I love setting goals; and have loved it since I was a little girl with plaits. I vividly recall being around 9 years old stating I was going to go to Julliard School of Music to play the flute. Over the years my goals changed a bit but I was still making goals. (I’m lookin' at you 15 year Ashley René who dreamed of being a serial entrepreneur.)
I was unaware of SMART goals at the time. It wasn’t until I was in college that I was exposed to this method of goal setting. A professor introduced it to me as a way to plan better.
The method was great. Very well structured and easy for me to follow through on my goals. For those of you unfamiliar with the SMART goal method, here it is:
T: Time Bound
This tried and true method has helped me read 10 books one year, run a marathon another year, get amazing promotions at work multiple years and become a better business woman last year. But I wonder if this method has kept me from really reaching my full potential.
You see, I take exception to one word in the SMART goal setting method – Realistic.
Oxford Dictionary defines realistic as “having or showing a sensible and practical idea of what can be achieved or expected.” Just reading that definition gets me worked up. It is #plainjane #boring
What is the fun in living a life that is merely “sensible” or “practical?” The world has NEVER been changed by individuals who acted sensibly or practically. The world changes when people take the road less traveled. Sure, lives can be impacted by sensible and practical people, but the people who make the biggest impact on someone’s life are the people who dare to be different and do what seems impossible.
The world has given us clear directions on what is realistic and to be expected. Wake up. Go to work. Perform your job as best you can. Leave work. Go home. Tend to any people or pets you have. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. You can throw in fun activities, but they need to fit into what is acceptable.
If this makes you happy then I am happy for you. For me however, I can no longer do realistic. Realistic has come to bore me and stifle my potential.
This year, as I make my goals I am still going to employ the SMAAT (pronounced SM-AHT) goal setting method
T: Time Bound
Your goals should be AUDACIOUS! They should seem so impossible when you share them people will be a little confused. Audacious goals make us work harder and keep us dreaming, just as we did when we were a kid. See, I am sure many of you once dreamed big and bold but somewhere along the way you were told that big and bold dreams weren’t for people “like you.” A female. A kid from poverty or from a small town. A kid of color or with a disability. And like that, your dreams became smaller and more practical, reasonable.
I love this quote from Steve Jobs, "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." Safe keeps us safe, but audacious can take us places. When executed smartly, audacious can change the course of history.
You were meant to do great things. You were meant to have happiness and success as defined by you. Now, you still need a have a plan to get there but do not let the enormity of your dreams stop you from pursuing them. Could you imagine if our trailblazers listened to those around them telling them to just stop: Sojourner Truth, Booker T Washington, Henry Ford, Madame CJ Walker, The Wilbur Brothers, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep.
This is your year my friend. Whatever you have been holding back on, this is the year it comes out. It is your year to break personal records and impact the lives of those around you. It is your year to see gains in areas of your life that haven’t seen gains in ages. This is your year. Don't be afraid of your audacious goals - go after them and make it happen.
We want “it” badly. We emphatically believe that having “it” will change our lives drastically. We dream of “it” frequently, fantasizing about what we will do when we have “it.” And then, we get “it.”
Elation rushes through our body. A smile plasters our face. Our minds are blown that we finally have “it.” We praise God for “it,” thanking Him for answering our prayers. We share the news with everyone we know.
For a while we are happy. Time passes however and the joy we felt for “it” is gone. The newness wears off. “It” becomes normal and sure enough “it” is replaced by “IT.”
Sound familiar. It is what psychologists call the Hedonic Treadmill or hedonic adaptation. It is how psychologist describe the we treat happiness, suggesting the following cycle: desire -> work towards desire -> obtain desire -> increased happiness because you obtained desire -> adapt to new way of life because of obtaining desire -> enter new desire -> repeat cycle.
We often believe happiness is found in increased pay, more stuff, job promotion, changed living situation, and other external factors. This is not to say that desiring more is wrong but it is to say that fixating on external factors to make us happy is dangerous.
When people stay on this cycle of always wanting, they never truly feel happy because they are always wanting more. They rarely feel satisfied because they are focused on next instead of now. In a Pew Research of various countries in 2014, it was noted that when the surveyor asked the participant if they were having a good day, more people in the poor countries said yes, over those in wealthy countries. That is certainly a phenomenon worth noting.
So, what can you do to avoid a dangerous trip on the Hedonic Treadmill?
1. Focus on Relationships
The more you can build positive, supportive relationships, the better perspective you can have. Relationships are the backbone to who we are. We rely on our network of friends and family to be our rock. Focus on the beauty in your relationships and nurture them. Steer clear of comparing yourself to those you build relationships with. Enjoy each other’s company and relish in what you both are going through in life.
2. Focus on Being Grateful
Research over the past couple of decades has shown us that the more gratitude we routinely express, the healthier and happier we are. Keep a daily record of what you are grateful for. Intentionally share what you are grateful for with others and encourage them to do the same. Emotions are contagious, so share a good one.
3. Focus on Being Present
Oh boy do I struggle with this one. One of my Gallup Strengths is “futuristic,” so my mind loves going to the future and hanging out there. The danger in this however is that I sometimes miss what is right in front of me, what I have now. Dream so that you are motivated to act on your dreams; but bring yourself back to reality and acknowledge the amazing things in your life at that moment. Difficulty finding amazing things? Reel yourself into being grateful for the journey.
4. Focus on the Journey
If your plan is to live a long life, strap in for the ride. There will be wins and losses you will go through. Take time to appreciate them all. Strive towards the goals you desire and enjoy the journey of getting to them. Enjoy the ups and downs. Enjoy the uncertainties. Enjoy the failures. Enjoy the celebrations. Take life as it comes but always remember it is a journey.
You deserve to be happy – no doubt about it. I simply caution you to remain aware of how you position happiness. Is it dependent upon someone? Is it tied to an event? Are you relying on something else to be the catalyst to your happiness? Once you obtain it, will it truly make you happy or will you adapt and get stuck and become a catatonic zombie on the Hedonic Treadmill?