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SMART Goal-setting: Don’t let Life just carry you out to Sea


On Monday, I talked about the need for planning in order to effectively study Korean. Today, I’ll go into further detail about S.M.A.R.T. goals, and how they relate to my life and plan for studying Korean because without goals, we just float though life as it slowly carries us out to sea.

What things go into a successful plan?

If you remember from last time, these are the 6 components of successful planning that I mentioned:

  1. Keep the end in mind (but not in stone)
  2. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals
  3. Make a schedule
  4. Track your progress
  5. Reassess regularly
  6. Reorganize as necessary

We’ll only look at the first TWO of these in more detail today, but I’ll post on the other FOUR next Monday.

1. Keep the end in mind (but not in stone)

For me, the “end” looks like me sitting in an office in a Korean company, designing in Korean, working in Korean, and conversing with my colleagues in Korean. Any little step I can take that will get me progressively closer to that goal is meaningful and valuable. But any step I take in the opposite direction is detrimental (not only valueless) – because energy I expend that pushes away from my desired “end” harms me.

There are really only two ways to look at any action or decision you make in life:

  1. Is this one small step drawing me closer to my “end” goal?
  2. Is this one small step taking me away from my “end” goal?

If you consider where you’d like your life to BE in 10 years, is this step taking you there? Are you even on the right path?

china-quoteIf I look back at my life 10 years ago, I’d have never predicted that I’d be where I am right now. I’d have been close, but not right on. Ten years ago, I was taking my first Chinese language class in university. I thought I’d be in China by now, perfecting my Chinese and working in a Chinese company.

Notice how language acquisition and working in a foreign company was originally my “end” goal. English teaching was never the “end” goal – but I saw it as a intermediate means to that end.

Still, through a series life’s twists and turns, I drifted to Korea (which I’m quite happy about now), but I lost sight of my original goal (language acquisition). I’ve now lived in Korea for 7 years and barely speak more Korean than I did 5 years ago. If I don’t take action now, I’m likely to wake up ten years from now with relatively the same Korean level I currently have. And that’s not my goal.

Craig Groeschel has a great adage for that. He has said:

Everyone ends up somewhere, but not everyone ends up somewhere…on purpose.

2. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals

So that’s where goal setting comes in. But goal setting has to be far different from “New Year’s Resolutions” type goals because “New Year’s Resolutions” type goals are actually designed to fail. “New Year’s Resolutions” goals say, “I’m going to work really hard now, for a short period of time, only so that I can return to my original lifestyle once my goal is accomplished.”

Actually, what you’re saying is, “I love my current lifestyle right now, but I feel guilty about something for some reason. I don’t really want to change my life, I just want to remove my guilt. So, I’m going to do this thing for a brief amount of time to ease my conscience, and hopefully I’ll reap some massive rewards in the process.”

But you should know by now that you never reap life-changing rewards without first changing your life. And that means to quit setting pithy, guilt-inspired goals that you intend to renege on once you reach them anyway. Here are some questions to help you start setting better goals now (from Wikipedia):

S: Specific (W-5 Questions)
  • Who: Who needs to be involved?
  • What: What specifically do I want to accomplish?
  • Where: Where do I want to be doing this? (as an end, or in progress)
  • When: When do I want to be doing this? (as an end, or in progress)
  • Why: (the key) Specifically, why do I want this goal? (Remember, without passion, you’ll have no fuel for your fire.)
M: Measurable (How Questions)
  • How will I measure this goal?
  • How much time/energy?
  • How many days/exercises?
  • How will I know when I’ve reached success? (Remember to define success as well – some people never know when enough is enough. They keep pushing right past reasonable and into extremes.)
A: Attainable (Define success)
  • The goal shouldn’t be extreme (though it may be stretching). Too hard and you’ll lose your drive; too easy and you’ll get bored.
  • How can I progressively (step-by-step) achieve success?
R: Relevant (What drives you – in the right direction?)
  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Am I the right person? (Is someone else better? Do I need a teacher?)
  • Does this line up with my other efforts?
  • Will this progressively take me in the right direction? (A goal to watch all the episodes of Game of Thrones in a week may be specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound – but it’s hardly relevant to what you likely want to accomplish.)
T: Time-bound (Create a sense of urgency)
  • Where should I be in a year? In a month? In a week? Tomorrow? Today?
  • Is there any way to schedule a measurement my progress? (i.e. Like a test. The 31st TOPIK test is coming up on July 21, 2013. Are you going to register?)
  • What are progressive steps along the path to my “end” goal that I can chart out and measure?

Schedule it to Measure it

That last one is pretty important. A big “end” goal – like becoming fluent in Korean and passing the Level 6 TOPIK test – just won’t happen without first going through numerous checkpoints along the way. What are your checkpoints?

We’ll look more into making a schedule, tracking your goals, reassessing, and reorganizing next time, but for now, a good idea would probably be to get out a pad of paper and pencil to write some answers to these questions down. Thinking about these things is all well and good – we all like to think big thoughts sometimes – but writing down your answers is the first action you can take to start accomplishing your goals. (You’re likely to forget your big ideas if you don’t.)

And besides, taking action is what separates the swimmers from the drifters – those who “end up somewhere on purpose” from those who just “end up somewhere.” Do you have the will to live (to your fullest potential)? Or are you OK with life just carrying you out to sea?

Have you ever written down S.M.A.R.T. goals? Do you find yourself now “somewhere on purpose” or just “somewhere”?

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