“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out”
(Robert Collier, American writer: 1885-1950)
The relentless, frenetic pace of 2018 means we have arrived at mid-February already. And all of you out there who made New Year’s resolutions to quit booze, sugar, smoking, TV boxed set marathons OR get fit, famous, rich, loved up, a new job…. whatever your individual goal(s)…. I am confident that by now, all of you now know at least one of two fundamental facts;
The first is, as Mark Manson so eloquently puts it, “The struggle is real”.
Or maybe you now know the second – that it is all too much to take on at this time of year. Articles and urban legends abound about how 99.95% of NYR’s (New Year’s Resolutionites) have quit by 5pm this coming Friday. The other 0.05% super resilient, driven elite just rub our noses in it with success stories on FB, workout reps and poundages on Twitter or ab shots on Instagram. They may even be emailing you, trying to sell you the secrets to their epic success, and how if you follow their regime to the letter, you too can be a zero fat, muscular toned, rich success story…just like them.
We have been saying it for years – start in February. Now we want to add the argument of starting small, without resolutions. Loco crazy talk! But do please allow me to explain….
Let’s start with what seems to be a universal and undisputable fact - setting clear goals, and then writing them down with clearly defined objectives for achieving them, is a cornerstone of success. As a Harvard University publication puts it;
“Studies abound which document how people with clear, written goals are significantly more likely to succeed than those without”
And who is going to argue with that? Studies abounding, Harvard affirming; apparently, they have even studied and proven this premise on their own highest-flying students.
In 1979, a study of MBA Business School, soon-to-be-graduates, did an analysis to determine how many had set goals, as well as plans on how to achieve them, compared to those who hadn’t. And then, 10 years later, determine success rates.
Initial results showed that 84% had not set any goals whatsoever, 13% had written down goals BUT with no supporting plans for achievement/success, and only 3% had both written goals and ‘concrete plans’.
Hop, skip and a jump a decade on, and the 13 percenters were making double what the 84% (with no plans) were making, and, would you believe it - the 3% with both written goals and plans were making 10 times more than the other 97% put together.
How very fortuitous this all is. Would it surprise you to know that I cannot find one academic/scientific paper to corroborate this; some articles found have doubts as to whether it happened at all, others quote the study was conducted in 1953, and unsurprisingly, not one jot of verifiable evidence can be found to prove all of the above.
I know, I know…so cynical.
But okay, let us accept for now that clear, well written goals- which include objectives - are better than none. At the most basic – think of a shopping list (less likely to forget an item you need, and it is ALWAYS the one you really need) or a route card to a destination (less likely to get lost).
But we all know life just isn’t as simple as shopping or driving from A to B.
So what tools can we use to develop successful objectives to attain greater, more complex and more demanding goals? Well, unless you have been living under a rock, on an island on the moon for the last however many decades, you’ll no doubt be aware of SMART objectives.
Another, seemingly, universally accepted tool to develop solid, structured, and ultimately successful objectives in the pursuit of our goals, is to make them SMART. Now, how many of you did this with any of your resolutions? Nope, me neither
So, the argument goes that, if we want to improve our chances of success, we should S.M.A.R.Ten our objectives. As you know, S.M.A.R.T is an acronym – and depending on the context, what you read, reference or have been taught - can mean many different things;
S - specific, significant, stretching
M - measurable, meaningful, motivational
A - agreed, achievable, acceptable, attainable, action-oriented
R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
T - time-based, time-bound, timely, trackable, tangible
Some of these are clearly more relevant to objectives within organisational settings, as others are better suited to personal goals. And on the surface, it all seems to make every sense and follows the “people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan” logic. Plus, given its prevalence in training/education and society, who the hell am humble I to argue?
But, let’s not forget, this was a tool originally developed in the 1980’s for organisational and management goals and objectives, not individuals. So, is there validity to the argument that it doesn’t necessarily work for personal goals? Ironically, a fantastic Harvard Business School report, shows extensively how goal-oriented strategies don’t work so well for business!
A notion backed by business consultant Aubrey C. Daniels in another excellent read on the subject; Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time & Money (and what to do instead).
In short, there is plentiful as well as compelling evidence demonstrating how businesses regularly fail to achieve goals. Just like people.
And perhaps the fault, lies in the SMART principles themselves. Something I have thought long and hard about for years. And came to the fore again recently; hence this blog. Allow me to explain.
If we consider the words Achievable and Realistic, because A) they are one of the same thing, and B) one or t’other is almost guaranteed to come up in whichever S.M.A.R.T definition you use. Also, to help me argue my point, let us take a classic NY resolution;
*Lose 25 pounds in time for my summer holidays in July*
So, Specific, Measurable and Time-based. But, is this realistic? Is this achievable? Has it ever been attempted before? What prior information have I got to base this amount of weight loss on in the given time-frame? A business can, or should, be able to pull out sales/revenue figures, performance stats, whatever historical data/information it requires to inform future objectives. Have you ever done this when developing your personal goals? Was it possible? However, If you (or a business for that matter) are taking on an all-new, hitherto, never before tried, challenge, then how useful would such information realistically be anyway?
Also, let’s consider some less-than-pleasant home truths borne of historical information - if I want to rid myself of 25 pounds of weight gained, is it feasible to argue that something – be it knowledge, willpower, health, fitness, coping mechanisms, confidence, time constraints, finances, peer and family support – something(s) is/are lacking, or else how am I now in a place, resolving to improve/redeem myself, and get back to the svelte, fat-free love god I once was!?
If these factors have been, and certainly if they are still a factor – then how realistic or achievable is this goal? Surely, I should first remove/improve problems which caused this in the first place? But again, just how achievable and realistic would that be for many of them?
Or let’s take a different tack; something more positive. Inspired by the snowboarding skills of Shaun White and Khloe Kim at the Winter Olympics this week – I now want to smash double-back 1440’s in the half-pipe this time next year. At 46, having had surgery on both knees, bulging discs in the past, fear of heights….oh, and I have never been on a snowboard in my life! These guys started when they were what? Two years of age or something? Have elastic in their DNA. Are clearly fearless and are (at least) 20 years my junior!
A silly example? Maybe. It was specific, measurable, and time-based...just sayin. But achievable? 100% not. Realistic? Hell no!
But I like Brendon Burchard’s take on big dreams and (seemingly) dumb-ass goals – because to SMART this particular snowboard ambition of mine would be to stop it before it gets off the ground. But to follow a dream – who knows where I will find myself? Go big or go home – because history is replete with examples.
Therefore, the argument can become what is achievable? What is realistic? The only way to find out is to get on a snowboard, get lessons, then practice wherever, however and as often as I can, and who knows what I am capable of…and after time spent chipping away at snowboarding, walk a mile in those shoes and then I will be in a far better place to develop SMARTer goals that are far more realistic and with a far greater chance of achievement
This ‘chipping away’ manifests itself in the tiny, incremental acts we perform regularly, as well as consistently– and may be a more powerful means for us to develop and realise realistic, achievable goals with less chance of failure, and all that subsequent demotivation and pi**ed-of-with-your-self-loathing we are told comes with failing achieved, because we started with a more knowledgeable, better informed place.
This works both ways. My 25 pound weight gain is due to the fact that at some point in the past, due to whatever factors, I started (or stopped) doing the little things which manifested into almost 2 stone of a problem that now needs addressing with resolutions. In other words, I got out of habits and/or routines – the consistent, regular, little things – which all helped to keep my weight in check.
If I reverse this, and start the good habits again, as well as work at stopping/reducing the bad ones, weight loss shlould follow. Perhaps not the full 25 pounds and a return to my six-packed youth, or maybe yes…but get into/out of those respective habituals, and after 6 months or so, you’ll be in a far better place to make the call on SMARTer, and ultimately achievable goals, and see those abs again!
So, if you want to improve your chances of making resolutions work more often than not, then perhaps the big goals, the macros, are not the way to go. At least not to start with. Instead, focus on the small stuff, the micros.
Next week, in part 2, I will share with you some of the things I have both read, tried out and found worked for me.
We have 10 months plus to achieve at least one resolution. But probably not a double-back 1440!
Manson, M., (2016) Your goals are overrated [online] 7th January, at: https://markmanson.net/goals
Weller, C., (2017) A top psychologist says there's a huge misconception about setting goals [online] in Business Insider UK; 13th March, at: http://uk.businessinsider.com/the-problem-with-goals-2017-3
Williams, R., (2014) Why Goal Setting Doesn't Work [online] Psychology Today; 11th July, at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/why-goal-setting-doesnt-work
Wanderlust Worker: The Harvard MBA Business School Study on Goal Setting [online] at: https://www.wanderlustworker.com/the-harvard-mba-business-school-study-on-goal-setting/
Ordóñez, L.D., et al., (2009) Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting [online] at Harvard Business School; 11th February, at: https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/goals-gone-wild-the-systematic-side-effects-of-over-prescribing-goal-setting