January 01, 2012

Forget Resolutions, Make SMARTER Goals

It's another new year and generally the time to set another resolution. How many times have you or someone you know set out to get in shape, quit smoking, be more organized, et cetera? And how often do those initial efforts fade over the course of January? In fact, according to Psychology Today, less than half of people who set a resolution for the new year continue to pursue them after 6 months.

So this year, let's forget about resolutions. After all, this word, defined as a firm decision to do or not do something, has an inherent all or nothing mentality that practically sets you up for failure. Instead of proclaiming your resolution for 2012, set some SMARTER goals this year.


SMARTER is an acronym often used in the business world to set goals for project, business, and personal development. It is a device that can serve as a guide to productive goal setting by helping you evaluate what you want, when and how you plan to attain it, and how realistic your plans are. Let's take for example a desire to get an internship at a major record label this year and go through each step.

S for Specific
A specific goal tells you exactly what has to happen for the goal to be accomplished. It addresses the who, what, where, when, and why and takes in to account your motivation, intention, and desires.
Using our example: Why do you want to intern at a major record label? Which one do you want to work at, or does it matter? Is there a suitable alternative? How do you plan to get this internship? What qualities and experience will you need to make that happen?

M for Measurable
A measurable goal includes benchmarks and ways to evaluate your progress. What steps must you accomplish on the way to your reaching your ultimate goal? How will you know you have been successful? So, if you're applying for an internship: When will you start your applications? When will you write and review your resume? Are there other skills you need to learn first? How often will you follow up?
A for Attainable
Is this goal actually realistic? Is it something within your reach with reasonable work and effort? Or is too far below your grasp? Perhaps your goal is too simplistic and you have no given yourself enough credit. Can you actually accomplish more? Returning to our example: Have you interned in the past? Do you have to gain experience somewhere else first? Are there skills you need to develop first?

R for Relevant
Is the goal you are working towards something you are interested in and willing to work towards? Is it actually something you could see yourself accomplishing? Using our internship example: Do you have time for an internship this year? Can you afford to work without pay right now? Are you willing to travel to another city if needed? Are you willing to do the hard work that is necessary as an intern? Is this really something you want?

T for Timely
What is the time frame for your goal and when do you plan to accomplish it by? When should each step along the way be done by? Will it take 3 months to achieve what you want or the entire year? With the intern example: When do you plan to intern? When do you plan to fill out applications? When do you plan to find or meet with an intern advisor?

Taking all of these steps into consideration hopefully you will begin with something simple like "I plan to intern at a major label this year" and finish with something like: "I plan to spend 3 months during my summer term interning at Universal or Warner because they work with several of my favorite musicians. I will meet with my advisor in January and begin to prepare my resume and cover letter. I will also attend networking events and reach out to family, friends, professors, and LinkedIn contacts to see if anyone knows someone who works at either of these companies. I will apply to at least 5 internships at each company beginning in February and will follow up every 2-3 weeks thereafter. I have previous experience interning at a booking agent, a major radio station, and an indie record label so this goal seems attainable and I have relevant experience. I am willing to do the work and will set and follow a budget so I can afford to work without pay for three months. I live in Connecticut and can easily commute to New York City but I am not willing to work in Nashville, Los Angeles, or other regional offices. I will know I have been successful if I am offered an internship by April." This brings us to the last two letters.

E for Evaluate and R for Re-valuate
These last two steps emphasize the importance of continuing to evaluate your progress and wants as you go. Are you moving along as you intended? Do you still wish to accomplish the same goal or have your interests changed? If you did not achieve your goal in time, why not? Can you set a new time line and begin working towards it again while learning from your mistakes? Just because you do not succeed the first time or move as quickly as you would have liked does not mean you should give up. It simply means you need to continue to learn, set new goals, and move forward.

Good luck and happy 2012!