Setting goals in your running is smart or should I say SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. The SMART criteria actually have their roots in industry where it is a common mnemonic guide to aid people in setting objectives. While serving as a common tool for project and resource managers to set key performance goals for their team, the application of these criteria is just as applicable away from the daily grind where the goal oriented runner is looking to structure their personal pursuits.
So how do SMART goals work? Well it is pretty straight forward but there is some helpful guidance below.
Specific – When you set goals, we need to be specific as opposed to general. If you make goals too general they become some so amorphous that do not provide the structure and focus that is necessary to achieve them. A good way to set a specific goal is to answer some of the standard “W” questions of “what,” “where,” and sometimes even “why.” If you can answer those questions you have a good set of data to set your goal. An example of a specific running goal would be to finish the Chicago Marathon or run 2000 miles in a calendar year.
Measurable – Effective goals have to be measurable otherwise how do you know when you have reached it? That is what makes quantitative goals so much more effective than qualitative ones. For example, if one has a goal of raising $5000 for cancer awareness for the Seattle Marathon it is a whole lot easier to know you achieved success than if your goal is set around something un-quantifiable no matter how worthwhile such as improving one’s overall Chi. That said, often when we are venturing into a new field, our goals can be somewhat undefined in our own minds so it is easier to set a qualitative goal. If you do that you should take a step back and you will find that your qualitative goal can be bounded by a quantitative goal. A few years back when I dusted off my running shoes for the first time in a long time it was not to achieve any specific quantifiable goal but rather my mission was to “get healthier and increase my well being both physically and emotionally” – how do you set a measurable goal for that? There are a lot of ways you can go but I chose to set a goal to run a specific marathon 18 months in the future. That goal was measurable and as I executed the plan to achieve that goal I can promise that while I cannot exactly objectively prove it, I have achieved the over arching mission of why I got into this in the first place.
Achievable – This is a hard one for some people, especially guys. The ladies tend to be more realistic and rational when it comes to expectations. I do not know why that is that way but the reality is that when you set goals we have to be realistic. There is nothing wrong with setting a stretch goal but we need to honest with ourselves so that we can achieve it. If you do not achieve your goals or feel along the way that you will never get there, it will do nothing but build discouragement. Looking at some of my upcoming goals, if I had one to set a world record or win the Boston Marathon, well that isn’t going to happen no matter how hard I try and setting a goal like that would either discourage me or more likely just be so unrealistic I would not pay any attention to trying to actually achieve it. Now a stretch goal of trying to run under 3 hours in a marathon, that is more realistic. It would take a lot of hard work, the alignment of most of the planets and perhaps the recitation of a few ancient rituals but is realistic to achieve.
Relevant – This one is sort of intuitive and for the most part will take care of itself but when you set goals you need to make them relevant to what you want to accomplish. If your goal is to lose weight setting a goal to make your bed every morning is probably not going to do a whole lot for you in terms of achieving what you are trying to accomplish. If you want to PR in a 5K, having your spouse take your kids run a mile every day without you probably is not going to help that much. So what is the over arching objective of what you are trying to accomplish – the goal should be set to support that objective.
Time-bound – This is important to ensuring that goals are met. If they are not time-bound there is no near-term urgency to actually do anything. By setting a concrete date by which the goal must be achieved it allows you to set a concrete plan in place to achieve that goal. You are probably better than me but if I had infinite time to accomplish something what I hear is that I have infinite time to procrastinate the achievement of that goal. What typically works for me is a set a goal based on the specific running of a race that takes care of the time bound portion of the goal. For example, loose 10 pounds by the Boston Marathon or run the White River 50 in 2013 – that gives you something concrete to shoot for and structure your plans around.
We all have goals, you have goals, I have goals, setting goals is the whole basis for over improvement as runners. The only admonition that I have when setting goals is let’s just make them SMART…