is more secure or you are retired. Now, today, it is Timely to begin.
Finally, write it down. Achievement is often linked with journaling. Putting your goals and plans into words then notating your daily efforts and progress is a significant predictor of success. And, that’s where you are headed.