How to set goals? The Three crucial steps before SMART goals.

How to set goals and achieve them is one of the most popular questions people ask experts, motivational speakers, coaches, bosses, teachers but one often fails to ask oneself this question. Sit with a nice cup of tea with a journal and ask yourself “How should I set my goals?”

SMART goals are one of the most popular methods of stating goals. While SMART is a great way of stating goals, setting goals requires three crucial steps before that and one step after goal setting.

The first step is knowing what you want. The second step is knowing where you are currently. The third step is seeing the gap that exists and having the desire to bridge the gap. The fourth step is having a practical plan to bridge that gap. The Fifth and final step is getting into action to achieve them.

Step #1: Get clear on what you want:

Getting a promotion has to be your goal not your boss’s goal for you. Getting good marks has to be your goal and not your parent’s wish for you. Getting healthy has to be your goal and not something you do because of your health freak friend.

Desire is the core fuel in action. If you don’t desire something, you are not going to be able to work towards it and even if you work towards it, joy could elude you.

Spend some time in knowing what you want and check whether it’s an endpoint or an ongoing practice. A healthy lifestyle is an ongoing practice. Excelling at leadership is an ongoing practice. Buying a home, that has an endpoint with the purchase of your home. You see what I am trying to say here.

One of the ways of knowing whether you truly want something is checking if your heart smiles or gets stressed when you think of what you want. For example, if thinking of promotion stresses you out instead of making your heart smile, re-evaluate if you truly want a promotion. Set goals that you truly wish to accomplish.

Step #2: Know where you are currently: The starting point

Many get delusional about their current reality. Your current behaviour is your current reality. You know that exercising every day is good for your health. You know that communicating with your team regularly is a good practice. You know that studying regularly will get you good marks.

Here’s the thing, just because you know it does not mean you are doing it.

How many days of the week do you exercise at the moment? With what frequency do you communicate with your team? How many hours do you study every day? – The answer to these questions is your starting point.

Your starting point is not your knowledge about the ideal but what’s happening today at ground zero level.

Being delusional about your starting point will underestimate the effort required from your end.

Step #3: See the Gap, Accept the Gap and have the DESIRE to bridge the gap.

Once you know what you want and where you are at the moment, you should be able to see the gap very clearly. If you don’t see the gap – you have nothing to work on! Accept that there is a gap. At times individuals have difficulty in accepting the gap because they are delusional about their starting point (mentioned in detail above). In their head, they are behaving as per their knowledge but there is a disconnect with what’s happening in reality.

Once you accept that there is a gap, ensure that you have the desire to bridge this gap.

If the desire is below 8 on a scale of 10 with 10 being the highest, you are going to be in a zone of making excuses to not follow the plan. If you have an intense desire to bridge the gap, then you understand that there may be temporary discomfort when you are in the process of bridging the gap.

Desiring the end goal is one thing and desiring to undergo the process of getting the end goal is another. Both are crucial!

Step #4: Create a Practical Plan to bridge the gap. [ SMART Goals]

The emphasis is on the word practical. Once you know the starting point, the endpoint and the gap – you need to create a practical plan to bridge that gap. For a plan to be practical, it needs to be a function of your CURRENT time, effort, energy and other resources. As you progress these factors change and accordingly your plan will evolve.

For example, don’t plan to wake up early and go for a walk. First, manage the hours you are awake. So maybe you walk 15 minutes before dinner every day. Then over two weeks, you can increase it to 30 mins and perhaps within a month you love the results of walking so much that you are automatically able to wake up and put in an hour before your day starts.

When you jump the practical plan and straight away try to adopt an ideal plan, more often than not you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Step #5: Get into ACTION and review regularly.

Get into the action with the practical plan you created. Review it at regular intervals and keep on making adjustments. Do more of what’s working for you, eliminate that which is not. Think of what more could work for you. Life is dynamic and we need to keep incorporating the changes. Keep checking where you are and where you wish to be. Accept the gap and keep making honest efforts to bridge the gap!

This is how I set my personal goals and achieve them. I keep correcting myself when I make a mistake. I celebrate my wins. I am okay to try different ways of doing the same thing, till I find what works for me the best. I don’t freeze my plans and also don’t change them often.

In my experience, people jump the first three steps and directly begin setting goals with the SMART framework without introspecting about whether they truly own their goals. One needs to understand that there could be sacrifices involved and there needs to be the readiness to make those sacrifices. This can happen only when you truly want something and are ready to make it a reality.

If you have been trying and yet failing to achieve a particular goal, you could consider working with a coach. A coach will help bring in greater clarity of goals, dig that WHY, come up with a practical plan and keep you accountable to help you follow through with your action plan. You will master the art of how to set goals which you can achieve.