What’s Makes a Good Goal? A New Model for Consciously Choosing Goals

It’s mid-January, and we’re just beyond the new year when poorly-set resolutions start to crumble. And so, I’ve been reflecting on the nature of goals and, as is often the case, looking beyond myself for wisdom on the topic.

In searching out the answer to “what makes a good goal,” I keep on running into the SMART model. Taught in business schools and applied widely in companies, the SMART model uses an acronym to propose that goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Every time I read through this list, it makes me cringe. These criteria feel far from the way I want my goals to look and feel. I don’t want a goal that feels narrow, limiting, or boring. Instead, I want a goal that articulates the desires of my heart. I want a goal that I am fiercely devoted to achieving even though the road may be long and hard. I want a goal that inspires me to do better. Whether goal-setting in my personal or professional life, I want a goal that acts as a compelling North Star, not something beaten into flat corporate-speak.

This isn’t to say that the SMART model isn’t useful; indeed, it seems perfectly helpful in directing what the line items of my plan to achieve my goal should look like. But, at the goal level, it leaves something to be desired.

And so, I propose a new model for goals, one which connects far more to meaning and motivation. In the Callahan “C-Star” model for consciously choosing goals, I propose five aspects that matter:

c star model trimmed

First and most importantly, is your goal CONGRUENT with who you are as a person? Any exercise in goal-setting needs to start with a period of introspection. What is important to you? What are your values? And, above all, what do you want? Your goal cannot be something given to you by another or dictated by your circumstances. Instead, your goal must begin with congruence to who you truly are.

Second, is your goal CONSISTENT with what you actually want? To be most effective, a goal needs to be set at the level at which you fundamentally hold it. For example, if your desire is to spread your organization’s message far and wide, you should not set your goal as talking about your organization on Oprah. Even if you failed to get on Oprah, you could achieve your real goal in many ways – by going on a road show to related organizations, by writing a book on the topic, or by being featured on a morning show. Resist migrating away from what you truly want because an alternative feels more specific, more attainable, more socially acceptable, or more aligned with your current reality. Shifting the focus from what you really want always misdirects your efforts and often limits what you can achieve. When it comes to goal setting, articulate what you actually want – even if you don’t quite know what that will look like yet. To be fair, this is a hard concept to get right and the dimension on which I most frequently see experienced professionals stumble.

Third, is your goal CHALLENGING? Your goals should not be limited by what you currently believe to be possible – for yourself or in the world. As Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, writes in his book Principles, “Once you start your pursuit you will learn a lot, especially if you triangulate with others; paths you never saw before will emerge.” By setting ambitious goals, you are pushing yourself to the edge of growth and accelerating your evolution as a person.

Next, is your goal CLEAR? In the previous three dimensions you have dug deep to specify a goal which is appropriately-sized and particular to you. That said, when you dug deep, did you bring up a bunch of muck along with your insights? If so, work through this – the fears, beliefs, patterns, feelings, and whatever else – to get clear about what you want. This clarity will allow you to navigate more effectively in the direction of your goal when life gets muddy and unclear again. To do this best, write your goals down. Iterate the wording to get to precisely what you mean.

Finally, ask yourself: to what extent are you COMMITTED to your goal? Your commitment is the source of your motivation. Why is your goal important to you? What’s at stake if you don’t achieve it? And, what is it worth to you to achieve it? Your goals should have a sense if you don’t achieve them, you fail yourself.

And that, collectively, is a good goal: one that is congruent to who you are, consistent with what you actually want, challenging to achieve, clear in articulation, and to which you are committed with the full force of your being. This January, that is the type of goal I want to sign up for – along with a SMART plan to achieve it.

I would love to hear what you think. Test my model out and send me your feedback.

  • What is your goal for 2020?
  • How does it stack up against the C-Star model?  Versus the SMART model?
  • What does each model help you see more clearly? What does each leave out?
  • What else would you want to consider in setting goals?

Wishing you a year full of achieving your goals,
Meredith

Why You Should Re-pot Yourself

As many of you know, the Callahan clan moved from California to Connecticut earlier this year. I wrote about that transition here on my blog, The Intentional, and posted it to the appropriate social media channels. Amongst the chorus of wisdom and encouraging words, there was no comment more apt than my friend Michael reminding me that: “Qui transtulit sustinet.”

“Qui transtulit sustinet” or “He who transplanted sustains” is the state motto of Connecticut. I recalled the motto from the first time I transplanted myself to this state — from my hometown of Port Huron to college in New Haven. And here it was, cropping up again as I moved to Connecticut a second time.

There are a couple of meanings of the motto: The first implies that he who transplanted you will sustain you, indicating that God (who brought the settlers to America) would support them (in the new land). I prefer a second interpretation of the motto, however — the one that makes it more personal: He who transplants himself, sustains.

The idea of transplanting oneself resonates with the advice that “You have to repot yourself every once in a while.” The philosophy of repotting people is the same as repotting plants. When our growth slows or stops, it’s time to move. We pull ourselves up by the roots, shake off the dirt, and settle into a new pot with fresh soil. The pot should be a bit bigger than the old but not overly big; we need space to grow without being overwhelmed.

While the goal of repotting is growth, when plants are first moved, they often enter a period of shock. Instead of thriving, we appear wilted and thirsty as we adjust to our new circumstances. Change, as everyone knows, is hard. That said, over time, the new pot, with more space and refreshed nutrients, enables the new growth and, eventually, new bloom.

While repotting sounds wise, it is often painful and unpleasant. Your pot may be so homey that you could stayed there forever. And yet, if we’re committed to growth, we must repot ourselves instead of waiting for some cosmic gardener to change our circumstances. As John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal, only by intentionally repotting can we grow into our fullness as humans:

“Most of us have potentialities that have never been developed simply because the circumstances of our lives never called them forth. Exploration of the full range of our own potentialities is not something that we can safely leave to the chances of life. It is something to be pursued systematically, or at least avidly, to the end of our days. We should look forward to an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our potentialities and the claims of life-not only the claims we encounter but the claims we invent. And by the potentialities I mean not just skills, but the full range capacities for sensing, wondering, learning, understanding, loving, and aspiring.”

-John Gardner, Self-Renewal

When we made the decision to move across the country, it was not pleasant. We didn’t happily repot; instead, we felt our roots holding onto the California soil with all our might. When the opportunity called to investigate our new potentialities — to see what new growth might be possible — we took it. And so find find ourselves here, repotted in Connecticut. We are certainly still adjusting from the initial shock, but we hope that the family who transplanted will not only sustain, but grow in an even bigger way.

Wishing you plenty of uncomfortable growth and self-renewal,
Meredith