Recently, my friend attended a seminar about goal setting. Naturally, it included the idea of having S.M.A.R.T. goals (more about that in a bit), but also how to refine those so you don’t get burnt out, overwhelmed or stuck in a rut. And that’s exactly why she went to the seminar: She had a plan, but when it came to setting her plan in motion, she got overwhelmed and froze.  

The problem started when someone would ask her what her life plan was. “Well,” she’d respond, “it’s retirement!” But a retirement goal was off in the distance by about 30 years. It seemed so far away it was hard to stay focused and on track. Her problem was she forgot to break it into bite-sized pieces.

No one climbs a mountain by only staring at the summit!There are thousands of steps along the way that include planning, preparation, practice and patience – you shouldn’t just set out climbing without any idea of where you’re headed, what supplies you’ll need, what type of environments you might encounter, and perhaps most importantly, the best way to get there! 

So back to our SMART goals. They are just that: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timebased. But for today, let’s focus on realistic. Like my friend, we can get caught up in the big picture and forget that there are baby-steps to getting to your end goal 

If you find yourself struggling to reach the finish line, set smaller goals! Many goals stacked on one another create a ladder to success. You may want to set a goal of completing one year of school instead of focusing on the Ph.D. Or maybe you set SMART goals about your savings account balance before you focus on retirement. Or create a plan for naming your new business before you tackle the idea of hiring employees.  

Let’s go beyond the SMART goals and dig a little deeper – focusing on the R, “realistic.” Using one of your goals, work these three additional steps:  

  1. How committed are you? Let’s be real, we all want the easy path to our goals, but not everyone is up for it at any cost. And speaking of any cost – what does that mean to you? Take a look at the steps to achieve your SMART goal – now rank those steps by how willing you are to do them. Ouch. If you want to lose weight but rank working out 3x/week pretty low, then it’s time to reconsider your commitment.  
  2. Are you limited? Using your SMART goal as a guide, and the steps you need to take to achieve that goal, are there any limitations? Are you in the right location? Are you able to arrange your schedule to go back to school? Do you have a gym membership? Notice I said limited, but not impossible! When reviewing a SMART goal against commitment and limitations, it may be time to adjust your goal. Don’t scrap it – just adjust the realistic expectations of it.  
  3. What are the stumbling blocks? Take a moment to identify the obstacles to each step of your goal. The less you’re caught off guard, the more you plan, the better position you are in to achieve success. You certainly can’t anticipate everything but having an idea of multiple ways to achieve your goal gives you a sense of options and freedom. Looking at your steps, can you see any obstacles to the steps? If so, list an alternate right next to it.    

Creating manageable, realistic goals is the key to successful planning and execution – not to mention avoiding distractions and exhaustion. Be intentional when you set a goal – make sure it’s obtainable in a reasonable amount of time or you’ll get discouraged. Keep your eyes on the smaller wins to get the grand prize. Now, go climb that mountain!