Effective goal setting for the new year

Every time a new year rolls around, gyms are packed with new members ready to get into shape. New Year’s resolutions are the talk of January, but will they still be around by July? Sadly, research suggests that less than half of New Year’s resolutions are successful by July 1. Even an earnest desire to change isn’t enough to make a difference. We have to manage stimulus control, positive thinking, and reinforcement management (or increasing a desirable behavior). Many in higher education dismiss goal setting as administrative nonsense or a management fad. However, research on students demonstrates that setting goals can lead to increased achievement. I have no reason to doubt the same is true for faculty and administrators in higher ed. In today’s post, I want to describe the process that I use for goal setting and recommend you undertake to lead to effective goal setting for the new year.

Photo credit: Jeff Tidwell

The SMART Goal Method

Writing what are called SMART goals has been around for decades and provides a concrete approach to setting goals. The approach helps you identify specific actions to take toward achieving your goals. One of the reasons that I believe people struggle or dislike goal setting is that it seems an academic exercise that fails to lead to action. The SMART method avoid this problem by identifying specific actions that you need to take to meet your goals.

The SMART Goal Method stands for the following:

S- Specific

M- Measurable

A- Attainable

R- Relevant

T- Time limited

S- Specific. Your goals needs to be specific.

Weak:  Write a book.

Strong:  Write a book on advice for successfully gaining tenure with Routledge.

M- Measurable. Your goals need to be measurable so you can judge your progress.

Weak: Write on my book idea.

Strong: Write at least one hour per day, five days per week on my book manuscript.

A- Attainable. Your goals need to be attainable.

Weak:  Win the Nobel Prize.

Strong:  Publish an article in the Journal of Higher Education, the top journal in my field.

R- Relevant. Your goals need to be relevant for key areas of your life.

Weak: I want to attend a workshop on statistical modeling (even though I’m a qualitative researcher).

Strong:  I want to learn a new qualitative research coding software to improve my analysis techniques.

T- Time limited. Your goals should be clearly time bound with a specific deadline.

Weak:  Write a book.

Strong:  Submit book manuscript to publisher by December 31.

So if we put all of the elements of SMART goals together, we would get a goal that would look like this (note:  this is a goal of mine from last year):

Submit a book proposal to an interested publisher by June 1.

Is it specific?  Yes, I’m submitting a book proposal.

Is it attainable?  Yes, I have an idea and have written a book before.

Is it measurable? Yes, I can break down the project into specific measurable pieces.

Is it relevant?  Yes, a book will be an appropriate use of my research time and submit my application for full professor.

Is it time limited? Yes, it is due on June 1.

Once I establish this goal, I can then set other subgoals that will help me meet the main goal. For example, I need to find a publisher who is interested so I should schedule meetings at an upcoming conference with prospective publishers. I need to set weekly writing goals so I will have a manuscript to submit by June 1. I may need to complete research or seek out advice from colleagues. All of these subgoals I can use to breakdown the component pieces necessary for achieving my main goal.

After I have done all of this thinking, I have specific actions that I need to undertake in order to accomplish my goal of submitting a book proposal. Each week, I will know exactly what I need to accomplish in order to meet the goal six months away. This is the true power of goal setting. The process lets you dream of what you want to accomplish and then guides you to identify the specific actions needed to meet your goal.

As you start out the new year, I encourage you to take some time to think about what you want to accomplish and go through the SMART goal process for effective goal setting for the new year. I trust you will not only find the process useful, but it will be a powerful way for you to translate your hopes for the new year into actionable steps for the weeks ahead.

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