Now that we know that discipline is how goals are accomplished and lives are changed, we have to decide where we’re headed. What is your goal? Speaking personally, my goal is to build a career of teaching self discipline to others so that they can build the lives they love, and I can have a job that I love and feel good doing. It’s fine to have large goals like this that aren’t one exact action or accomplishment; they’ll give you a direction for setting your smaller goals, because the smaller goals are what matter. But your initial goal is likely big and vague and intimidating. What do we do about that?
Have you ever had to tackle a large project, be it cleaning the entire house, cooking Thanksgiving dinner for your family of 63, or getting all 14 homework assignments due next week done by their deadlines? You stand there (or more likely sit, if we’re honest) facing what feels like a MASSIVE mountain of work standing between you and your goal. How do you climb up this mountain? You’ve never climbed a mountain before. Well, I’m not sure how you accomplished it all that time, but I recommend breaking it into smaller chunks. Smaller goals aren’t so intimidating and reward you with a feeling of accomplishment regularly, instead of leaving you constantly worried about how you’ll get to the top of the mountain and feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything meaningful. I’m sure you have some mountain goals in mind already. Maybe, like me, you’d like to change careers completely. Maybe you’d like to lose 75 pounds and run a marathon. Maybe you’d like to makeover your whole house. Whatever it is, name your mountain. You’re about to climb it.
Now that you’ve got your mountain, we have to break it down. My mountain is to eventually become a self discipline coach. Honestly, I don’t even quite know what that means, and I definitely don’t know what that would look like for me. Frankly, that doesn’t matter right now. What matters are the small goals, the tiny steps I’ll take one at a time to get me there. And these small goals have to be S.M.A.R.T. Maybe you’ve heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals. I didn’t come up with the concept, though I had stumbled across the idea through my own experience before I saw it actually put into words by someone else.
So what is a S.M.A.R.T. goal? S.M.A.R.T. means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Your smaller goals that will take you to the top of the mountain must me S.M.A.R.T. Your first goal could be to hike the first three miles of the (metaphorical) mountain before sunset. This goal is specific. It isn’t just “I want to start climbing”, that isn’t specific. How will you know you’ve reached your goal if it isn’t specific? Hiking the first three miles is also measurable. You’ll know when you’ve finished it. Three miles is a measurable distance. Other measurable parts of goals could come in the form of time (i.e. write for 20 minutes every day, go to bed at 9:30), weight (i.e. lose 10 pounds, gain 5 pounds of muscle), money (save 10% of your income), or any other thing you can count.
Next, your goal needs to be attainable. Your goal needs to be something that you have control over and that you feel you can reasonably accomplish without the rest of your life falling apart around you or hurting yourself. Maybe wanting to get to the top of the mountain in a day isn’t attainable, but hiking the first three miles is doable by someone in decent hiking shape. If three miles isn’t attainable for you, start with one. Or half of one. Or a quarter. Go as small as you need to. And make sure this goal is something YOU can attain. “I want to hike the first three miles with my best friend” isn’t an attainable goal if your best friend has zero interesting in hiking up the mountain.
Your goal needs to be relevant. Don’t set a goal to earn a degree in economics if you have no desire to do anything that involves the subject. Don’t set goals based on what others want for your life, or based on the life you think you should be living if that isn’t the life you want to be living. These are your goals and your goals only. Living your life to make other people happy or impress other people is not what will make you truly happy, and frankly, the ultimate goal here is a happy and fulfilling life.
Finally, your goal needs to be Timely. Ever notice that you get your procrastinating butt into action when a deadline arrives? Exactly. Set your own deadline. If you know you need to be three miles up that mountain and building a fire by the time it gets dark in order to avoid freezing or being eaten by wolves in the night, you sure as shit will be covering those three miles before sunset. Give yourself a deadline. It has to be reasonable. Most people aren’t going to cover 3 miles up a mountain in 20 minutes, but it has to be close enough to pressure you. If you have to be 3 miles up the mountain by the end of next month, you’ll be wasting a lot of time doing nothing before you start up that mountain.
If your goal meets all these criteria, good. Otherwise, reevaluate. Having a S.M.A.R.T. goal is one of the first and most important steps to developing discipline. I’ll get you thinking by listing some examples of S.M.A.R.T. goals. And as you’re thinking of your goal, don’t worry too much about how you’ll accomplish it yet. We’ll get there. Just decide where you want to be and when.
Examples of S.M.A.R.T. goals:
Spend 15 minutes every night studying French.
Save $5 every day.
Don’t drink coffee during the week.
Meditate for 10 minutes every day.
Lose 20 pounds by the end of the year.
Do at least one active outdoor activity every week.
Read 2 books every month.
Clean the kitchen at the end of every day.
Wake up by 7:30 every morning.
Ride your bike 25 miles every week.