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The Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging: Be Positive!

Posted by telos on June 30, 2011

The forecast is Positive!

For the past several months I have been writing about the concept of “Successful Aging”, beginning with a brief overview of 9 “Habits of Successful Aging”. My subsequent posts have described and explained these habits in greater detail and suggested some avenues and options to more successfully include them in your lifestyle. This month’s habit for discussion is “Be Positive”.

Kicking yourself up the assets

Taking an ‘asset-based’ or positive approach to life has been a cardinal focus in the growing field of Positive Psychology. This research has demonstrated time and again that viewing life in a positive way is a far cry from the shallow philosophy espoused by Stuart Smalley, late of Saturday Night Live ”I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

As long ago as the 1980’s, educational research out of Stanford analyzing teaching performance reported that an approach focusing and building on a teacher’s ‘assets’ (i.e. their strengths, and what they did well) promoted high quality learning, while an approach focusing on a teacher’s ‘deficits’ (i.e. their weakness, and correcting what they were doing ‘wrong’) was far less effective. This ‘deficit-based’ approach however is still out there not only in education, but also in health, wellness and even Successful Aging!

Back in 2000 when I was an assistant professor at Arizona State University, I authored a book chapter in a major publication called “The Handbook of Health Psychology”. The title of the chapter was “Effects of physical activity on physical and psychological health:  Implications for exercise adherence and psychophysiological mechanisms” (A pretty long and involved title I admit, but then this was a pretty long and involved book – I was actually Chapter 38 out of 51!). The reason I bring this up here is that in my research for writing this chapter I was struck by the fact that almost everything I found on ‘psychological health’ in the scientific literature was about ‘getting less bad’.

Some 10 years later I am still seeing and reading much the same thing. The rationale(s) for setting and achieving wellness goals such as ‘getting active’, ‘getting fit’, or ‘eating healthy’ are still too often stated in terms of either reducing your actual bad stuff (e.g. losing weight) or on reducing your risk of bad stuff (e.g. risk of dying). With just a moment’s thought you could probably come up with your own list of the usual ‘bad stuff’ culprits: obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, stress, depression, anxiety, risk of a heart attack, risk of a stroke, etc.

I suspect this is a consequence of our long acquaintance with the ‘Medical Model’ of health – uniquely designed to kick in and fix the ‘bad stuff’, but with no designs at all on improving the ’good stuff’. The result of this is that we tend to view our wellbeing more in terms of how bad we aren’t rather than how good we are. When we try to improve our wellness behaviors we tend to focus more on overcoming obstacles rather than achieving goals, to focus on what we are not ‘going to get’ rather on what we will ‘be getting’.

One of the best known hypotheses in the field of Successful Aging is “The Compression of Morbidity”. This refers to the idea that the period of sickness (morbidity) at the end of life may be reduced (compressed) by adopting healthier lifestyles. This hypothesis has received much attention in the field of gerontology, and as a professor I have spoken about, and referred to it myself on many occasions. With my ‘Thinking differently’ hat on however, I see that, although this hypothesis was clearly aimed at doing good, it actually represented the ’getting less bad’ approach. Not much asset-kicking going on here! There is an obvious dichotomy between “Successful Aging” – a positive, asset-based concept, and “The Compression of Morbidity” a negative, deficit-based concept. So reframing this from a ‘Be Positive’ perspective, instead of “Compression” – why not “Expansion”? Instead of “Morbidity” – why not “Mobility”? And so we have “The Expansion of Mobility”. In other words ‘being better, longer’ instead of ‘being worse, shorter’.  Think about it.

What I have learned over the years both as a scientist and Intrinsic Coach® is that focusing on the positive aspects of pursuing an active lifestyle will bring you a host of positive benefits – you’ll look better and feel better about your self and your life, be more alert, have more energy, clearer thinking, better quality of life, better sleep, more independence.

And there’s more ….!

That old clichéd differentiation of people who either view ’the glass half empty or the glass half full’ reveals a pathway to some major (and positive!) consequences. You can learn to see the glass as ‘half full’ – you can learn to be optimistic! Check out Learned Optimism a landmark book by Dr. Martin Seligman, acknowledged as the founder of “Positive Psychology. The book is a decade old now but still relevant.

So as you think about the situations and goals in your life – what assets are kicking up for you?

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The Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging – It’s all about Behavior

Posted by telos on December 13, 2010

The book!

Having recently returned from the excellent International Council on Active Aging Annual Conference in San Diego, I have been thinking about and talking even more than usual about lifestyle ‘behavior’ and how it relates to independence and quality of life in our ‘Second Fifty. Here’s the result of all that pondering!

Back in 2004 the then Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Richard Cardoma was quoted as saying

“In the next 10 years one of the major issues in Health Care will be moving from receiving health care to embracing health prevention and wellness.”

More relevant to the topic of this article he also said

“Being physically active with a good diet and an active healthy lifestyle will not only do us good as individuals but will also dramatically reduce health care costs.”

These statements, while undeniably true, await more action and commitment from both government and population for their full benefits to be gained, perhaps in part because words like ‘action’ and ‘commitment’ sound like they are hard to do. Whatever the real reasons, the fact is that most seniors – just like other segments of the population – are relatively inactive. The good news, however – and contrary to conventional wisdom – is that adopting a more active, healthy lifestyle does not have to be hard, and is within the grasp of virtually anyone, as I will explain below.

I don’t think many people would argue with the statement that the most important thing for all of us as we age is to remain independent and healthy as long as possible. People know this instinctively, of course, and they certainly don’t need research to back up this feeling. However, as someone who has always been curious about such things I am always interested in the ‘how’ ‘what’ and ‘why’. Because of this, I have compiled a series of posts that I hope will act as a sort of mini-primer of lifestyle habits that research has shown to be strongly connected to active, healthy aging. This first post provides a brief overview of ‘Successful Aging’ and nine ‘habits‘ that are correlated with this concept.  Future posts will feature each one of the nine listed below. I am however providing one or two links to get you interested – or maybe get you started!

Successful Aging: The term “Successful Aging” was first used by two researchers Drs. John Rowe and Robert Kahn in their 1998 book of the same name. It summarized, in non-scientific terms, the findings of the decades-long MacArthur Foundation Study on Aging. This study looked at thousands of individuals who (in the author’s words) were ‘aging well.” We all know people like this of course: they look and act much younger than their chronological age, and seem to be far healthier and more active than their peers. The Study on Aging was designed to identify any factors which were common to these ‘Successful Agers’ and which separated them from the majority who were “Usual Agers’. As the authors so succinctly put it

“We were trying to pinpoint the many factors that conspire to put one octogenarian on cross-country skis and another in a wheelchair”

This landmark study identified three overarching elements of Successful Aging: (i) higher mental and physical function (ii) lower risk of disease and disability and (iii) more active engagement with life. In lifestyle terms these three components of Successful Aging can be broken down into specific lifestyle behaviors.

  1. Stay strong: Start a regular resistance training program to increase your strength and endurance. You can use free weights (dumbbells and barbells), weight training machines, or elastic tubing. You are never too old to benefit from this kind of training, and you can see and feel these benefits in as little as 20 minutes twice per week. Begin with four to six exercises that work your major muscle groups. Increase your resistance gradually as you get stronger. The important thing to know is that strength training is safe and effective for the great majority of older adults. Check out this link from the CDC for more details http://bit.ly/WJ2Bl .
  2. Stay physically active: Way back in 1996, The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health told us that walking briskly for a minimum of 30 minutes on most, preferably all days of the week, would provide great health benefits. If 30 minutes sounds like a long time to walk – no problem – you can accumulate this time throughout the day. So, for example, instead of ‘doing the 30’ all at once, you could walk 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes after lunch and 10 minutes in the evening. How easy is that?
  3. Maintain normal weight: Easier to say than to do? Not really, if you combine regular moderate intensity physical activity with strength training and a balanced diet you will have the optimal approach to weight management. As a good start to  the ‘what should I eat’ question, check out Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: an eaters manual.“ Lots of great information as well as entertaining to read! His general advice is “Eat Food, not too much, mainly plants.” Read his book to find out what he means! Find it @ http://amzn.to/f53CU8
  4. Adopt good sleep habits: Establish a regular bed- and wake-time schedule that will improve your sleep quality. Avoid coffee or other drinks with stimulants at least 2 hours before sleep. Make your sleep area cool, dark and quiet. Check out the National Sleep Foundations “Sleeping Well Leads to Aging Well” @ http://bit.ly/dqkKsM
  5. Maintain social contacts: Keep in touch with friends and family. Turn off the TV. Have conversations over meals, write letters, email or connect via the internet.  Attend social events and introduce yourself. Start or continue a hobby and search for similar groups in your area. Own a pet and meet people in the dog park! Give and receive hugs! Check out my blog post “With a little help from your friends” @ http://bit.ly/aanXz3
  6. Keep an alert and curious mind: Learn a new skill. Expand your horizons. Participate in classes and conversations, keep up with the news, have an opinion – and share it.
  7. Be self vigilant: Regularly check your overall physical, mental and medical condition. Ask yourself “How do I feel?” and listen to the answer. Establish a good relationship with your doctor and follow up with him or her if your self-check reveals something of concern.
  8. Engage with your environment: Look for ways to contribute. Volunteer for services such as “Meals on Wheels,” senior center programs, church groups and civic, or intergenerational organizations. Become involved with social or community programs that are interesting to you. Be a provider as well as a receiver of support.
  9. Be Positive: Research has shown that focussing on the positive aspects of being active is far more beneficial than focussing on the negative aspects of not being active. The new field of “Positive Psychology” has also shown that people who have a more optimistic view of things do better in life: they earn more money, are more successful, have more friends and even live longer. And as this wasn’t positive enough, you can even learn to be optimistic. Check out my blog post “Getting Less Bad” @ http://bit.ly/aR9bbQ

NOTE: This post is based on “Lifestyle Habits of Successful Aging” an article which appeared in my ”Energize your Aging!” column for the November Newsletter of “Aging with Grace” a nationally renowned aging services company whose mission is to educate, coordinate, and facilitate individualized eldercare options one family at a time. Check out the Newsletter @ http://conta.cc/heorNq


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Asking the Expert – making your own difference

Posted by telos on October 15, 2009

Ask the ExpertWhen we want to ‘make a difference’ in our lives (get more active, get fit, lose weight, reduce stress etc), we go to an ‘expert’ for advice, guidance and, often, motivation. After all, an expert is usually someone who is highly trained and highly knowledgeable. This means that they know what to do. More importantly they know what YOU should do, what you ought to do (and of course what you have been meaning to do for some time!). When you meet with your expert what happens typically follows a common path – an approach that I call “Show and Tell”.

In simple terms here’s what these interactions usually look like:

Step 1. You meet with, and talk to an ‘expert’ about what your goal is (“I want to lose weight, get fit, reduce stress etc”)

Step 2. Then, after a conversation that varies in length from person to person, the expert first shows you what to do “Just follow these steps (and/or directions and/or advice”, and then tells you how to do it. “Make  sure you do it like this (and then this, and then this…”)

Step 3. The expert keeps showing you and telling you in different ways until you do it ‘properly’. If you do not succeed in making your goal, the typical expert response is something like

“Ok why do you think you didn’t make it?” or maybe “Ok let’s try (something different) this time”

By the way, the other thing to mention here is that if you don’t ‘make it’, the fault is almost always assumed to be yours (both by you and by the expert). Maybe you just didn’t try hard enough, or have enough will power, or enough commitment etc. Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing about this ‘Show and Tell’ approach. It is at its most effective only in Kindergarten! My children loved their Show and Tell sessions but have long since outgrown them and moved on to more appropriate learning methods. However, in my field of exercise, wellness and physical activity, Show and Tell still reigns supreme. The kind of three-step approach I describe above, is based on the assumption that if you simply provide intelligent people with important and understandable information about the benefits of healthy behaviors (or, more frequently, the risks of unhealthy behaviors) then they will take this to heart and ‘just do it’ (with apologies to Nike!). There is no question that, assuming the information and instruction provided is accurate, this really would be a highly effective approach

if only people would do it!

However history has shown us that, even with the ever-increasing availability of health and wellness information in the media and on the internet, more people are overweight and sedentary than ever before. It is clear that knowing what to do, or having an expert show and tell us what to do simply does not work – but we continue to ask them anyway!

This is not the fault of the expert, who has been through some highly demanding academic training that prepares them to offer their own thinking and expertise to the client as to what they ‘should’ do. It’s also not the fault of the client – who is prepared to believe that the expert knows best – after all that’s why they are an expert! The tendency is therefore that the expert will think (indeed, are trained to think) they know best for the client and the client will think that the expert knows best for them – that is, after all, why they went to him/her in the first place. No-one is ‘at fault’ here – it is fault neutral! However …..

It is time for a new way of thinking

Making your own difference: You are a singular and unique individual on this planet, you have your own goals and aspirations, your own motivations and inspirations, your own wants and your own needs your own ‘angels’ and your own ‘demons’. Here’s that new thinking – try this on for size!

YOU are the expert on you

No-one knows you better than you – no-one! You know instinctively this must be true, so think about what logically follows. If you pass over responsibility for yourself to someone else – to someone who knows only what they see of you, maybe has only just met you for the first time – to someone who can only work with what is merely apparent to them – how can you realistically expect something important and lasting to happen for you?

If you ask someone to ‘prescribe a program’ for you – and you take responsibility for doing the program. What you are actually doing is taking responsibility for THAT person’s program – for someone else’s stuff! After all they made it up FOR you. If and when you start, or – like so many others before, re-start such a program – you do so more in hope than expectation. This is no way to achieve a goal. Experts know all about ‘cause and effect’ – this is their training, this is their knowledge. They know that “If you do ‘this’, then ‘this’ will happen”. However they don’t know YOU – they haven’t been educated in YOU – the don’t have a degree in YOU.

We hear a lot these days about ‘personal responsibility’ – for health, for being active etc, and we hear about how it’s all down to us. At base, this is true of course – responsibility for our health is, in the main, ours. Taking responsibility is a good and desirable thing, but if you do take it, you’d better make sure it’s responsibility for something that’s yours – not someone else’s idea of what you should or shouldn’t do.

This is the new thinking – where you go from here is all about what’s important to YOU

I have also written about the related concept of  “Thinking Different” in a series of  previous posts – check out https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/

More later

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Thinking S.M.A.R.T., timely

Posted by telos on January 5, 2009

Time passes

Time passes

NOTE: The SMART series of posts is best read from the first post. Start with https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/ and read from there.

Timely

Effective goal setting is conducted and expected to be completed within a specific time frame i.e. “How long will you give yourself to achieve this goal?”

While research has shown that a definable, pre-determined time frame is necessary for effective goal achievement , from an Intrinsic Coaching® perspective there are really two time frames

What is important to you RIGHT NOW (Timeframe #1) 

When will you commit to achieving that goal? (Timeframe #2)

An Intrinsic Coaching® approach to Time takes the goal setting process to a whole new level of  involvement.  Anchoring the goal commitment to a time frame allows the coach to ask something far more meaningful and far reaching than just “How’s it going?” A coaching approach to Time provides a valuable context for learning …

You didn’t make the goal in the time frame? What did you learn? What will you do differently? 

You did make the goal in the time frame? What did you learn? What will you do differently?

Applying a coaching approach to Time frames can also be an important part of Accountability (another ‘A’ that could perhaps have been included in this acronym – SMAART?) . For example by asking “How do you want to be accountable for the actions you have committed to over this period? or “How do you want to keep track of your progress?” In this way the Time aspect enables the goal setter to take ownership of the goal he/she has set. Any number of options could be appropriate for this – email, phone call, etc. Research has shown that when goal setters take ownership of the goals they set, such goals are far more likely to be achieved. The important thing here is that whatever the goal setter commits to will continue to elicit the all important ‘i’ response. This circles right back to where we started this whole series.

GET SMART – LOOK YOURSELF IN THE ‘i’

https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/

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Thinking S.M.A.R.T., relevantly (Really Importantly)

Posted by telos on January 4, 2009

relavance-of-goals

Relevance?

NOTE: The SMART series of posts is best read from the first post. Start with https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/ and read from there.

Relevantly

Ok you probably noticed I added a couple of words here (with tongue ever so slightly in cheek) ‘Really Important’ – and here’s why. The “R” in this acronym is typically written as “Realistic” but the problem here is that this word is hardly any different from our  previous word “Attainable”. After all if something is “Attainable” it must, by definition, also be “Realistic”. Apart from these overlapping meanings “Realistic” is also, in my opinion, the “shakiest” of the SMART acronym. Here are some goal oriented meanings of “Realistic” I found when I Googled it recently. The goal must be an objective you are “willing and able to work towards” – It must be “sensible” – It must be “wisely planned”. These are all true of course though are so clearly self-evident and generic that it is hard to believe they could be of much help to the person seeking to set the goal

“Relevant” on the other hand has a different context – it has connotations with “important” – which brings us back to one of my earlier SMART posts https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/   

So I’m going to part with tradition here and say that this ‘R’ should represent “Relevant” – something that has meaning for you, is important for you at the time of setting the goal. It has the added advantage of being able to be defined in terms of your current situation which brings us back to the ‘i’ we discussed in the first couple of posts on this topic. https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/.

So as you think about this ask yourself …

What is relevant to me about achieving this goal?  

Once you are able to answer this question honestly, you are well on your way to setting and achieving the goal you set for yourself.

So keep it relevant – and keep it really really important!

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Thinking S.M.A.R.T., attainably

Posted by telos on April 28, 2008

 

Taking steps to attainable  NOTE: The SMART series of posts is best read from the first post. Start with https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/ and read from there.

Attainably

This seems like the most obvious of the S.M.A.R.T.s so far – you mean that if I set a goal it has to be one that I can actually do? – DUH!

On second thinking however this is a factor that deserves closer attention since very often, like beauty, attainment is in the eye (and more importantly the “i”, see below) of the beholder – reminding me of what Henry Ford once famously said

“Whether you think you can or you can’t – you’re right”

Research, and (eventually for some people) experience tells us that the ‘best’ kind of goals are those that are “challenging but achievable” – what industry and the corporate world describe as “stretch” goals, and pop psychologists or self help gurus often describe using motivational rhyming phrases

 “If you can believe it, you can achieve it” … “if you can sustain it, you can attain it” … “if you can see it, you can be it” … “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit” – well ok maybe not the last one – but you get what I mean, right?

These phrases and others like them support the idea of something very simplistic like “you can achieve anything you set your mind to” – another popular declaration much loved by parents and anyone that wants to be President of the United States. When hearing this statement, even the most positive asset-based person (like me!) is likely to reply …. Anything????” You can achieve anything your set your mind to?” That can’t be right surely?

 As I think about Attainment and these kind of phrases, what comes up for me very powerfully is  the importance of the ‘i’ part of SMART – something I wrote about in the very first post of this series. Seeing things in your mind’s “i” brings up 2 essential, but often underestimated ways of thinking about goal setting and goal attainment

 Clarity – What does this goal look like to you?

Importance –  What is important to you about this goal?

 So for example

You want to lose weight? Ok, what does losing weight look like to you? What is important to you about losing weight?

You want to be more active? What does being more active look like to you? What is important to you about being more active?

You want to reduce the stress in your life? What does a stress-free life look like to you? What is important to you about being stress-free?

You want to  …. etc etc

 “Any goal you set your mind to”, now becomes “any goal you set with these two in mind” (i.e. in your mind’s ‘i’). This “new thinking” brings up a whole new world of attainment possibilities – with an important qualifier – which turns out to be the next acronymic letter!

 So as you think about what you want to attain – what does this goal look like to you? What is important to you about this goal?

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Thinking S.M.A.R.T., measurably

Posted by telos on April 4, 2008

As a Rule Goal should be Measurable NOTE: The SMART series of posts is best read from the first post. Start with https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/ and read from there.

Measurably

The second acronymic letter after the “i”, research tells us that a “Measurable” goal is a “makeable” goal. I’m paraphrasing here of course because it is highly unlikely that researchers would be this simplistic. In research terms you would be more likely to read that setting measurable goals allows you to “Establish concrete criteria for accurately determining progress toward the attainment of each set goal considered to be appropriate for the individual in question”.

But hopefully “makeable” does it for you

My point here is that if you can measure the goal you can make the goal. Of course “Makeable” is no guarantee you are going to “make it” – just that you are far more likely to do so if you are able to measure what you want to “make”.

Measurement provides meaning to your goal and puts your achievement into perspective (Did I make it or not? – Was I successful or not?). Only by measuring (and being able to measure) will you discover the answers to these indispensable goal-oriented questions. What is your start point? – What is your endpoint? How will you know where you end up if you don’t know where you started?

I made the point in my last post that being Specific in your goal setting was important. Being Measurable is all of a part with this because the more specific your goal is – the easier it is to measure. For example “I’m going to get more active this year” is not specific and not really measurable – how do you know when you have “got” more active? In contrast, “I’m going to walk briskly around the neighborhood for 15 minutes every day” is not only Specific but also Measurable (Did I walk every day around the neighborhood? Answer = Yes/No. Did I walk briskly? Answer = Yes/No)

You see how all these things are coming together?

So ask yourself … What will tell me I have achieved my goal?

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Thinking S.M.A.R.T., specifically

Posted by telos on March 28, 2008

Chasing the AHA! moments NOTE: The SMART series of posts is best read from the first post. Start with https://telosity.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/get-smart-look-yourself-in-the-i/ and read from there.

Specifically

In my last post I talked about the importance of “i S.M.A.R.T.” goal setting. Once you have clarified your goal in this way (to see the goal in your minds “i”) the SMART process can just click in (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely).

Although there is a wealth of information out there on SMART goals (over 4000 hits on Google), I want to offer a different, new way of thinking about this, one acronymic letter at a time. Let’s start with

SPECIFIC

Research tells us that if you are specific about the goal you set, you have a much better chance of achieving it. For example “I’m going to walk briskly around the neighborhood for 15 minutes every day” is very specific, whereas “I’m getting in gear for the rest of the year” or “I’m losing weight in ‘08” are very general, ‘fuzzy’ goals (even though the rhyming thing may allow the goal to roll off the tongue a little easier).

So what makes a goal ‘specific?

Well, there are lots of suggestions out there (Google them and see for yourself) for making sure that goals are specific, many of which are based on the famous 5 “W’s”. Who? What? When? Where? Why? This is certainly one way to point you in the direction of specificity

Who:               Who else is involved in it (the goal)??
What:              What do I want to accomplish?
Where:            Where am I going to do it?
When:             When am I going to do it – and for how long?
Why:               Why am I doing it?

My ‘New Thinking’ here – my “aha” moment! – was that If you adopt the “i” approach, these W’s (or any other “W” you may think of) all become incorporated into the two primary, intrinsic “What’s” I wrote about in my last post

What do I want?                                                                                                                                                                     

What is important to me?

 As I thought about this, I also realized that once these two primary “What’s” have been answered the other W’s just fall into place!

When you answer these two “What’s” honestly (i.e. intrinsically) everything gets clarified, and once this happens, you have optimized your potential for achieving your goal.

So … Specifically … what do you want? … what is important to you?

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Get S.M.A.R.T.! (Look yourself in the i)

Posted by telos on February 26, 2008

Don Adams - agent Maxwell Smart  I don’t know how many of you remember the TV series of the late ’60’s – but this post has nothing at all to do with that show – or the secret agent of the same name (who always seemed to be looking for a secret formula stolen by KAOS). Instead this is about a secret modification to another and similarly named formula for setting goals (Formula S.M.A.R.T.). I am now about to reveal this modification to you  …. stand by while I call in to CONTROL on my shoe phone, untwirl the combination of this safe and de-activate the alarms.

Seriously though …. there really is an acronym S.M.A.R.T. for goal setting and though it is fairly well known in business, academic and scientific fields (Google-ing ‘SMART Goals’ gets you more than 400,000 hits), I have not seen it often used by ‘regular people’  (e.g. for those annually ubiquitous “Resolutions”). 

So what are SMART goals? The whole smart thing came out of an extensive body of research on goal setting which suggested that a goal (any goal) is more likely to be achieved if you think about it and plan for it in a particular and methodical way. The results of this research was boiled down to the finding  that a goal is more likely to be achieved if it is ‘SPECIFIC’, ‘MEASURABLE’, ‘ACHIEVABLE’, ‘REALISTIC’, and ‘TIMELY’. If you take the first letter of each of these words it spells SMART – pretty smart eh? I wonder how long it took them to come up with that?

I have taught and applied this process many times, with some success, during my tenure as a university professor. What I have also discovered and learned as an intrinsic coach is that a small modification to this acronym, when acted upon, can make it far more meaningful to the person doing the goal setting. I call this modification iS.M.A.R.T.

The “i” can stand for intrinsic (my favorite), or important (my favorite) or inside (my favorite), or increasingly (my favorite), or even i‘m (my favorite). The point is that (apart from the fact that I have a lot of favorites), meaningful goal setting comes from that ‘i‘ and is all about what is important to you and only you.

Before you embark on the S.M.A.R.T. process of setting the goal therefore, it will be essential to first clarify what is important to you (and only to you) about that goal. Ask yourself the two ‘Whats’

What is my goal? What is important to me about this goal?

By the way these ‘whats” are asking entirely different questions, though often they will be thought of as asking the same thing. Here’s a common example

What is my goal? Answer: I want to lose weight

What is important to me about this goal? Answer: I want to lose weight

The second of these questions (What is important to me …?) is the defining issue here, and, I believe, is the key to all meaningful goal setting and goal achieving. If you can ask and answer this question honestly, (e.g. “What is important to me about losing weight?”) you sort of allow your basic values, what you really want, to be clarified and come to the surface. When you elicit this kind of clarity you will be surprised at what was there all the time, just waiting to be discovered!

clarity is in the i of the beholder

Whatever comes up for you it will be more meaningful to you (and only you) in your very own, singular, one of a kind, unique life. Thinking SMART is thinking i

So, as you clarify your goal, look yourself in the i – what are you seeing there?

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