Last year (doesn’t it still feel funny to say that?) I stopped reading fiction and instead, spent my time on books about personal growth, self care, business, psychology, productivity… about happiness, in short. One topic that is touched upon in almost all of these books is goal-setting. And the authors pretty much all agree about the way that has to be done: with a combination of stretch goals and smart goals. I know, *barf*. However, there’s a whole lotta truth about working with these two types of goals, so today’s post is all about goal-setting and how I do it this year.
Of the two types of goals, smart goals are probably most celebrated. We’re generally taught that you have a better chance of reaching your goal when that goal is specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related. Taking the trash out, for example, is a very smart goal. It’s about emptying the trash cans in the house (specific), by me (assignable), in a few minutes time (realistic), every week (time-related), and the progress I’ve made on this goal is visible through the empty trash cans (measurable).
With the criteria of smart goals, big projects can be broken up into manageable, doable, tasks. Smart goals help you move forward with those big projects when you feel overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. Therefore, they make excellent to-do-list-items, which is both a pro and a con. For me, it’s definitely a con:
“Experiments have shown that people with SMART goals are more likely to seize on the easiest tasks, to become obsessed with finishing projects, and to freeze on priorities once a goal has been set. You get into this mindset where crossing things off your to do list becomes more important than asking yourself if your doing the right things.”
Charles Duhigg, Smarter, Faster, Better
I love to-do lists, but the above description by Charles Duhigg is directly applicable to me. I can get so motivated from crossing off tasks, that I’ll add more and more tasks to my to do list: really small and simple tasks, tasks that I’ll do anyway, tasks I’ve already done. And in the end, at the end of a day, a week, a month, or a year, when I reflect on that day, week, month or year, I too often come to the realization that even though I did a lot of stuff, I still didn’t finish (or even start with) the big projects.
“The problem with many to do lists is that when we write down a series of short-term objectives, we are, in effect, allowing our brains to seize on the sense of satisfaction that each task will deliver. We are encouraging our need for closure and our tendency to freeze on a goal without asking if it’s the right aim.”
Charles Duhigg, Smarter, Faster, Better
I almost never stop and ask myself if what I’m doing is the right thing to do. Why? Because I don’t combine my smart goals with stretch goals.
A stretch goal is everything a smart goal is not. Although it can be specific and assignable, it’s usually not measurable and far from realistic. It also doesn’t necessarily have to be time-related. Being happier is a gem of a stretch goal, but to relate it to the before-mentioned smart goal of taking the trash out: having a clean and tidy home is an example of a stretch goal to which smart goals like taking the trash out belong.
The reason we need stretch goals in combination with smart goals, is that stretch goals help us determine if a smart goal (a task on the to do list) is worth doing. If I don’t have a whole lot of trash in the house, is it still worth it to spend my time taking it out (and checking that task off my to-do list), or can I use that time to take on another task that has to do with reaching my stretch goal of having a clean and tidy home? In short, relating smart goals to stretch goals helps you prioritize.
To keep up with my smart goals, that ultimately serve my stretch goals, I recently threw daily habits into the mix. For every smart goal, I try to come up with a habit (a simple, small and little time-consuming task) to do every day. For example, for my January stretch goal of speaking Spanish on B2-level, one of the smart goals is to increase my vocabulary to around 4.000 words. To reach that smart goal, my daily habit is to learn 10 new words a day. Another example: for my February stretch goal of becoming financially independent, one of the smart goals is to increase my savings. To reach that goal, my daily habit is to save €1 per day.
These daily habits make sure you move forward on your goals every day, which makes you (besides extremely content with yourself) very motivated to do more. During the month of January, I soon implemented the extra daily habit of doing exercises on Duolingo. I talk more about daily habits in my book review of Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge, which completely converted me into adopting this method.
Let me know in the comments if you’re working with these types of goals and if yes, what they are!