Monday, April 2, 2018

Do Goals Have to be SMART?

pasja1000 via Pixabay
I finished a book yesterday. Reading one, that is.

Yes, I know that shouldn't be a big deal, but it is. As an educator, I read a lot, but I typically don't read things cover to cover, unless you count reading a magazine article or journal article from beginning to end. As a writer with a day job, when I get "free" time, I have to choose between writing and reading.

Writing frequently wins.

Finishing the book yesterday was particularly apt as it was Easter, the joyous end to the liturgical season of Lent. Each year, during Lent, I usually give something up, but I also aim to do more of something that matters, but that tends to get shortchanged.

This year, reading was one of those things. It was a soft goal, actually, nonspecific, broadly phrased roughly coming down to "read more." At one point, I was aiming for a magazine a week (as much to get rid of outdated issues as to read) or a portion of a book each week, but the original goal just said "Read."

To facilitate this goal, I tucked my Kindle into my purse so I'd be sure that if I had my purse with me, I'd have books with me. So, yesterday, after my family left and all the desserts had been put away, I bypassed all the things I should do and pulled out my Kindle.

And finished my book. And maybe napped a little. Reading tends to have that effect on me, especially if I'm tucked under a blanket, which I was. But, when I opened my eyes again, I remained determined to get that little bar on the bottom of my Kindle screen to 100%.

The point of this goal was to nudge me toward something I wanted to do more of -- to create a good habit that also happened to be good for me and enjoyable. I teach my students to set goals that are specific and measurable so they''ll know when they've arrived, and I strive to do the same.

But sometimes, fuzzy goals do the trick. Had I set a goal to read five minutes on day one, ten minutes on day two all the way up to 200 minutes on day 40 (if I did my math right), somewhere along the way, I would most likely have dropped the ball when I didn't have an extra, say, 70 minutes, to read. Then, most likely, I would have abandoned the goal. Instead of inspiring myself to fit something important into my life in an authentic way, I'd have sucked all the joy out of the pursuit, ending Lent much the way I'd started it.

Wishing I had more time to read.

When we set goals, we need to set them in much the same way we want to accomplish them. When we want the change to be structured change (e.g. "go to the gym three times a week"), we need to set a structured goal. When we want to effect a change that we can integrate into our lives in a nonspecific way (e.g. do more of something), a less daunting goal can do the trick.

Tumisu via Pixabay
For me, this was a revelation. I tend to see goals as a hit it or missed it proposition, and the fact that a gradual easing into something could help develop a habit in a realistic way surprised me. I'm sure the fact that the thing I was easing into was rewarding in and of itself played a part, but that's a discussion for another post.

What have you been meaning to do? Could a flexible goal be a way to make it happen?

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