You’ve heard about writing SMART objectives, have you?
S is for Specific
M is for Measurable
A is for Attainable
R is for Realistic
T is for Time-based
A few examples…
- “Lose weight” → “Lose a pound per week”
- “Write more” → “Write 1000 words a day”
- “Exercise 3 times a week” → well, that’s already pretty good.
Those are re-written to be Specific, Measurable and Time-based.
But to make them Attainable and Realistic, that takes another level of effort. And it’s worth it.
The trick is that the SMART acronym might be missing a letter: the letter “I”.
“I” for Installed, or Ingrained, or Inevitable
A good objective will be Installed in the rest of your life’s complexities, not some goal layered on top, sprung up by guilt or fueled only by good intentions.
A good objective will be Ingrained into a new view of your world (you’ll have changed your mental models to make space for what it means to have met that objective).
A good objective will be Inevitable, because it’ll be formulated as being the smallest, highest impact thing you can do, that takes into account the rest of your commitments. It won’t look like a goal at all. You’ll feel like you’ve already mastered it before you start, like you see the prize before the race. It’ll be visualized. Less like a wish, more like “d’uh”.
So SMARTI? ISMART? It doesn’t matter, let’s just write some good objectives.
Here’s how I suggest writing objectives
Let’s say I’d like to lose some weight.
To see what else I’ve got on my plate until the summer, I’ll change the list to make the summer the focus of everything. I’ll imagine what “the summer” will look like:
This looks like a silly prediction: how do I know for sure that I’ll have done all of this? I don’t know for sure. But this list needs work anyway: I see that my resolution to lose weight is competing with other things I’ll have to be mindful of, and it’s missing more stuff…
Let’s start a little smaller. The summer is far away, and I’m trying to do too much. I’ll focus my efforts to what I’ll do before March, and then ask myself these two questions: “What can wait until after March?” and “What will my weight loss goal be changed to?”
Now, let’s prioritize. It’s not true that losing 7 pounds will be top priority from here to March. To help, I ask myself the question: “If, by March, one of these things is most true, and all the others are only partly true, which one will it be?” I put that one at the top of the list.
Of the remaining items on the list: “What will be most true that I’ll have done before March?” And the same exercise down the list…
Around the subject of losing weight, is there something else I’d rather like to say I’ll have done before March?
That’s really what it’s about, isn’t it? If it came down between having lost 7 pounds but still battling a sense of not liking how I feel each day, or feeling well but not having lost all 7 pounds, I’d chose the second option.
Now let’s detail out how I’ll have lost those 7 pounds. What will I have done by March to help make that happen?
My strategy to have reduced my calories will be to have…
Seriously? Am I really going to track my calories, and keep it up every day? That’s a big commitment. It may not be necessary — maybe something else will do the job almost as well:
So long as I track what I eat… but that’s not precise enough. I want to find a wording that will train my brain in the real habit to create.
That’s it! Staying concious of what I ate, and checking periodically, that’ll do the job.
And I’ll need to measure my progress…
Ok, let’s see what this feeling-good-about-my-body looks like (I’ve hidden the stuff under “lost 7 pounds” to shorten the list a bit)
What happens if I end up feeling good about myself, excelled at work, but find it daunting to introduce all those extra activities to lose those 7 pounds? We’re looking here for an incremental increase in difficulty as we go down the list. So instead, let’s break that up into an easier first step: align to reach 4 pounds, and keep 7 pounds as a further goal.
And, lastly, let’s define what kind of exercise I’m looking for:
And so, here’s the final list of objectives, in order of what will be most true by end of March, to what will be least true by end of March:
See how it’s becoming a little more inevitable. It takes a thorough look at my life’s other stuff, wedges the new objective in, makes sure I can handle the basics and lets me dial it up when I can (that original objective is sliced up in gradual increments).
At this point, I can schedule reminders and track my progress on a calendar, to force the creation of those habits.
There’s a chance I won’t get to 7 pounds, but if I do, it’ll be because what’s at the top helped the achievement of what’s at the bottom. Investing in my wife and kids will surely pay off. Feeling good about my body will have a contagious and encouraging effect on the remaining objectives. There’s only one way this all gets done: From the top to the bottom.
By going through this process, you’ll have a new outlook on how you run your days (a new mental model, as stated above). It will feel inevitable and well adjusted. By doing all this, you’ll make sure your objectives are Attainable and Realistic, and you will be able to say that your new resolutions are now Installed.
If you feel this kind of objective-writing would take some more practice, and you see how this can help you advance on a broader vision you have of how things could be, I’m running The Language of Objectives Course, a course to get these techniques ingrained into your instincts. It’ll be like learning a new productivity language that will stick for a while.