SMART Goals and Your Mindset

by Coach B

Most professionals have been exposed to the SMART goal setting model, but according to studies only about three percent of people actually set goals and maybe one percent actually write them down. Of those who set goals research indicates that only 8% achieve them. If people are exposed to how to set goals, and the importance of writing them down, why don’t more people do it? If Scientific research supports the SMART model (writing goals that are specific, measurable, achievable/attainable, realist/relevant, timed), which is why it is the model used for creating personal goals, why don’t more people achieve their goals?

Many people who teach goal setting, especially in public schools, focus on this very important structure for creating goals. It is a necessary component for setting goals. Writing the goals down is another vital step for the achievement of goals. Visualizing the outcome is yet another crucial step for achieving your goals. Of course creating a plan of action to accomplish the goals is a must do step.  All of those things should be included in any goal setting program. If I wrote my SMART goals, wrote them down, visualized my completing them, created and followed a plan of action and I am still not achieving the outcomes I desire, the question becomes why not?

Ultimately, it is your mindset that will determine how successful you are at achieving your goals. It is your mindset that will get you through the entire goal setting process. Your mindset is influenced significantly by your beliefs and values which is manifested in the outward actions that is your attitude. If your deeply held beliefs and or values are in conflict with the goals you set, there is a good chance you will not reach those goals even if you followed all the steps in the SMART goal process. While consciously you want to achieve that goal, unconsciously there may be a belief or values conflict that is causing you to sabotage your own success in ways you aren’t even aware of. Let me give some examples.

Mark was a Division 1 talent playing for a small Division III school who wasn’t coming close to achieving the goals he set each year. Every year the coach did goal setting with each player using the SMART model. Visualization routine and an action plan for achieving the goal was laid out. During both his freshman and sophomore years, Mark followed the plan, but he wasn’t coming close to achieving the goals. In fact, late in games he would implode after dominating games in the early going. After two years of this, I got a chance to work with Mark. After spending some time with him, asking lots of questions, we discovered a significant limiting decision he made at about the age of six. I want you to stop and think about this decision he made at six years old. The decision was he would never be as good as boys from the bigger cities and states. Think about how a six year can make that decision. He had. Simply blowing out that decision and then providing some emotional management skills allowed his attitude to change and now instead of blowing games late he dominated throughout and became the pitcher of the year in the conference two years running. He reached his goals not because he followed the SMART goal process, though undoubtedly that helped, but because he had the right mindset.

I met with a special education student who had specific behavior goals written up in an individual education plan (IEP). The goals were SMART goals. A fairly standard behavior plan had been designed and implemented to change the negative behaviors, but the student still made no progress toward achieving those goals. It took me all of three minutes to find out what the problem was. I connected pretty quickly with this student and simply in a very friendly even joking tone I asked him one simple question. “So, why are you such a pain in the butt to everyone you meet?” His response gave me all the information I needed. He answered in a very congruent and matter of fact tone and body language, “Because that is what I am.” His very identity was being a pain in the butt. Any behavior plan that didn’t address that essential belief was not going to work and his goals would not be reached because at the deepest unconscious level he would not lose his identity. They had to attack the root cause – that belief – not the symptoms, which were the behaviors. He needed a mindset shift before he could achieve the specific goals set for himself.

In my own personal life as I analyzed the recently rediscovered goals I had set 35 years ago and haven’t yet achieved, the ones I didn’t achieve were set without trying to align them to my values. They were purely about the money without connecting them to the things I valued most. The nearly 30 years I have spent working in public schools with students who were generally on the margins of the school societal structure were aligned with what I valued most. The work I did on the side with athletes and individuals was aligned with what I valued most. I am now working on some of those financial goals I had set 35 years ago, but this time the goals are being aligned with my highest values. It is a shame that students are not getting shown these tools and processes for first discovering what they believe and value at the deepest levels, but also how to analyze them and change them as necessary. It is also why having a coach or mentor to help guide the process and hold them accountable is so valuable. It is also why having parents who are willing to provide the structure, discipline, emotional support, and accountability is so valuable. For those in the professional world, providing this training for your employees would solve many of the employee related issues companies encounter.

There is a huge need to provide this training for teenagers and young adults. It is an enormous market that is dominated by an audience of entrepreneurs, executives, high achieving performers and the like generally in their late 30s to late 50s. We need to get them earlier in life. We need to get all of the high school and college age students reading this trained in these skills. Having parents going through it with their teens or young adults... priceless.

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