Thinking Backward Is a Must
We can’t complete the past until we acknowledge what we’ve already experienced.
Completing the past is an essential part of designing a better future. “Reasoning flows not only forward,” as psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Dale T. Miller say, “but also backward, from the experience to what it reminds us of or makes us think about.” They call this “the power of backward thinking.”
The After-Action Review
The US Army has a helpful backward-thinking method. It’s called the After-Action Review. First developed in 1981, America’s armed forces have been using it ever since to improve performance and get better at what they do. After an event, the goal is to understand what happened, why it happened, and how they can improve. Lots of businesses use this process, and we can use it too. This kind of backward thinking will put you in an excellent frame of mind as you get ready to design your future and experience your best year ever.
- State What You Wanted to Happen
- Acknowledge What Actually Happened
- Learn from the Experience
- Adjust Your Behavior
Great Goals Check Seven Boxes
You’ve probably heard of SMART goals. They have five different attributes, one for each letter of the SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound). Others have modified and expanded it over the years.
Let’s dive into the seven attributes of SMARTER system now.
Attribute 1: Specific
The first attribute of SMARTER goals is that they’re specific. Focus is power. You can drive the same amount of water through two pipes and create greater force in one of them just by reducing its diameter. That’s similar to what happens when we narrow our goals.
Attribute 2: Measurable
The second attribute of SMARTER goals is that they are measurable. In other words, they have built-in criteria you can measure yourself against. This is important for two reasons. The first is the most obvious. How do you know that you’ve reached the goal? The second reason is that you need to be able to measure yourself against the goal. An objective target allows you to set markers and milestones along the way.
Attribute 3: Actionable
Goals are fundamentally about what you’re going to do. As a result, it’s essential to get clear on the primary action when formulating your goals. How?
Attribute 4: Risky
Normally we talk about setting goals that are realistic. That’s usually what the R in SMART refers to. But if we start by asking what’s realistic, we’re likely to set the bar too low.
Attribute 5: Time-keyed
The fifth attribute of SMARTER goals is that they’re time-keyed. This could be a deadline, frequency, or a time trigger. For example, if I just had the goal “Read more,” it’s missing a sense of urgency. It could happen over the next ten years. It could happen over the next twenty years.
Attribute 6: Exciting
The sixth attribute of SMARTER goals is that they’re exciting. They inspire you, in other words. Researchers say that we stand a better chance of reaching our goals if we are internally motivated to do so. External motivations might work for a while, but if we’re not getting something intrinsic from the goal, we’ll lose interest.
Attribute 7: Relevant
That brings us to the seventh and final attribute of SMARTER goals. Effective goals are relevant to your life. This is about alignment, and it comes at the end of the list because it’s a good way to gut-check your goals before committing to them.
Make It Happen
#1 The Art of the Start
You don’t have to see the end from the beginning. In fact, you can’t if your goal is big enough. And the good news is that you don’t need to. All you have to see is the next step. Any goal is manageable one action at a time.
When we let the task grow and become daunting in our minds, it can leave us feeling indecisive, discouraged, and even paralyzed with panic. What’s the alternative?
#2 Do the Easiest Task First
You’re looking for one discrete task. You basically want to put the bar so low, you can fall over it. Then once that task is done, you can set the next. I don’t care how big the goal is—it can be accomplished if you take it one step at a time. The sample goal templates in the back have space to break down your big goals into next steps.
What if your next step feels uncertain? Don’t sweat it. Just try something and don’t worry if it’s wrong. The goal may be risky, but the next action isn’t. You’re stepping out, but not far. If it doesn’t work out, you just take another step. Stick with the running example. Let’s say you call around and can’t locate a coach. Oh, well. Now try posting on Facebook and seeing if any friends have a recommendation. Maybe there is a local running club you can join and train with. Whatever the situation, try something, and if you get stuck, try something else. Sometimes you have to try several different things before one works.
#3 Seek Outside Help
Sometimes we just can’t land on a next step because we’re not aware of our options or we don’t know what it takes to make the progress we want. The good news is, for almost every goal we want to accomplish, someone else knows how to get there—or at least has a better hunch than you. It may be a friend, an accountability partner, or a professional. You don’t have to start from scratch.
#4 Commit to Act
Whether you determine your next step yourself or resort to outside help, you next need to schedule it and commit to act. If it doesn’t get on your calendar or task list, it’s probably not going to happen. You’re never going to find time in the leftover hours of the day to accomplish your goals. You have to make time for it. You have to make it a priority and keep it like an appointment, just like you would keep with anyone else.
#5 Schedule Regular Goal Reviews
One of the main challenges we face with reaching our goals is losing track of them. We get distracted and sidetracked by life, and they slip out of focus. We can lose months of the year before we realize we’re not making progress. A regular goal review process can fix that problem.
For your daily review, scan your list of goals. You want to keep your goals fresh in your mind and also think through a few specific tasks for the day that will bring you closer to achieving them.
For your weekly review, scan your goals with a special focus on your key motivations. Conduct a quick After-Action Review of the prior week. Review the next actions for each of your goals and determine what three outcomes you must reach in the coming week to achieve them.
For the quarterly review the key is to (1) rejoice if you’ve completed your goal or passed a milestone, (2) recommit if you haven’t, (3) revise the goal if you can’t recommit to it, (4) remove the goal if you can’t revise, and finally, (5) replace the goal with another you want to achieve.