So you’ve done the work.
You’ve made your bucket list full of your wildest dreams. You’ve cut out the 3 worst habits that get in the way of reaching our goals.You’ve set your priorities and made room in your life for pursuing purpose.
And you’ve even gone through my practical guide to achieving “impossible” goals.
But now you’re staring at your computer screen, blinking at phrases like “Travel to every country in the world” and “Find true love,” and you’re not sure where to start.
All these crazy aspirations you’ve thought up, the picture of this amazing life you’ve dreamt about since forever – all of this feels elusive. There are too many invisible steps from where you are now to where you want to go.
And you’ve begun to wonder if the life you want is even in the cards.
It’s almost like you’re sitting on one side of a cliff, trying to get to the other side where you know there’s adventure and opportunity and growth. But there’s no bridge. The way to your dream is as intangible as air.
Hey, I get you on this. I’ve been there. I remember writing items into my bucket list like “Learn Spanish fluently” (#1) and “Change someone’s life for the better” (#10) and wondering how I’d ever manage to cross them off.
How am I supposed to get to fluency in Spanish when I hardly know a few basic phrases? And how in the world did I think I was going to change someone’s life for the better?!
It’s those big “Hows” that have driven me to write today’s post.
Because in order to get to where we want to go, we need a route. We need a plan.
Today we’re going to talk about how to turn those vague, intangible goals into concrete action steps towards success.
I’ve personally used the following tips to assist me in turning my most elusive dreams into realities. I’ve also introduced them to my therapy clients, who say it’s helped them a ton. Hopefully you’ll find it to be a great tool as well!
Turning Dreams Into Plans Through SMART Goals
I was first introduced to the idea of SMART goals waaaaayyyy back in the day (i.e. like one year ago, lol) when I started my program to get my masters in social work. Therapists use SMART goals all the time when clients are struggling to make cloudy dreams more clear.
But since learning about SMART goals, I’ve realized that far more people than just therapists use them. Entrepreneurs use them to plan their businesses. Teachers introduce them to students to increase academic achievement. And regular people just like you and me implement the SMART goals strategy to make life more manageable.
Basically, SMART goals are the bees knees. They work for almost everyone looking to make life fuller and better.
SMART goals can help us flesh out our dreams to make them real and attainable. And we need to know our wildest aspirations are attainable if we ever hope to get started.
What exactly makes a SMART goal so…SMART? Glad you asked. SMART is an acronym that stands for:
A regular goal becomes a SMART goal when it’s able to meet all that criteria – aka, when it’s specific, measurable, action-oriented, resourced, and timely.
So let’s do this thing! Pick a dream you have and we can get started turning it into a SMART goal.
I have a tendency to start with super vague goals. “Learn Spanish fluently,” for example, doesn’t really get into the grit of how exactly that’s going to happen.
To make goals more specific, we need to get more focused. We have to think narrowly into the steps.
For specificity, I encourage you to draw a road map. Think about each stop in the journey towards accomplishing the goal.
For example, to learn Spanish, I knew I’d need to take classes. So step one was going to be to sign up for Spanish 3 (I’d already surpassed levels 1 and 2 by the time I’d set this goal). Then Spanish 4. Then Spanish 5. After I was done with all the levels, I was going to spend a few months living in a Spanish-speaking country in order to solidify my fluency.
And voila! That’s all it was going to take. I officially had a route to my goal. Things weren’t so abstract anymore.
When are you finished striving? At what point have you achieved your dream?
In order to make a goal SMART, it has to have a measurable aspect. And while you may think that all goals are inherently measurable, that you’ll “know when you know,” quite frequently that isn’t the case.
I have a goal that I know I’ll never accomplish because it’s not measurable. One of the items on my bucket list is to “Become a better friend” (#12). Now how the heck am I supposed to know when I’ve become a better friend?
We have to make it measurable. So for me, I’ll know I’ve achieved Spanish fluency when I can hold a conversation for 30 minutes without any major pauses or bumps in the road. I’ll know I’ve hiked to Machu Picchu when I get to the summit. And I’ll know I’ve finished skydiving when my feet hit the ground.
So ask yourself: when will you know you’ve accomplished the goal? At what point have you crossed the finish line?
A while back, I knew a guy whose goal it was to make more friends. But he also thought that these friends would come to him.
When I probed for how he was going to obtain these friendships, he said, “I don’t know. I guess the universe will just bring them to me.” He wasn’t willing to ask any of his acquaintances to hang out or to join a club.
His goal wasn’t rooted in action. This friend of mine had no action-oriented plan towards meeting new people and building relationships with them. He just wanted to the goal to happen to him.
That’s not how goals work.
You gotta have an action to get anywhere. If you want your dream to become real, you have to actively walk (or run!) towards it.
Look over your goal and your road map. Are there action steps involved? Or are you waiting for life to happen to you? If the latter, your goal isn’t a SMART one. Time to go back to the drawing board.
What do you need to make your dreams reality?
For me and my goal of becoming fluent in Spanish, I knew I’d need a few resources to make it happen. I’d need money to pay for the classes, time to attend them, and a few months off to live abroad.
So I got a few side jobs, saved up, and made room in my schedule for the dreams to become reality.
We’re going to need things to get the job done. And if not, we’ll definitely at least need the most important resource of all: motivation.
To get resourced, we gotta know what we need and how to get it if we don’t already have it. Then we gotta go for gold.
To me, this is probably the most important step of all. If we expect to achieve our dreams, we have to set a deadline.
Without a deadline for when our goal should be accomplished, we’re prone to procrastination. We’ll tell ourselves we’re going to go travel the world, but we’ll never take the first step. We’ll save up to start our own businesses, but we’ll never begin the process of planning it.
We need a deadline. We need something to push us towards going out and grabbing our dreams by the horns.
When do you expect your dream to become reality? Set a time constraint that you know you can work with, but not one that’s too far in the future. You don’t want to give yourself too much time to lose track of the goal, but not so little that it’s unrealistic you’ll actually achieve it.
Putting It All Together
When you’re done filling out the details of your goal so that it’s specific, measurable, action-oriented, resourced, and time-sensitive, you’re ready to put it all together.
Some people like to make a goal statement at this point, something that incorporates all the components of the SMART strategy.
For example, they might say, “I will become a marathon runner by freeing up my schedule so I can follow Hal Higdon’s training plan and complete it by the end of April 2017.”
Ta-da! You have a SMART goal! I hope this exercise was helpful for you in fleshing out your dreams. I know it’s certainly been a useful guide for me.
Let me know how SMART goals rock your world!
Do you have a big dream that feels too abstract right now? What is it? Let me know in the comments!