Let’s set aside S.M.A.R.T. goals for a moment. Not every goal needs to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic *and* Time-bound. Here are three types of goals that may be even more helpful than S.M.A.R.T. goals, and some strategies for adopting them:
✅ Habit Goals: Habit goals don’t have an end date. Instead they reflect behaviors that you want to adopt for the foreseeable future. Habit Goals are leading indicators most directly tied to your own actions, and two things can keep you from reaching them: 1) Your memory 2) Your choices.
To empower your memory, James Clear recommends a technique called “Habit Stacking” in his book Atomic Habits. The Habit Stacking decision looks something like this: “When I (perform some existing habit) I will (perform my new habit.)” This technique uses your existing behavior as the cue to trigger your memory for the new habit you want to adopt.
To empower your choices, be sure your new habit is one that stands for an identity that you wish to have. For example a habit of tracking my calories consumed at every meal may support my identity as one who is healthy and fit for service.
✅ Outcome Goals: Outcome goals also don’t have an end date, but they’re a bit more removed from your own actions than habit goals. Outcome goals can help you evaluate how well you’re sticking to your habit goals, or how well your habit goals are serving your desired identity.
An effective outcome goal is a measurable lagging indicator that a) you have been effective at maintaining your habit goals and b) your habit goals are effective at achieving the outcomes you want. When you realize you’re not meeting your outcome goal, then it’s time to evaluate the usefulness of and your faithfulness to the habit goals that support it.
An example of an outcome goal may be to maintain a BMI between 23 and 25. Like the habit goals I mentioned earlier, this outcome goal also supports an identity of one who is healthy and fit for service. But instead of being a direct choice, it is an outcome of other choices related to diet, exercise, sleep, and stress.
✅ Achievement Goals: Achievement goals come with a target date. An achievement goal may be a way-point on the path to an outcome goal. It may also serve as motivation to help make your new habit goals sticky.
An example of a health-related achievement goal may be to fit into a specific suit or dress in time for an anniversary cruise or formal celebration. Another may be to participate in and complete a specific half-marathon.
One caution with achievement goals is that their benefits can be short-lived unless they were tied to habit goals and outcome goals that remain important to you. To reach your achievement goal and get the most benefit from it, try to make it a natural outcome of habits and outcomes you want to maintain in your life anyway, even without the achievement.