I have been a goal setter virtually all of my thinking life. From the time I could determine what to do for myself, which was some time in my formative primary school years, I have set goals and (as they became more complex), written them down in a diary then pursued them with a vengeance.
I was inspired by my father (who gave me his Eko acoustic) and my mother (who gave me a thin book of songs with chord fingerings, the first being ‘Tom Dooley’). I began to learn to play the guitar at the age of nine, and as soon as I could I started to copy the accomplished experts on radio. That may well have been the first ambitious undertaking I ever dedicated myself to.
I remember, too, earlier ambitions: playing in the sandbox! What an apt memory that is. For ‘playing in the sandbox’ to adult creatives represents the free-flow, spontaneous experience of listening to your impulses, following them, experimenting and stimulating your creative mind to find solutions. And often that is a social process. In my case, I was in the sandbox with one of my best friends, a boy named Shawn, to build cities. Side by side, we cooperatively and separately built our worlds up in mind and reality. Then we let the elements bake and blow them away, taking great joy in the day and days that followed to build and rebuild again and again and again. The pleasure was in the process, and that was a very mindful experience. The metaphor is rich with learning.
In junior high or middle school, I remember having the internal drive and goals, though they were never written down, to write news articles, publish magazines, deliver musical performances, run a ‘Turkey Trot’ and more. Right before high school, I began to keep records of my life in the form of a diary, and for much of my adult life I have kept diaries and journals to track the goals I have had. Where did and does this desire to achieve a goal come from? Upon reflection, it comes from the wish to live a full life. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Growing up in the country, in a somewhat stimulating and under-stimulating environment, I had both the space in which to think. This was the era before the Internet. I had the space in which to get bored. And that boredom spawned creativity and the desire to create and construct my life in various ways. To this day, I think it is good for children as well as adults to experience boredom and to have to think their way through to the other side of it. I am certain it is the precursor to creativity.
SMART goals, then, were introduced to me when I was 19 and took a course called Personal Best, which is now revamped into a program called the Creator’s Code. In all their variations, SMART goals stand for the following: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Time and again, I have achieved things by setting creative goals. I have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have recorded music in contexts people could only dream of (Bollywood, Berklee College of Music, a 24-track studio in Canada, the tombs of Tutankhamun in Upper Egypt) and the wadi (dried) riverbeds of Petra, Jordan where the Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed. I have lost 40 pounds in less than 40 days. I have travelled over two dozen countries in 18 years and ‘seen the world’ as I’d always dreamed about. I’ve honoured the fact that life is for living…and I still do. Happiness is the goal.
So, my goals have always been defined, even if there have been moments of being sidetracked along the way, even in the face of failures with a small ‘f’. SMART goals help you stay focused and have helped me to set new directions and keep persisting and pursuing what has been important to me for most of my life. I believe in the virtues of SMART goals. My experience, as outlined by this writer and organisational facilitator of ‘sandbox play’ for executives, is that you need to connect emotionally to those goals in order to achieve them. Connecting emotionally with yourself, and giving yourself the gift of reflection, sharpens your focus and helps you gain the specificity needed to go after something do-able in your life, even if it’s grand and exciting. So much the better if it is!
But I believe that there is more to SMART goals than ‘specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound’. I would add these ideas to the mix:
S – Soulful – Make your goals soulful.
Goals that are inspired by what you are ‘called’ to do, be or have. Goals that you intuitively know are ‘right’ for you. Do we listen to ourselves and to what some say is our soul…deeply? How do you know if you are listening to the right voice within? Trust the desires you feel to define goals that bring a deep and clear sense of satisfaction, because they are good to achieve, and here is a hint: anything that is good for you must be good for others. Where there is a reciprocity in these intentions, this is good for your circle of influence, your family, friends and community. No man is an island. Establish the goals within you that are most soulful and, where possible, slightly selfless. Then watch how rewarding and significant life becomes as you journey towards your achievements.
M – ‘Mental’ or Mature? – Your learning and working style determines your approach.
Take your pick. In the spirit of play, which is called ‘structured play’ in the world of theatre, music and the arts where one adds a dose of discipline and thoughtful exploration as well as research to the mix, you have choices about how to set and pursue your goals. You could go with the idea of throwing your goals like a gauntlet on a spontaneous whim and then make a mad-dash for them. This would be firey and full of excitement, momentum and likely some peril. Is that the nature of your personality? Slightly ‘mad’ and chaotic in your thinking (no offence intended and no reference those with mental health issues)? Go for it! Or you could scribble something onto something, a napkin in your favourite cafe, a journal, your hand, your To-Doist list, a note in your iPhone, iPad, laptop or android device and let the steps unfold as you begin. Your reasoned response has the potential, then, to become an even more personal one, and one that requires you to understand only this: the nature of you at this moment in time. Where are you at today within yourself and how do you operate? A mature approach to goal setting need not be a stuffy, complex or complicated one, though it can be one that you give some time to. All that is required is that you think or reason your way through why you wish to do what you wish to do, after which you get to it. Action is what makes a goal come to life. So, what steps are you going to take? What’s your plan?
A – Aptitude – Know what your strengths and weaknesses are, then compensate.
Where is your intelligence? Some goals are complex and require skill and knowledge that you do not possess. The thing is this: do you need to ‘do it yourself’ or could you delegate some of the tasks at hand to someone else? What is your aptitude for learning and achievement. Go back to the idea that no man or woman is an island, and think of the power of social interaction and connectivity in building your project. Research shows time and again that humans do not function well in isolation. We are an ecosystem within ecosystems – and this is the nature of life and living things. What connections can you make? Who can you reach out to who will relate to where you’re going? Build cities together? Build dreams together. At least when you get there, you won’t be alone. How lovely is that? Know your strengths and weaknesses, and compensate for them. Now, that’s smart!
R – Recognise – Track your progress so you can respond to anything that gets in your way of achievement.
Most experts on goal setting talk about the importance of charting your progress as you go along. In business, this is called ‘controlling’ for success. In gestalt therapy, it is the recognition that we are organisms that live within and are affected by an environment that helps us determine how to respond when something in the environment changes. In business, we do SWOT analysis of our Strengths, Weaknesses (already mentioned above), Opportunities and Threats (in the environment…as these are the things that exist for and against our efforts). To keep an eye on your progress as you work towards a goal is to enable yourself to respond when something throws you off track, and to boost yourself when you begin to falter, which you will. Most of us do. This is the nature of humans. We are not automatons, not robots or machines capable of repetitive autonomous action over and over and over again. Creative thinkers need to be able to respond, and to know what to respond to and how to respond, we need to track progress and then think! So recognise the importance of this and create the simple systems or habits that will help you stay aware of how you are doing.
T – Treats and Thankfulness – Treat yourself as a way to motivate yourself from time to time, and show gratitude and respect to yourself and others for a job well done.
A goal worth having is one that requires effort. Behaviourists recognised that we respond to rewards, and while you need not go overboard with this, you might consider how to chunk your goals into mini-goals and reward yourself for getting to the quarter, halfway and three-quarter points, if these are relevant. What treats can you give yourself? Don’t sabotage your weight loss by binging and putting yourself back in the hole where you started! Be thoughtful with rewards, and when you finally get to where you’re going, think about who has supported you along the way – show respect to them and gratitude, just as you show yourself the self congratulations you truly deserve. When you get to the end of the race, to the point of achieving your goal, whatever it is…note the time it took. Jot a thought. Pass it on. Share the love. Share the wisdom. Goal achievement is a great thing. Many great people in the history of the world have talked about this. Know that you’ve joined their ranks.