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FOCUS: Getting There from Here

bigstock-142631429Jennifer, a freelance financial advisor and a single mom with a six-month-old infant, could barely scrape together the money to cover her monthly living expenses. Looking back on that time, she says, “It was me against the world, with only a computer as my weapon”. Overwhelmed with anxiety and worry she put her head down and pumped out proposals for contract work with local businesses. Within 10 weeks she had signed up $10,000 worth of assignments. 20 months later she took a full-time job with her biggest client, pulling down a $100,000 a year salary.

Jennifer got SMART. She set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-defined long-term goals for herself: a $100,000 salary in her chosen profession within 20 months. To hit her long-term goal, she set a number of micro goals: send out 10 proposals over the next 10 days, make sure I have lined up enough work to keep me busy for 20 hours every work week.  You can do the same and here’s how.

Step #1: Learn how to set micro goals

The first thing to notice about Jenn’s story is it spans a year and a half in few statements. To attain the end job and income you want, or any other goal, you have to take small steps that add up to one giant leap. The key is to focus on micro goals. What are those? Micro goals are tiny goals that add up to a big life change. For example, research has shown that people who set long-term goals for weight loss are not successful with exercise. They don’t stick with it. The reason is that they cannot see results quickly enough to motivate them to continue. However, people who set micro goals or what are termed process goals are successful both short and long term with exercise. Process goals are short term, immediately based goals. For example, a process goal is “I will make five sales calls in the next two hours.” Successfully finishing that task makes you feel accomplished. It makes you feel as though you set a goal and reached it. By doing so, your mind is primed for success and you have taken one small step to big change. You might not get any new clients out of the cold calls, but you built your confidence and introduced yourself. The ability to set and execute micro goals leads to greater chances of success than simply stating large, elusive ill-defined goals.

Step #2: Get SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-defined)

Set Specific Goals

A specific goal is stated in one simple sentence like “I want to earn my college degree in biology.” In contrast, I want to work in the medical field is not specific enough.

Set Measurable Goals

A measurable goal is something that you can define and measure your progress in concrete terms over time like “I want to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks.” You will have to lose one pound per week which is doable and easily measured on the scale. An example of a goal you cannot measure is “I want to tone up.” We cannot measure “toning up”.

Set Attainable Goals

An attainable goal is a goal that can be attained like “I want to purchase a new TV in six months. I will save $125.00/month to do so.” That is easily done. In contrast, I want to enjoy space travel soon is not attainable for most us.

Set Realistic Goals

If you live in Hawaii and plan to be there for a while setting the goal of being an elite level downhill skier probably won’t work out well, but if you say “I want to learn how to surf within the next two months” that is realistic for you.

Set Time-Defined Goals

The single most important aspect of goal-setting is setting time limits and sticking to them! For example, to finish a Bachelor’s degree in four years for most degree plans have you take an average of 12 hours or four courses per term for four years straight. Concrete time stamps are a good thing for reaching goals. They impose time management and time limits on you.

With the New Year quickly approaching most people will be setting goals. Make sure that yours are SMART and include micro goals to motivate you along the way.

FOCUS: Getting There from Here

Amy Ashmore, PhD

Amy Ashmore holds a Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Timing Resistance Training: Programming the Muscle Clock for Optimal Performance (Human Kinetics, 2020), dozens of articles, blogs, training and continuing education programs recognized by National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), American Council on Exercise (ACE), and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Amy is former Sports Sciences faculty at Florida State University and the former Program Director for Sports Sciences at the American Military University. She is located in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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APA Reference
Ashmore, A. (2018). FOCUS: Getting There from Here. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Dec 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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