Just before each new year, my family gathers to celebrate. We’ve developed the tradition of dinner, a movie, and sharing goals with each other for the coming year. My Dad takes record, and when the next yearly celebration comes around, we see how far we’ve come. Around five years ago, my Dad stated that it was his goal to learn how to play guitar. I was really excited for him - especially since playing guitar is something I’ve enjoyed since childhood. A few days later, I noticed that one of my favorite guitar shops was having a major sale. I suggested to my Dad that we go take a look so I could help him make a selection. We spent about an hour in the shop and my Dad had settled on a nice mahogany acoustic. He snapped a photo of it, but didn’t wind up making the purchase. He didn’t seem ready to commit.
The year went by pretty quickly and it was time for our family gathering once more. Most of us had done well on our goals - but my Dad still didn’t have a guitar. So his goal remained. Actually, it still remains - even after my purchasing him a guitar stand and tuner for motivation last year. I’m not sure at this point if he’ll get closer to that goal. He’s a stubborn and super busy guy - but I don’t think that’s what is stopping him. He could certainly develop the skills. Something else is in the way.
The problem is the goal itself. It has no definition, no accountability, no way to measure success. What does it mean to learn to play guitar? Is simply learning one song required, or is he hoping to put Hendrix to shame? How will he learn to play? Will he sign up for lessons? How often will he practice? And when will he be able to satisfactorily cross that goal off the list at our family gathering? I have no idea and neither does he. His goal is not unreachable - it’s just a skeleton without a body.
So what can be done to put some meat on the bones? I occasionally use the SMART goal setting method with my clients. SMART is an acronym that helps you remember that your goals ought to be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound. It effectively takes your goal and breaks it down into metrics for success. It’s the difference between:
I want to learn how to play guitar
I will learn how to play two James Taylor songs on my acoustic guitar by December 2017
The first sounds more like a wish. The second insists that you have a guitar to practice with, zeroes in on an artist and style, and comes complete with a deadline. Not only that, but it can be broken down into more manageable steps: purchase a guitar, sign up for lessons, practice your desired songs, etc. In other words, it invokes action! This is SMART goal setting.
My dad still has a few more months to make the mark. We’re all cheering for him. And who knows … maybe I’ll get around to learning more chords on that banjo I bought six years ago.