Why bother with SMART goals?

It is hard to believe that we have been home from our year of family travel for 2 years now. So much has changed for each of us and for the entire world. Our children are in the process finishing their last stages of maturity into young adults and my husband and I have settled back into a new routine. Of course the world is adjusting to the same challenges of rethinking how we live and work.

As we are painfully aware, adjusting to the shock of a worldwide shift in normal routines coupled with the fear of becoming sick from covid-19, have left many people in a state of shock. Understandably. People respond differently to that kind of stress. I’ve witnessed many reactions amongst my family, friends and co-workers. Each a unique case, requiring custom solutions. But, many of us are growing weary of being in this reactionary mode. Therefore, it is time to get back to some parts of normal life. Looking to the future and making plans is one of those things.

Above, I’ve curated 5 selections of SMART goal setting which can provide a mini-crash course in the process. I’ve also dug into the archives of DailyCreatives and found a post I created from Bali in the last hours of 2017 and the early days of 2018. In these words I explore the process of using the SMART goal template towards our travel year.

—from Bali—

Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage, but simply because they have never organised their energies around a goal.   –Elbert Hubbard

goal – ɡōl/, is defines as the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
res·o·lu·tion – ˌrezəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/, is a firm decision to do or not to do something and the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.
Why does it matter, to understand the difference between these words? I think the distinction is that when used properly, both of these actions have the potential to be extremely beneficial. Otherwise, by setting a resolution on new years day, when the more effective activity is probably goal setting, the result will likely be failure to achieve anything, as the statistics show.

Resolutions are really the act of resolving. Creating a solution to a complex problem. Solving or determining an issue. The final analysis, of this kind of activity will yield a result which changes behaviour, usually for more than one person. Often this is institutional or across a business unit. Technically, a single person can resolve to change something significant in their lives, on new years day and be successful, but the chances are slim. Our brains are not wired to be good at accepting the notion of breaking a bad habit and turning it into a good one, with merely a resolution.

What tends to work better is to not only create a meaningful goal, but to do it in a SMART way. This is a technique which takes far more time to think deeply about each of the letters in the acronym. It breaks down like this:

  • S – specific, significant, stretching
  • M – measurable, meaningful, motivational
  • A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
  • R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
  • T – time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

In our case, the goal was to travel for a year as a family. I think lots of people wish to do this and never do, for any number of reasons. Here is how we attacked our big idea, breaking it down into smart chunks so that we could make it happen.

The goal of traveling for a year is fairly significant, in and of itself. In order to make it specific, though, we had to break down the major obstacle of ‘how are we going to pay for this?’ Otherwise a travel year, or any other big goal is a pipe dream. We knew we had to make changes to the way we lived. Once we understood how much money we would have to work with, we started looking at the gap. We gave ourselves about a year and a half to find ways to slow our spending down to the target levels. All four of us agreed on the task and each contributed what we could. In many ways, we were tested as a family and as individuals to find new ways of doing things and make sacrifices.

We created a measured plan to reduce expenses, save money and budget for the trip, down to the last penny. It was aggressive, but we didn’t cut out everything. We stuck to the meaningful things which would make the greatest contribution. Like selling our boat at the beginning of the season. We got a great price and we reduced all the associated expenses that go along with it. We made sure to continue discussing all the places we would go to, with each of us having a hand in the planning of activities. This helped with our motivation to keep pushing forward when times got tough.

It was hard to get full agreement in our little family. Delayed gratification is not something we are good at. We stumbled from time to time as part of the process. I had factored that it, in order to make the process more acceptable for all of us. 100% sacrifice, all the time is hard to take. But, I think we all felt good when we took any kind of action-oriented step towards making our goal come to life. When my daughter decided to clear out her room and downsize most of her possessions, she looked forward to a day in the future when she could make over her space. She would gladly sleep with her mattress on the floor as long as it took to get what she wanted sometime in the future.

Of course it is realistic to live within your means. The travel, is out of the ordinary but it became our reward, for all the effort. 5 weeks of couch surfing with our relatives, was not always easy, but greatly aided in our efforts and was a completely reasonable thing to do, for people in our situation.

I tracked our efforts meticulously. Something I had never done, in such detail before. I was doing it for the trip, but I knew this was going to be a new way of life for us. If we ever want to retire properly, at some point in the future we needed to install this new habit. While our deadline was the tangible thing we were tracking towards, we were becoming new people in the way we were thinking and behaving.

—back to the future—

It is true, we became different people. While long term travel is not possible right now, at least not to foreign countries, if you are lucky enough to live in a large country like Canada, it is a great time to get out and see what is on offer. Or your home town, or your neighbourhood are other great places to look at with grateful eyes. I believe that is the key – to be grateful for what you have and whom you can share it with.

As my children grow into adults, they need space and time away from their parental units. But as we leave them to get on with it and embark on our own adventures, I always pause from time to time to remark about what they would have enjoyed in what happened during our day. The time we spent together for a year travelling and the better part of 4 months during covid-19 are similar in some ways. Close living quarters, adjusting to different ways of doing things, lots of cooking and eating together after stretches of time absorbed in our personal affairs, to name a few. Of course I would rather have been travelling than confined to our home, but I was grateful we could experience covid-19 together, supporting each other through thick and thin. I think it was because we had become different people from travelling together that we managed covid-19 at home as well as we did. And who knows what the future holds, we may be at home together again and hopefully travelling as a group as well!

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