“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.” ~ Author Unknown
I loved watching reruns of the old TV show “Get Smart” when I was a kid. The series highlighted the adventures (read that: slipshod shenanigans) of Secret Agent 86, Maxwell Smart. Talk about a man without a plan! Max wouldn’t know a good plan if it called him on his shoe phone. He wouldn’t know a good plan if it screamed at him under the Cone of Silence. He wouldn’t know a…okay, I’ll stop. The point is, what made that show funny was that most of the time, Max didn’t have the slightest clue what he was doing, but he did it anyway, and so went bumbling into every situation with the bravado and confidence of a complete boob. It was his faithful partner, Agent 99, who generally won the day and kept Max from danger, but because she had a thing for the guy, she always let him take the glory.
Of course what makes for funny TV is not nearly so fun in real life. Not having a plan, or worse yet, having a plan that doesn’t work but trying to follow it over and over again anyway is absolutely no fun at all. Yet all too often, that’s what we do when we try to make change real. Like Sisyphus we push against that boulder again and again thinking, This should work. This really should work! And that’s the problem, because it should. Or rather, it could.
See, that’s the thing about plans: There are lots and lots of them out there that could theoretically work. I mean, some are ridiculous of course, but most are…well, pretty feasible. They make sense. They couldwork. Whether you’re looking for a plan to grow your business, get out of debt, find the love of your life, change careers or get in the best shape of your life, you are, right at this moment, one Google search away from finding a dizzying array of pretty reasonable, fairly believable strategic plans to help get you there. So what’s the problem?
In my experience, there are two reasons most plans fail us. One I’ve already pointed to in a previous post — We think the plan is all we need and neglect the other essentials of anger, having a crystal clear dream, engaging our faith, and letting love lead the way (which I’ll talk about next week). But the other reason is this: To really make a significant change real in the world, you need a plan that does more than simply make it possible for you to succeed; you need a plan that makes it difficult for you to fail. And that sort of plan is much rarer…not because it’s harder to create, but because it takes a lot more courage to do (and thus, it’s harder to sell).
So, here you go, time for some truth telling. If you want a plan for change that’s actually going to work, it needs to be built on a foundation of SMART Goals. Each step in the plan needs to include ALL of the following elements:
- S — Specific: Not, “To lose weight” but “To go biking 5 times a week for 1-hour at a time, and practice healthier eating habits by eating vegetables or fruit at every meal and recording everything I eat every day until I drop drop 10 lbs of fat.”
- M — Measurable: If you’re goal is specific enough, it will be measurable. But basically, you need to be able to answer the question, “How will I know that I’ve reached my goal?”
- A — Accountable: Without question, this is the most important element of a successful plan, and the hardest for most people to employ. You need to make yourself accountable to at least two other people, and your accountability needs to have real rewards for success and (possibly, if it works for you) real costs for falling short of your goal. Some of my clients reward themselves with a professional massage each week or month they meet their goals, and pay their accountability partners a chunk of money each week or month they don’t reach their goals. (The partners generally pass the money on to a charity of their choosing.)
- R — Realistic: You have to do your homework. Research how long a change like the one you’re proposing actually takes. Avoid magical thinking. If you’re going to err, err on the side of giving yourself more time than you think you’ll need. Set yourself up for success, not failure. Make each step easily achievable, and let them build on each other gradually over time. Realistic also means you need to get some honest feedback about whether your dream is really feasible. You may want to be a professional singer, but before enacting a plan to get there, you need to get some honest professional feedback about whether you genuinely have the level of talent required for that job.
- T — Time Bound: In other words, you need deadlines. You need goal dates. You need actual mile-markers on an actual calendar that give you something specific to aim for and tell you that you’re actually making progress. For those who prefer to “feel” your way intuitively through a process of change, okay, go ahead. But know that it will take you three to five times longer to reach your goal than it will those who employ accountable deadlines, if you ever reach your goal at all. Honestly, I find that most people who say they work better without deadlines are really just trying to avoid the risk of failing.
To make change real, you need a solid plan. And that plan needs to be SMART, not DUMB. SMART plans are not harder to set up, but they are harder to do, because they commit you to change. They make it difficult for you to bail or fail. But isn’t that what, deep down, you actually want?
“You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong, and it’s very present.” ~ Bono
Note: This post is part of a series. To go to the first entry in this series, just click here. And if you find this entry interesting, please send a link to your friends or share it on Facebook. I’d appreciate it! Next week: Love!