Friday Fodder – SMART Goals

Once upon a time…

Rodger had always considered himself a shining example of emotional and mental intelligence. He would never have even dreamed of going to see a life coach for help. Then, he also never expected to find himself a walking cliché – middle-aged with an expanding waistline and a wandering wife at the age of 46. Up until now, the whole concept would have been laughable. Rodger no more needed someone to coach him in the finer points of living than he needed someone to teach him how to grow his hair… or so he thought.

Sizing himself up in the bathroom mirror, he lamented his once luxurious mane was now falling out at about the same rate his life was falling apart – rapidly.

One of the common features of a standard mid-life crisis, along with the acquisition of a sports car, is the random assignment of blame. Lacking the funds for the former, Rodger had fully embraced the latter. It was all his wife’s fault and he told himself so repeatedly.

The confidence and zest for life that Sophie had provided in the early years of their marriage were exactly what seemed to be lacking in Rodger’s life ever since he had sailed past the event horizon that was his 40th birthday. What Sophie had once given him, she had now taken away. Helplessly staring at himself in the mirror, Rodger resented her for it.

Their inevitable breakup loomed large in Rodger’s mind, and he was certain the reason was ‘Alienation of Affection’ (He far preferred the legal definition as opposed to ‘my wife is sleeping around’). Sophie was having an affair. He had no actual proof but all the signs were there. She had recently dropped a few kilos and started wearing makeup again. She began buying expensive clothing, lacey underwear and dyed her hair bright red. She was happier, healthier, and more vibrant than she had been in years. Her only complaint in life seemed to be with regard to her hopeless husband. If Rodger’s life was on a distinctly downward trajectory, Sophie’s was going the opposite way. The only logical explanation was the intervention of a philanderous third party.

While blaming his wife for his present woes, it dawned on Rodger that he must do something to win her back. Only then would all be well in his life once again. Unfortunately, he was stumped as to what that something might be. Asking Sophie outright if she was having an affair would be disastrous and surely lead to yet another fight. When he mentioned the issue obliquely, remarking on her sudden transformation, she simply said it was down to the new life coach she had started seeing. She even recommended he give the whole self-improvement thing a go, although she did so with some colourful phrases like ‘man up’ and ‘grow a pair’ thrown in for good measure.

Rodger thought about it for a while and decided he would indeed go to the life coach, partly to spite her and partly hoping that even if results weren’t forthcoming, his effort alone would show Sophie a willingness to change. Besides, he told himself, what’s the worst that can happen? A bit of life coaching never killed anyone.

Arriving punctually for the appointment, Rodger surveyed the minimalist office. It looked exactly like a doctor’s consulting room – a utilitarian desk devoid of paperwork with a single chair before it, presumably for clients. On the walls, rather than depictions of the limbic system and step-by-step guides to effective hand hygiene, was a collection of cheesy motivational posters. Rodger cringed; a feeling only enhanced by the figure seated behind the desk.

One generally expects professionals in their chosen field to look the part – personal trainers need to be in good physical shape, teachers should have a scholarly air about them – so it stood to reason that a life coach would look like he had his life together. This guy, however, seemed to have stepped right off the cover of GQ. Rodger sucked in his gut and threw his shoulders back, acutely aware of how his bald spot must be gleaming in the overhead fluorescents.

“Hey, buddy, you must be Rodger. Mind if I call you Rodger? I’m Brad, expert life coach at your service,” he continued without giving his new client a chance to reply. “Come in and take a seat. I can see we have a lot of work to do here.”

Rodger complied, wondering if he was being insulted. He couldn’t be bothered finishing the thought and promptly decided it didn’t matter. He would just get this waste of time and money over with. “Look, Brad, I’m not even sure why I’m here – “

“Oh, so your life is perfect then, is it? No problems at all?”

Now Rodger knew he was being insulted. As if being married to the queen of sarcasm wasn’t enough, he now had to deal with this chiselled cliché and pay for the privilege! “I didn’t say that,” he replied through clenched teeth. “I’m just not sure if you can help me.”

“Oh, I can’t help you.”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s only one person in the world who can do that, Rog my man. You. My job is to give you the tools you need to dig yourself out of whatever hole you’ve landed yourself in.”

Really? Rog? Really?!! The only thing he hated more than unnecessary abbreviations were unsolicited nicknames. Rodger was tempted to shorten the guy’s name to Bra in response – fitting, seeing as he was a complete tit – instead, he took a deep breath. Better judgment prevailed and Rodger calmly asked, “How are you going to do that, exactly?” Looking at his watch as if to say ‘and make it snappy.’

“I’m so glad you asked.” Brad displayed his annoyingly perfect dental work. “You’ve come to me because you have a problem. Something is ruining your life and you have no idea what to do about it.” This was a statement, not a question. “Let me ask you this, Rog, how would you feel if you woke up tomorrow and found your problem had been magically solved?”

“Uhh… pretty good, I guess?”

“I doubt it, buddy. You see, there is only one problem in life – lack of personal power. We long to feel in control; to be in the driver’s seat. When things happen to us beyond our control – even good things – we feel helpless. Like spectators. Powerless. Why do you think most lottery winners end up worse off within a year of their big payout? You don’t want your problem solved, Rodger, you want to solve your problem. You want to grab hold of whatever’s bothering you and choke the life out of it with your own bare hands. What you want Rog, in one word, is power.”

Rodger had to admit, begrudgingly, that this smarmy prick was beginning to make sense. As emasculated as he felt, on the brink of losing his wife, he did not want Sophie to just stay with him for no reason. He wanted to win her back, to feel appreciated and admired once again. He wanted to feel in control of his destiny like he did back in the day when he could still get up from the sofa without making sound effects. “And you can give me that… power?”

“Absolutely! That’s why you pay me the big bucks!” Brad brayed a laugh as if this one-liner was wit of the highest order. “Let’s talk about goals, Rog. You have any?”

“Ummm No, not really… Oh, wait. I did kind of decide to try and lose some weight back in January. You know, like a new year’s resolution thing?”

“Whoa, buddy, no wonder your life’s a mess! Are you hearing yourself? Kind of? Try? Thing? And phrased as a question like that? It sounds like you’re asking for permission! No, no, no, Rodger. Goals are the key to success, but they have to be firm. Definite. They have to be SMART.

“Smart as in clever?”

“Rog, you have so much to learn, bud. Smart as in S-M-A-R-T. It’s an acronym, stands for: simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, and with a time-frame.” Brad counted each on a finger as if his client needed a visual aide to grasp the concept. Rodger clenched his jaw.

“Let’s take a closer look at your goal, your resolution thing. It’s the antithesis of SMART. Try lose some weight? That’s not simple, you can’t measure it – what’s some weight? 5kgs? 10kgs? Fifty? – which means it’s definitely not achievable and is therefore in no way realistic. And, most important of all, there’s no time-frame. No deadline.”

“Okay,” Rodger conceded, “I get it. But don’t deadlines just add pressure and ensure failure?”

“Committing to a time frame introduces the possibility of failure, sure, which is why some people don’t like to add them to their goals. No one wants to fail. But, Rog, if you rule out the possibility of failure, you take any chance of success off the table as well. And that’s exactly why precious few succeed in life because they’re afraid to fail!”

This was sounding to Rodger a lot like the spiel of the motivational speaker he hired to address his employees twice a year. Even so, he couldn’t fault the logic of what Brad was saying. Maybe, just maybe, he was on to something here. “So I need to set a SMART goal?”

“Right. That’s step one. Next, you need to frame your goal as a statement of powerful positive intent. I like to call it a PPI.” Brad paused to flick a blonde lock of hair out of his line of sight. “Let me tell you a quick story, Rog. Ever heard of Muhammed Ali?”

“Of course – the greatest of all time.”

“Yep, the greatest pound-for-pound fighter to ever live.” Brad gazed dreamily off into the middle distance. “Now, at the prefight press conference, Ali would tell the world exactly what was going to happen in the fight the next day. He’d say stuff like ‘I’m going to knock him out in the fifth,’ Then, when it came time to fight, what do you think happened, Rog?”

“He’d knock his opponent out in the fifth round?”

“Bingo! And why was that, Rog?”

Because he was psychic. Roger was so tempted to show he was no slouch in the sarcasm department, but instead, he resigned to simply shaking his head.  

“Because of his statement of powerful positive intent, buddy.” Brad flashed that grin again. “You see, when you say you’re going to do something with such conviction and there’s no doubt in your mind then, inevitably, you end up doing exactly that. It’s all down to the PPI. It works every time.”

“So I say whatever I want to happen and it’ll just magically come to pass?” Rodger asked, unleashing the sarcasm at last. He’d been afraid of this – some airy-fairy self-help mumbo jumbo with no practical value.

“Of course not, Rog. There’s no magical quick-fix. Once you frame your SMART goal as a PPI statement, you still have to put in the work. There are no shortcuts, I’m afraid, but I can teach you a little trick.” Brad leaned back contemplatively in his seat behind the desk before posing the seemingly useless apropos, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Rodger was so caught off-guard that he could only stare blankly, blinking every now and then, half wondering if Brad had lost his mind.

“One bite at a time, Rog! That’s exactly how you tackle your goals – break them down into simple, manageable, actionable steps. Just ask yourself each day, what can I do right now that’ll take me a teeny bit closer to eventually achieving what I want? Forget the future, live in the moment, and embrace the belief that the small things you do today will shape your life tomorrow. Once you’ve got that, then all you have to do is – “ Instead of finishing his sentence, Brad pushed back his chair and threw his feet up onto the desk, revealing a pair of bright red Jordans to make his point.

“Okay… “ Rodger didn’t quite know what to say. It all sounded pretty good in theory, but then, so does a pyramid scheme. He wasn’t completely sold just yet.

“I know it’s a lot to take in, Rog, so I’m going to help you out with a secret weapon for practical application. Let’s make this work for you.” Brad then regarded his client carefully, before saying, “I want you to close your eyes for me.”

Rodger did.

“I want you to think about that problem of yours. The one that brought you here. That one thing you just can’t get a handle on.”

Eyes squeezed shut, Rodger thought about Sophie; the way she used to look at him. He didn’t want to lose her. He’d do anything to win her back; to recapture the essence of what they had together in their youth.

“Now I want you to think of a SMART goal related to overcoming that problem. A goal that, if achieved, would not just take care of the issue but make you feel in control as well. Powerful. Okay?”

Nothing came to him at first. Rodger felt small, empty, and clueless. He focussed harder. As he thought carefully about what Brad had said during the session, something came to him. An epiphany! It was so simple – so obvious – and it had been staring him in the face this entire time! Suddenly, Rodger knew exactly what he had to do.

Brad continued. “Now I want you to frame your goal as a statement of powerful positive intent, just like Ali. I want you to craft it, Rog. Polish it. It’s going to become your personal mission statement, the undercurrent to your every waking thought, the fuel to the engine of your ambition. You got it?”

Rodger nodded that he did.

“Good.” Brad leaned forward. “I’m going to count to three now, and when I finish, I want you to stand up and proclaim your statement with all the feeling you can muster. Really shout it out, like you mean it! Then break it down into bite-sized pieces and go out and do what needs to be done. Ready?”

Rodger was. His hands trembled in anticipation. He could almost taste it – power, at long last. He’d never been more ready for anything in his life.

“One… Two…Three!”

Leaping out of his seat, Rodger opened his eyes and yelled, “I will throttle the son-of-a-bitch life coach who’s been screwing my wife! Right! Now!” Then, having delivered his exemplary citation of a SMART goal, framed as a statement of powerful positive intent, he took a few quick strides across the room – not exactly small steps, but manageable, actionable ones all the same – launched himself over the desk and onto the stunned man sitting behind it. He wrapped his hands around Brad’s annoyingly smooth throat, and proceeded to choke the life out of him.

Rodger smiled as he did. He had to admit he’d been wrong after all – this life coaching session had been worth every cent. 

“Be transparent in your actions, and secret in your plans”

― Paulo Coelho

Moral of the Story:

It’s pretty easy to sit around and think about what we could do. However, it’s next-level to accept the trade-offs that come with our goals. If you are truly serious about achieving your goals, forget about wondering what success looks like to you. Ask yourself ”What kind of pain do I want?” You already want the result. Are you willing to accept the sacrifices required to achieve your goal? Do you want the lifestyle that comes with your quest? Do you have what it takes to endure the boring and ugly process that comes before the exciting and glamorous outcome? There is a price to pay for everything. Goal setting is about choosing the price you are willing to pay, and committing to it. There are all kinds of hidden forces that make our goals easier or harder to achieve. You need to align your environment with your ambitions if you wish to make progress in the long run. Just as it’s hard to stick to a healthy diet if your kitchen is full of junk food; it’s hard to stick with positive habits in a negative environment.

Goals determine your direction; systems determine your progress. Effective goal setting requires consideration of the system that surrounds you. Too often, we set the right goals inside the wrong system. If you’re fighting your system each day to make progress, then it’s going to be much harder to stay consistent. One of the fastest ways to make progress on your goals is to simply press pause on the less important things. In this way, you can focus on one goal at a time. Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick to your goals if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behaviour. Habit stacking works well because you not only create a specific plan for when and where you will implement your goals, you also link your new goals to something you are already doing each day – like brushing your teeth. The trick is to realise that counting, measuring, and tracking is not about the result. Measure to discover, to find out, and to understand. Measure to see if you are showing up for you. Measure to see if you’re actually spending time on the things that are important to you getting to where you want to be.

“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”

― Shauna Niequist

Affirmation: I put action behind my goals every single day.

I can achieve anything I set my mind to. I am committed, focused, and determined to achieve my goals. I choose progress over perfection and I take massive action without hesitation when a new idea comes to me. I lead my day with purpose, passion, and powerful action. I am a do-er and I have the courage to overcome obstacles. It is easy for me to achieve my goals. I am exactly where I need to be. I confidently step towards new things. I enjoy being proactive and productive. I am in charge of my life and I confidently take action without needing all the information. Every action I take increases my motivation. Done is better than perfect. I have the resources I needed to be successful. There is no limit to what I can do today. I see progress in my daily tasks no matter how small. Everyday I am reaping the rewards of my hard work and my mind is a powerhouse of new ideas. I enjoy executing my goals and plans and my future is secured by my inevitable success.

“If you have a dream, don’t just sit there. Gather courage to believe that you can succeed and leave no stone unturned to make it a reality.”

― Dr Roopleen


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