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.
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:
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).
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.