GOOOAAAAALLLL(s): Why S.M.A.R.T. Goals are so Darn Effective.

Posted by Adam Skoranski

“Motivation depends…on goal setting. The coach must have goals. The team must have goals. Each individual player must have goals-real, vivid goals…goals keep everyone on target. Goals commit me to the work, time, pain, and whatever else is part of the price of achieving success.”

Top collegiate tennis player.

Well-said my friend; took the words right out of my finger-tips…Hello again, blogging world. Hope everyone’s week has been filled with nothing but positive thoughts and healthy vibes. As you may have already surmised from the cleverly-disguised title and opening quote, the following post will be dedicated to the bedrock of all successful mental programs: GOAL-SETTING…Goals are the driving force behind any performance. Said it before, bi-golly I’ll say it again: Gotta know where you’re going before you start the car. Goals give us direction. Goals increase our confidence and ensure concentrated, unwavering focus. Good, solid goals guarantee we don’t waste a practice. Goals are aces.

Locke & Latham (1990) reviewed more than 200 studies looking at the effectiveness of goal-setting. What they found may give you a jolt. 93% of studies found that athletes showed more improvement when setting challenging and specific goals compared to vague goals like “get better.” Locke & Latham noted on average, athletes who set goals increased their performance by 16%. ***“Improvements by 1-2% could transform average collegiate athletes into national champions in sports like swimming; 10% improvement for a golfer who averages 80 (a 7 or 8 handicapper) puts him or her into the range of a professional (zero handicap).” 1 Crazy, ehhh?

Now, much like any mental skills staple, the conversation about goals can go on forrrrreeeeeeverrrrr (movie?). You will without a doubt hear different opinions and recommendations depending on who you speak to about goals. However, we all know what they say about opinions. They–there’s—people…have…them.

Well, you’re about to hear another one. I cannot stress enough the importance of goals. My interactions with sport psych clients always, ALWAYS begin (after understanding what they desire from the work, AND assessing whether or not they possess the motivation necessary for change [more on that later]) with a conversation about goals. We then get to it; setting solid, vivid, S.M.A.R.T. goals-many of them for the first time. Shocking, right?!……not really. What you’re about to read is an abbreviated example of that very conversation. By the end of this post, you will have a pretty good understanding of effective goal-setting guidelines-recommended time and time again in empirically-based research studies conducted by smarty pantses-and why they’re effective. Annnnnnd go…

Throughout this post, I will refer to the following two goals to drive my points home:

GOAL A: “GET BETTER.”

GOAL B: “I WILL MAKE 70% OF MY FREE THROWS DURING TODAY’S PRACTICE.”

The first acronym I want you to remember when setting goals is S.M.A.R.T. What does this stand for? Well here, let me tell ya:

  • S-pecific
  • M-easurable
  • A-djustable (some like to use “attainable”, but I feel that’s pretty much the same as……)
  • R-ealistic
  • T-ime-based

I’ll go into each tenant in more detail here:

Specific. For starters, we want our goals to be specific. Vague goals are a waste of time. Let’s go to our two examples, shall we? Goal A is extremely vague; no specificity at all. What’s ‘better’? Whose idea of ‘better’? Funny how? Like a clown, I amuse you? Funny how? (Another 10 pt. opportunity.) Goal B is more ideal. Setting a goal like this paves the road to success. You know EXACTLY what you’re shooting for. Specific. No ambiguity.

Measurable. We want our goals to be MEASURABLE because, without some form of measurement, how will you know you’ve achieved your goal? I recommend my performers add some kind of number into each goal whenever possible. Goal B meets this requirement beautifully. The genius that set this goal will know without a doubt whether or not it was met.

Adjustable. Adjustable goals are also extremely important. Once the competition or practice is over, and we sit down to analyze our goals, we will arrive at one of two conclusions: either we met them, or we didn’t. Either way, we want to be able to adjust our goals if the situation calls for it. Perhaps the goal was too lofty and needs to be brought down a peg or two? Perhaps it was too easy, and we need to shoot for something a little more difficult? Or, perhaps the goal was fine, and we just need to increase the amount of effort we put forth. Making sure your goals are adjustable opens you up to a number of options.

Realistic. Just how it sounds. We want to make sure we set goals that are challenging, yet realistic. If you set a goal to make it to the NHL in a week, right before you lace up your first pair of skates, chances are you’re setting yourself up for failure. Make sure the goal requires a good amount of effort to reach, but can be met. (This is where adjustable comes into play. Not realistic? Adjust it. Bam)

Time-based. Last but not least, we have Father Time. This tenant is so important because, just like measurable, the more numbers and end-points we include in our goal the better off we are. Strapping a time limit on your goals increases focus and promises an efficient use of your time. Look at Goal B. The key words here are “today’s practice.”

Some other key ideas to remember when setting goals:

Keep goals positive: “I will” goals instead of “I won’t” goals.

Create more PROCESS-FOCUSED than OUTCOME-FOCUSED goals: When it’s all said and done, as much as we like to convince ourselves we do, we DO NOT have complete control over the outcome of most of our competitions. Standing in our way are other teams, refs, weather, fans, field conditions, illness, broken instruments, and a whole host of other uncontrollable factors that could potentially affect the outcome (big difference here between ‘uncontrollable factors’ and ‘excuses’. More on that to follow in the coming weeks.) Basing our perception of success or failure purely on the outcome sets us up for some heartache down the road. Try, rather, to set goals focused on the process; on things you can control. Some examples may include: your pre-performance routine, your focus and self-talk throughout the performance, the amount of sleep you get the night before, specific skills you would like to work on in the upcoming practice. The more you concentrate on the process, the happier and more confident you will be. I’m willing to bet you’ll discover the positive outcomes tend to take care of themselves.

WRITE YOUR GOALS DOWN: Vital. Do it.

TAKE THE TIME TO ANALYZE YOUR GOALS: Successful performers do not set goals once and never think about them again. Ohhhh no, no, no. Successful performers are constantly checking back on their goals, making adjustments when needed to ensure they are staying on the right track. Take the time, and put forth the effort to continuously analyze your goals.

Set short and long-term goals: You can set hourly goals if you feel the need. The possibilities are endless. A combination of short and long-term goals will ensure a solid focus for the entirety of your competitive requirements. Think about Olympians. How many goals do you think these athletes set and continue to analyze in order to stay focused during four years of training? I’d bet a pretty penny on “a bunch.”

Reward yourself! You worked hard. You set goals and stayed focused long enough to reach them. Throw yourself a bone every now and then. If not, all this jazz begins to feel like work. I’m guessing you enjoy your passion a whole lot more when it’s fun?

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

So, what do we think? Goals…good? Go ahead and give it a try. Remember, I’m not suggesting goals are only meant for performers. Goals serve us all well. Take some time, set some goals, and I’ll bet you notice your levels of focus, motivation, effort, enjoyment, concentration, and resilience increase dramatically. ‘Till next time!

1 Kirschenbaum, D. (1997). Mind matters: 7 steps to smarter sport performance. Cooper publishing group. Carmel, IN.

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