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Do you ever go from one year to another and feel like you’re never making any progress toward achieving your goals or doing the things that you say you want to do? Do you even have a clear and detailed idea of what you want to do? Too many of us (myself included) set stupid goals more often than not, goals that are overly ambiguous and not well defined, which is why it can be helpful learn about betters ways to make goals, learn about why are SMART goals important, and how these types of goals can better help us achieve our travel dreams.
First we’ll discuss what stupid goals are, how you can avoid, and ultimately replace them SMART goals.
Some examples of common stupid goals would be:
These goals, while ALL worthwhile pursuits, are all difficult to measure, track, and ultimately to determine whether or not your goal was a success or not. Their ambiguity actually works against us in terms of achieving them…
Let’s say another year from now, you managed to take a small trip, save a few bucks, lose a few pounds, or whatever… Was it a success? Or was it a failure? Without properly defining the goal in the first place, it makes it all too easy to just chalk it up to “meh” more or less… Or maybe this year?
Let’s take another non SMART goals example and say that you want to take an extended trip and backpack through South America to learn Spanish.
That’s a slightly better goal than those mentioned above. Certainly clearer and more tangible than when people say their goal is to “travel more,” but there is still definitely room for improvement by turning it into a SMART goal.
What are SMART Goals?
The S.M.A.R.T. in SMART goals is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
Let’s break each of those down elements while also answering the common question about why are SMART goals important.
SPECIFIC means just that, be very specific in your goals. “Travel more” is terrible as far as goals go. “I want to backpack across Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia for three months.” Alright, now we are getting more specific. But there is still room for important
MEASURABLE means that your goal can be objectively measured for success or failure. Travel more or become a better guitar player is difficult if not impossible to measure. But again when you say visit Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia for X amount of time before X date, it’s pretty easy to say whether you did or didn’t accomplish it.
ACHIEVABLE stresses the fact that the goal is both realistic and doable. Having your debut record go Platinum by the end of the year when you haven’t even picked up a guitar or started a band yet is just setting yourself up for failure. Setting the goal of traveling around the world when you’re still up to your eyeballs in debt and unemployed also probably isn’t a great goal to have.
It’s great to have a stretch goal (something slightly are even quite out of reach), but it’s very important that you perceive the goal as being possible with concerted effort in order for you to even pursue it. Stretch goals that are way out there can be a good strategy at times, because even if you come up short, you may find that you made much more progress than you otherwise would have. The idea of 10x goals is popular where instead of saying you want to make $200 per month freelancing, you set the goal of $2,000, for example, and in the process of thinking bigger you are more likely to achieve and even exceed your more realistic goal.
But for many people these big stretch goals can kill momentum and motivation. If you really truly believe that something is impossible, you are unlikely to even pursue it.
RELEVANT means that your goal should actually matter, is worthwhile to you, and is pursued at the right time. If your goal is to re-watch every episode of Friends in chronological order… Well, is that a goal really worth pursuing? Will Monica and Phoebe get you closer to the type of life or lifestyle you want?
If you want to travel, where is that really motivates you to take action? That’s why “Travel More” doesn’t really work… That goal could be met by going to Omaha, Nebraska, but if I don’t care about Omaha, I’m not going to be motivated to save, sacrifice, or make it happen.
TIME-BOUND means that you have a deadline or time frame for accomplishing your goal, IE one month from now, one year from now, or some other specific date on the calendar. Your goals should not be open-ended or they risk being filed away in the “someday” drawer and lost forever. We’ll talk a little more about different recommended timelines below.
So, Why Are SMART Goals Important?
While we’ve already touched on why SMART goals are important, let’s break it down again, super simple-like. SMART Goals are superior than normal vague goals because:
- They are highly specific.
- They are ultimately measurable in terms of pass/fail.
- They are bound by realistic time limits.
- They are relevant to your life and help you live deliberately.
- They are possible because you are choosing something realistic.
Break Each SMART Goal Down
So let’s say that you set a SMART goal of traveling to Colombia for three months, one year from now. That’s an excellent starting point as a motivational goal, but you need to then break down that goal further into the steps that will ALLOW you to do that.
For most people this means money…
So first you should determine how much you need per month, which in this case would be at least $1,200 per month for a budget traveler, or a total of $3,600 for three months and another $700 for a plane ticket.
A SMART goal to save money might be to cut expenses by X% so you can sock away $358 per month over the next year to cover those expenses.
Mountain climbing is a strange activity, but it has important implications for goal setting. We don heavy packs and walk up big snowy peaks for many hours or days to momentarily stand on the top, only to turn around and head straight back down.
Inherently it is a pointless activity, but what it teaches you about perseverance, risk, dedication, and goal setting is extremely valuable in all facets of life. And man, the view from the top is something you won’t soon forget!
Here’s the thing with mountain climbing though, you look up and you see this massive peak before you, at times the scale of the undertaking can be overwhelming. You need to break the mountain down into smaller chunks, like reaching camp for the night, passing that rock outcropping, etc.
Then you just have to put one foot in front of the other, step-by-step. That is literally how you climb mountains.
Setting big ambitious goals is the same thing.
Your Ultimate Goal may be to quit your job and travel (The Summit), but before you can do that you need to pay off debt (Reach Basecamp) and build your travel savings (High Camp), before you even have the chance.
This is why it is crucial that you identify the sub-goals that will enable you to achieve your big goal and concentrate your immediate focus on these foundational goals. You can and should be able to make a great deal of progress that will bring you closer to this BIG goal, especially if you can make each sub-goal a SMART goal.
Even if your Ultimate Goal changes or evolves over time, the steps you take in the meantime will put you in place to do whatever you ultimately decide, even if it is in a totally different direction.
If you hope to have a location independent business while you are traveling across Western Europe and you’re currently in deep debt and barely making ends meet, then you might look at the mountain before you and deem it impossible.
We need to break down the biggest goals into smaller goals or milestones like paying off your debt, landing your first freelance client, etc. Each sub-goal is part of the big picture goal, which is your inspiration, and each smaller goal should be a SMART goal itself.
Sit down and put pen to paper and really flesh out the sub-goals needed to make your big picture goal happen. We need to break down realistic timelines for each as well: how long to pay off your debt? Then how long until you can save X amount of money to leave your job?
If as part of breaking away you first need to pay off debt your SMART goal would be something along the lines of pay off $6,000 in credit card debt within 12 months by paying an extra $500 per month.
I’m a big proponent of one-year goals because I think they provide a great time frame. It entails planning for the long-term, but it’s not so far off that it seems completely intangible like a three or five-year goal. One year will come and go quite quick, but all of us also know that a lot can happen or be accomplished in just one year — in fact, most of us underestimate the amount of progress that can be made in one year with concerted effort every day.
It can difficult for most of us to really focus on longer term goals (not that those aren’t also helpful to have) such as a five year goal, because it can seem impossibly far away and we are likely to lose focus. Whereas one year provides us with a more manageable time line.
Within these one year long goal time frames, we should break that goal down into monthly or quarterly milestones. Using your calendar (either digital or physical) schedule check-ins to revisit your milestones and see how you did. If you fell short, you know you need to either readjust your timeline or change your actions for the following month.
If you exceeded your milestone, that’s great! Perhaps you underestimated yourself, but that doesn’t mean you should slack off the next month.
A great read on this idea is the 12 Week Year which aims to reduce the timeline of these year long goals into more manageable 12 week chunks.
As mentioned earlier though, being able to see consistent progress is extremely important. So when possible always break your goals down into a daily habit where possible.
If you are trying to save money for this career break, that might mean not spending more than $10 per day. Track your progress on a daily basis. If you fail one day and spend more, don’t give up, just get back on the horse.
Achieving Your Travel Goals
I don’t believe in New Years Resolutions and all that, but I do believe in the power and effectiveness of setting SMART Goals at any time of the year, it certainly doesn’t have to be in January.
Of course, just having the goals doesn’t mean you will actually achieve them, I’ve certainly come up short on more occasions than I’d like to admit, which is why it is important to identify the various steps that will led to the success of your big picture goals, but ultimately I still make forward progress.
Have you ever used SMART Goals to help achieve what you wanted out of life, whether that is in regards to travel, finances, professional goals, or so forth?
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