What’s stopping you from achieving your goals?

Time and money are typical answers. These are both limited resources, so not having enough of one or the other (usually both!) are difficult roadblocks to overcome for many of us.

So what to do in these situations? When people run up against time and/or money, it’s very, very easy to give up and stick with what you’ve been doing all along. Defaulting to this path of least resistance is something that every single one of us encounter on a regular basis. Of course, this will NOT get you anywhere near your goals, and these goals continue to lay dormant, becoming nothing more than wishful thinking.

How about we take a more systematic approach to achieving a goal? This is what S.M.A.R.T. goals are all about. Originally meant for businesses, this thought model is often used for those that are looking to achieve personal goals.

Let’s break down the S.M.A.R.T. acronym using the example of someone, let’s call her Sarah, who wants to start running in order to improve her health (I have a soft spot for making running analogies- you can read another one here). I will also discuss an example using a financial goal later in the post.

Sarah’s goal: I want to improve my health by running.

S: SPECIFIC

A goal must be specific and defined. Having a vague goal is not inspiring nor motivating. For many people who want to start running, they refine this goal by training for a race.

Instead of running whenever it strikes her fancy, knowing that she’s training for a race will give Sarah that extra motivation to incorporate her runs into her regular routine.

M: MEASURABLE

A 5k? A 10k? A half marathon? A full marathon?

Whichever distance you choose, imagine there was no known finish line in the race. You know that you will be running continuously for some period of time. But for how long, and what distance? Since there is no visible finish line, the race simply ends when someone else tells you to stop.

How inspired or motivated would you be in this scenario? I’m guessing, not so much. Sarah certainly isn’t looking to sign up for a race with no discernable finish line. Since she’s a beginner, she has a goal of running a 5k race. Not a 5k-ish race. The distance needs to be precise- no more, no less. Whichever goal you choose must include some sort of measurable component.

A: ATTAINABLE:

Is this goal attainable? Or are you setting yourself up for failure?

Believe me, I’m all for setting lofty goals and being a dreamer. This is what makes our human species so unique- this drive to dream and strive has led to incredible innovation and progress throughout the course of human history.

There also needs to be a level of pragmatism and a reality check. For the vast majority of people, it is very easy to give up on a goal if you feel like you’re making absolutely no headway. You need to make sure that the goal you’re setting is within the realm of possibility for you and your current situation.

If you’ve been sedentary your entire life and you’re wanting to run a marathon within the next few months, I would say this is NOT an attainable goal. Many running coaches would say that someone in this situation should plan on slowly building up their endurance over a span of 1-2 years before tackling this goal. This gives their bodies the time to adapt to this new running routine, preparing both mind and body to go the distance.

A more realistic, attainable goal would be to start with a 5k race first, a distance that is a challenge, but also attainable for someone at this fitness level.

Sarah has always been active, but she’s never participated in a 5k. She does not have any medical issues that would prevent her from training. Physically and mentally, this is an attainable goal for her.

R: RELEVANT

Why is this goal important to you? Does your goal fit in with your other life goals?

We need to remember that there are many moving parts in our lives. In fact, the biggest problem tends to be that we put TOO much on our plates, and we get confused as to how we should prioritize our time, energy, and money.

Sarah wants to start running in order to improve her health. This is important to her because she recently had a health scare and she knows that improving her cardiovascular health will reap other health benefits.

However, maybe she’s also in the process of changing jobs and moving all at once. Physicially, she could start training today. But it’s poor timing. In this situation, it’s probably best that this goal of completing her first 5k waits a bit until she’s more settled and can better devote her time and resources to training for this race.

Think of your goal in context of where you are in life, and whether this is a goal that you want to achieve now versus later.

T: TIME-BOUND

Give yourself a time frame to achieve this goal. Giving yourself an open ended timeline will make it difficult to stay on task and measure your progress.

Since Sarah is a novice runner, she checks out some Couch to 5k programs that are designed to help train for this distance. This particular plan uses a 9 week program. Each day within those nine weeks is dedicated to an activity that is a part of your training, whether it’s running, walking, cross training, or resting. With each passing week, she’ll slowly increase her mileage until she gets to race day.

Breaking this down into manageable pieces is key. She will learn how to better manage her time in order to accommodate her training. Her benchmarks are clear, and she can easily put a big check mark next to those weeks where she has completed her training as prescribed.

Having a time frame is extremely useful. Knowing that you have a goal you want to accomplish in a certain period of time, you can start your preparations well in advance. Seeing this progress is motivating, which then increases the chance that you will achieve your ultimate goal.

GOAL COMPARISONS

Let’s take a look at Sarah’s original goal and her new S.M.A.R.T. goal:

Original goal: I want to improve my health by running.

S.M.A.R.T. goal: I will improve my health by training for and completing a 5k. I know that I can dedicate the time necessary to train for the next 9 weeks using a 9 week training program. I will aim to finish the race in less than 40 minutes.

She can continue refining this goal by making other decisions, such as when to schedule her workouts, whether she wants to train alone or within a group setting, and whether she wants to buy some extra gear that will help her reach this goal.

The idea of becoming healthier through running is much more palatable to Sarah when it’s framed as a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Initially, her goal was vague, nebulous. There was no motivating factor for her to run, other than knowing that running would be a good way to improve her health. Now she has a well defined, focused goal and a plan to get there.

FINANCIAL GOALS

Now, let’s take the example of someone who wants to reach for a financial goal. Who can relate to this one? We’ll use Adam in this example.

Adam’s goal: I want to save more money.

This is a common goal for everyone, but without making this a S.M.A.R.T. goal, he’s not going to get very far. Let’s transform this into a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

S: SPECIFIC

I want to save money for a down payment on a home.

Good, now we have a specific reason why he wants to be saving money. This step alone gives him focus and clarity. It’s amazing how this one tweak to his initial goal will change the trajectory of his behavior and motivations going forward.

Other common savings goals?

  • Emergency fund
  • Retirement
  • College savings
  • Car
  • Vacation
  • Wedding
  • Whatever fun purchase that will cost you a pretty penny

M: MEASURABLE

I want to save money for a 20% down payment on a $300,000 home.

You will generally get the best interest rates and avoid PMI (private mortgage insurance) if you put down at least 20% on the purchase price of the home. Adam is willing to take the extra time necessary to save for this 20% goal. In this case, he will need to come up with $60,000 for the down payment.

A: ATTAINABLE

Saving for this down payment is attainable because I have a stable job which allows me to have the financial ability to save.

As veterinarians, we learn to deal with a certain amount of delayed gratification. A minimum of four years of veterinary school after our undergraduate studies, plus any further training or education, can make us feel like we’re behind compared to our peers. Adding in student loan debt magnifies this sense that we just can’t catch up.

For some vets, it doesn’t make sense to save for a down payment until they are more financially stable. Luckily for Adam, he has no credit card debt, his emergency fund includes 4 months of expenses, and he’s maxing out his retirement account. He is on track to pay off his student loans earlier than expected. He’s financially ready to double down and focus on saving for that house.

R: RELEVANT

This goal fits in with my other life goals.

As mentioned previously, Adam has his other financial ducks in a row. He is well settled at his job, and he can’t see himself moving out of the area anytime in the near future. He wants to plant his roots, and he knows that buying a home in this area is the next step.

T: TIME-BOUND

I will have this amount saved in 3 years, max.

Since Adam wants $60,000 in 3 years, this will amount to $1,666.67 that must be saved per month (not taking into account interest). Since this is a high priority financial goal, he will make sure that any extra income will go towards fulfilling this goal. He could very well achieve this goal in less than 3 years.

GOAL COMPARISONS

Let’s take a look at Adam’s original goal and his new SMART goal:

Original goal: I want to save more money.

S.M.A.R.T. goal: I want to save $60,000 for a down payment on a $300,000 home within the next 3 years. I will save $1,666.67 every month into a high yield savings account marked “Down Payment.” The money will be automatically deducted from my checking account into this savings account every month. If I get any extra raises or bonuses, I will fund this account in order to accelerate my savings goal for this down payment. I will check this account monthly to track my progress.

See the difference? By making this goal as specific as possible, Adam is MUCH more likely to save more money. The goal of saving money for the sake of saving money is uninspiring and not motivational. Giving this goal a “why” that includes specificity and ways to measure progress elevates this to another level entirely.

CONCLUSION

Goal-oriented people are known as driven and hard-working- I know that anyone who is reading this falls under this category. You have been using the S.M.A.R.T. method your entire life without even realizing it.

However, there may be certain areas of your life where you’ve never considered making your goals S.M.A.R.T. These are goals that you know you want to achieve, but you have no idea how you’re going to get there.

Do you have a financial goal that you want to achieve, but you don’t know where to start? Go ahead and transform this into a S.M.A.R.T goal. Make it specific and break it down in such a way that you will make progress. Give yourself a deadline. Treat this like many of the other goals you have set for yourself in the past. No doubt, you will soon have some financial wins under your belt.

Do you regularly make S.M.A.R.T. goals for yourself? Do you find that this helps you achieve your goals? Comment below!

2 Comments

  1. Anne Marie Wilson on April 26, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration and tool. I have been doing this without knowing it but, I look forward to using it on a few financial goals.

    • Financial Wellness DVM on April 26, 2019 at 8:49 pm

      That’s great! I love that it’s so well suited for different types of goals. Best of luck!!

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