As noted in last week’s post, taking effective action is one of the keys to success in life, but how can we make sure that our actions are indeed effective?  What makes one action more effective than another in helping us to achieve the change we seek in our lives and in the lives of others?

The first secret of effective action is selecting a goal that is both relevant and achievable.  The selected goal needs to be relevant to accomplishing the change we seek.  For example, if we are trying to create a beautiful landscape around our home, carrying out regular mowing would be a relevant action toward accomplishing that goal but raising dogs in our yard would not be.  The selected goal must also be one that we can realistically achieve.  The best way to accomplish this is to break each goal down into subgoals, then accomplish each subgoal in turn.  An achievable goal would be to have a well mowed lawn each month, then to add a goal for trimming all the trees, hedges, and bushes each month, planting and watering flowers, until we have accomplished the ultimate goal of creating a beautiful landscape.

How will we know when we have accomplished our goal?  Using the goal described above, we need to define what we mean by “beautiful landscape”.  The description must be specific and objective enough that we can recognize when it is accomplished.  One example might be that a beautiful landscape would involve a yard that contains healthy grass and plants and does not contain weeds. Another description might mention having a variety of colors in the plants we have in the yard.

There is a process called developing “SMART Goals” that will help us to take effective action.  We need to make sure our goals meet the following criteria: They must be Specific.  They must be Measurable.  They must be Attainable.  They must be Relevant. They must be Time-Bound.  I have already described some of these above, but the additional criterion of being time-bound is also needed, i.e. we need to specify when we want to achieve the goal (by tomorrow, by next month, by next year).  Using this criterion, we can evaluate whether we are making satisfactory progress in achieving our goal.

Using another example, let us say that we want our children to help take good care of our home environment.  We need to make our goal specific, to describe exactly what we mean by “taking good care of our home environment”.  We can say it means keeping the environment “clean” and “neat” but then we have to describe what we mean by a “clean and neat environment”.  The goal has to be measurable, that is, we need to be able to measure how much of our goal has been accomplished.  We cannot just say this looks better than it did yesterday, but rather something like” there are no items on the floor that should not be there” (we measure this by counting the items). The goal must be attainable.  For example, if by “clean” we mean that white gloves would stay pristine when we rub them on the clean surfaces, it is doubtful that this goal would be attainable.  We must also find a way to make the goal relevant to our family members, which may be particularly difficult to do with the male members of the family.  If a goal is not relevant to someone, it is unlikely that they will be motivated to accomplish the goal.  Our goal has to have some time line as well; for example, specifying that the floor be clear of items at bedtime, or that the cleaning is accomplished by the end of each weekend.

Using the SMART Goals approach makes it more likely that the actions you take will be more effective in accomplishing your goals, as everyone involved will have a clearer idea of what the goal is, how much of the goal has been accomplished, and why it is important to accomplish the goal.

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