How to Use SMART Goal Setting to Change Your Perception of Time

In the first part of this blog post about how our perception of time is limiting us, we discovered how there is a difference between how we perceive time and how things actually develop over time. This tension is largely subject to how we experience time, that is, how our thoughts and emotions are influencing our perception of objective time. As things go, thoughts and emotions are the only things in our lives that are not bound to space nor time.

Underneath I will discuss how you can relieve yourself of this tension and make your life a little easier. The tool to this, is nothing less elementary than goal setting.

The Power of Creating Focus

The power of goal setting comes from two things. First, the fact that humans excel in focusing. Not only in a abstract manner but also in a physical manner. Try to look at a point in front of you and see how everything around that sight blurs eventually. Any person playing sports, or having experienced anything of heightened importance will have experienced this ability someway or another. This phenomenon was beautifully shown in an experiment where study subjects were asked to count how many times a group of people threw the ball around in a video. Most of them counted right. Nobody saw the gorilla walking by though. Later they redid the experiment, since everybody was focusing on the gorilla now, little people saw the color changes in the background.

Goals are Context

Second, in an abstract manner, setting goals in the future has been shown to improve performance and the capacity to overcome mental trauma. Also, it supposedly closes the gap between ethnic and minority achievement rate.

The combination of using human excellence and the fact that goals allow us to compare everything we experience in relation to it, makes goal setting remarkably useful. As Dan Ariely mentions in his book Predictably Irrational:

Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.

Thus, goals not only bring our perception of time and objective times closer towards each other, it also creates context. A set goal is is like something slapping you in the face when you start imagining things other than what is actually going on, a written reality check.

For reference, I added the list of objective times again that I used in the first part of this blog post.

objective-times

SMART Goal Setting

Now to the practical part. A commonly used system for goal setting is the SMART system. They tortured me with this in university time after time. “You need to set SMART goals, otherwise you won’t know if your treatment is having any effect”. And really, it’s true, definitely when working with people, there are so many variables, it’s nice to have something to relate to.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Let’s take an example here, you want to improve your fitness. This goal by itself is hard to test but once put into SMART form it will get tangible. First you need to be more specific, you can use the 5 W’s for this. Who, What, When, Why, and Where. In this case this could be you alone (who) goes running (what), after work (when), to improve fitness (why) in the park (where).

run-in-park

To make your fitness increase measurable you decided you want to be able to run 5k, since you can run 2k now this is achievable. It is also realistic depending on your current situation (you run 2k already). This might have been different if you decided to run a marathon. However, this all depends as well on the time you designate to achieve your goal.

The SMART goal would come together like this:

I want to be able to run 5k after work in the park to improve my fitness 8 weeks from now.

This goal is simple to construct because the specific part is easily described. If you take a look at the list of objective times above, there are some things that are inherently harder to describe and to measure. If you want to prevent chronic disease in 20 years, how do you make that goal? Or when you want to change cultural beliefs?

What to Do With Goals that Can’t Be Made Specific or is Difficult to Measure?

The key here is to figure out what the indicators are that lead to these things. In the case of preventing chronic disease these are markers like cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure and fat percentage. However, what are the markers for change in cultural beliefs? Or for that sake what are the markers for political change?

In some cases these markers or predictors might be there, but culture and politics are systems that are the result of our collective beliefs. At the same time changes take years. From my perspective the only sensible way to deal with these things is that first, you have to accept that you can influence these things, and second that it starts with you thinking and acting differently. If you want to put this into SMART terms, I leave up to you.

Hey there! You can also follow on me Twitter now, click here! Thanks and see you around, Joël

Time: A Different Perspective

Starting of the blog and the new year, it seemed like a good idea to talk about a different perspective on time. Progressing to the next year always creates a special feeling, for some it is full of anticipation and for others it is filled with hope. Another chance to do things better, leave bad habits behind, and finally start eating right. Regardless of what happens though, we always keep counting our years as they pass by.

Linear Time

Our calendar and idea of time progress linearly. Day after day, month after month, year after year, always counting on. This invention of ours “helps” us determine where we are in space related to our idea of time. We can tell when somebody is late for work, when the sun comes up, when somebody should know enough mathematics to progress to 4th grade, and when you can expect to retire. All makes perfect sense, right?

Artificial Life, Artificial Time

Until you realize we are natural beings living in nature. Yes, we still live in nature even though we stacked it with roads, bridges, and cities. Just another concept to support those other inventions of ours, such as: money, time, distance, and borders. All these inventions reinforce each other in order to sustain society.

In effect, this creates a bubble where everything seems fixed but never really is. Because, borders are being fought over, there is always too little time to do everything you want, it is too far to walk to the supermarket and there is too little money to buy that new car. This all distracts us really from who or what we are, which diminishes our true needs: social contact, real food, exercise, and a sense of purpose in life.

To me, however, more and more it starts to make sense to drop this idea of time progressing along this artificial line of ours. Feeding the idea of that we are all different and “individual” (un-dividable). I am older than you, I have more experience than you because I work here longer, I am better than you because I play the guitar longer, and I have the right to retire because I am 65 years old. This way there will never be a person like you, everybody will always be ahead or behind you. Ever more creating a feeling of disconnection from the world around us.

Cyclical Time

However, in nature there are obvious cycles taking place. The sun goes up and returns, the moon shows itself in cycles, the earth moves in cycles, the seasons progress cyclically, women have their menstrual cycle and even men seem to experience cycles.

On a macro level there are times when the earth heats up or cools down depending on what happens elsewhere in our galaxy. Even our own inventions are subject to cycles, our economy, for example, needs to crash now and then in order to prosper again.

Keeping faith in this idea of time can make things really confusing. Our artificial creation keeps you thinking that this time is important. However, our bodies are subject to other inputs as well, including the cycles found within nature and our own lives, which influence our appetite, sleep, fitness, and ultimately our mood.


Once you become aware of this, you might recognize similarities with the people around you. Whereas cycles in nature seem to be dynamic returning phenomena, like the seasons starting around the same time each year, human cycles are initiated by the way you grow up, but also through changes in (social) environment and other life changing events. Thus, a 23-year-old experiencing a break up might experience the same feelings as a 65-year-old quitting his job.

Personally, during my work as a Physical Therapist I saw clients ranging from 10 to over 90 years old. It really surprised me how much I would have in common with somebody who was 90 years of age.

Leaving the linear way of perceiving time for what it is, a useful tool for navigating space, allows for seeing that everybody is living through similar cycles in different ways. Sometimes we return to similar situations, but at another point in our life. Understanding time cyclically this starts to make sense. If you stick to the idea of linear time progression it seems you have set a step back – ridiculous.

Adopting a cyclical view will allow you to realize how you are influenced by the world around you and vice versa. This will facilitate a sense of connection with the people around you, wherafter the world automatically becomes a more meaningful place.

Time to See Things Differently

Upon finishing this blog post, I challenge you to let 2018 be the year where you start seeing connections rather than disconnections. Possibilities rather than impossibilities and perceiving a familiar life situation as another opportunity to learn instead of seeing it as a setback. This will energize you along the road to find your own authentic way of life. In the meantime it will open your eyes to see that everything around you might actually be a bit more connected to you than it was.