What is a SMART goal? Really, it’s just a clever acronym, but once you’ve experienced one for yourself, it’s hard to see lesser goals as being worth your time. They aren’t always easy to come up with, but when they do – POW! – Catalina (effing) Wine Mixer. The sky’s the limit. Here’s my gearhead’s explanation of SMART goals.
Most of this article was originally published on my personal blog back in 2010, but considering our recent story on why we buy new cars, I thought it might be good to bring it back here on Gearbox Magazine. SMART goals are a simple, yet powerful way to make sure we get the most out of our projects.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Notice I said “and.” SMART goals are smart because they are all of the above. There is a great deal of power in SMART goals, but if you omit any part of the formula, you limit potential benefit to yourself (and likely wasted a lot of time trying to come up with a half-assed goal).
Comparing SMART goals to lesser goals
If you’re not familiar with SMART goals, you might like to see an example of how they are better than lesser goals. Stand and deliver! Here you go!
SMART: I will build the most powerful all-motor Mitsubishi Eclipse in North America by the end of the year.
This goal is specific as hell.
This goal is measurable. On December 31st, I will either have the dyno slips to prove my Eclipse is more powerful than Mr. Bullett’s (or any other Manchurian Candidates which might surface toward the end of the year), or I won’t.
This goal is attainable. Well, maybe. Mark has been consistently breaking this record almost monthly for the last few years, but it’s not like he’s got a NASA rocket scientist locked in his garage or owns an Unobtanium mine. He knows his stuff and works hard to keep pushing the limits. Enough homework and elbow grease, and I stand a good chance of besting him.
This goal is realistic. Okay. We’re talking about beating Mark Bullett at his own game, here, so maybe this isn’t the best example, but you get the idea. “First Mitsubishi Eclipse on the Moon” is unrealistic. If a goal isn’t challenging, it’s a lazy-ass cop-out, but while anything truly could be possible, you have to know your limits and set goals which challenge you to raise them a little bit at a time.
Finally, this goal is timely. I will do this by the end of the year.
Now, let’s look at a lesser goal.
Generic: I will build a ten second Eclipse.
Way to go, Spilner. This is about as useless a goal as you can get. Sure, drag racing is implied (we’ve all seen The Fast and the Furious by now), but that’s about it. Maybe you drag race all the time. Maybe you tow your flat black DSM all over the region during the season and very seriously drag race, in which case breaking into the tens could be a very solid goal. Then again, maybe you drive this car to community college and your part time job at the mall, only getting out to the track a couple times a year.
Look back at the SMART goal, then look at the generic one. A “ten second Eclipse.” How much time have you allotted to make it a reality? Oh, you didn’t set a deadline? Well, then! You better dump truckloads of cash into this thing right away because nothing else matters. So close, no matter how far, right?
Is it attainable? Of course it is! And therein lies part of the problem. We’ve seen hundreds of DSMers cutting 10 second quarter-miles in the last decade, so we all know it’s absolutely possible, but how realistic is a 10 second car for you, in your situation?
(Note: The black Eclipse pictured above is that of Kim Schuenman, She is a real racer with a real race car. Just so we’re clear on that one.)
Coming up with SMART goals can be difficult, but if you don’t have a genuine understanding of your unique situation, you’re building upon a flawed foundation. To thine own self be true!
Before you even begin to shop for parts, ask yourself questions like these:
How do I most often use my car?
Where do I most often use my car?
What would make my car the most fun most of the time?
I’ve been working with SMART goals for a couple years or so now and I’ve seen how they work. Being able to track your progress toward your goal helps keep the motivation up to press on regardless. And there is no feeling like knowing – without any doubts – you achieved what you set out to do.
Coming up with SMART goals isn’t always easy, but they are well worth your time. What are you current goals? Can you make them SMART? Would you like help? Share a goal in the comments and let’s get you a specific target to aim for!