“To-do lists are great if you use them correctly, but when people say things like ‘I sometimes write down easy items I can cross off right away, because it makes me feel good,’ that’s exactly the wrong way to create a to-do list” - Timothy Pychcyl (129)
We’ve all heard of SMART Goals - Specific Measureable Achievable Realistic and Timeline. I think I recall first hearing about them when I was in school. I don’t recall what age, but it may have been in middle or high school. In talking about SMART goals, we lay out a plan for a goal we want to achieve and break it down into those 5 pieces - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timeline. With these 5 parts created, we then have a plan laid out in front of us that helps us tackle any goal. Charles Duhigg in Smarter Faster Better argues that SMART goals are not enough. With SMART goals, one can get in this mindset of only focusing on the short term achievable goals. Like the quote above, if someone is just creating SMART goals and wanting to check off the items in the list, that person then loses sight of other aspects that can be improved. Setting a smart goal to improve sales by 20% this quarter is a good goal, but if in doing that goal one loses sight of a bigger picture, maybe building a network that will last many years to continue selling to, then the long term progress of SMART goals is missed.
Duhigg then crafts a better way to create goals by combining two different systems - creating a Stretch goal and then combining that with SMART goals. He wants you to think big, to dream big - “if you do know how to get there - it’s not a stretch target” (125). Stretch goals should be goals that seem almost impossible. If you try and lay out the steps right now, you wouldn’t quite know the path to get there. But, at the same time, they also need to be a little in reach too. There is a fine line between a Stretch goal and an impossible goal. When a Stretch goal is created, then you can start crafting the SMART goals that would go along with it. You can start creating “proximal goals” - smaller ambitions and tasks that help one build up to succeeding. So if your stretch goal is to run a marathon, a very good proximal goal would be to 5 miles without stopping. Then when that is completed you run 10 miles without stopping, so on and so forth. These proximal goals build upon each other to help reach the Stretch goal.
What does this all mean? Next time you do a yearly review with your boss or you are trying to accomplish something, set a Stretch goal first. Something that seems almost impossible. Then break that down into smaller SMART goals that will build up and help you achieve that Stretch. You’ve got to Stretch and be SMART about it.