Setting Goals that Stick + Free Download
The end of the year is a natural time for reflection. Something about turning that calendar page feels cathartic and momentous at the same time. It’s often a time for resolutions and sweeping statements about changing your life – whether that is getting healthy or starting a company or moving across the country.
For too many of us, those resolutions fade in the first weeks of the new year. It’s easy to say that you’re going to make a change, but it’s really hard to actually make it happen. Just look at gym memberships. Fitness clubs expect to see a significant spike in new memberships around the first of the year and typically expect only about 18% of them to continue visiting after mid-February. There’s an 80% chance your new year’s resolution won’t last 6 weeks!
Now I don’t say this to be harsh. Instead, let’s share a new way to set goals that actually get accomplished. This method of goal setting works especially well for young adults with autism who may get discouraged when they don’t see progress right away.
The Old Way
Set a generic and ambitious statement: “I’m going to eat healthy and lose weight this year!”
Why This Is Flawed
Broad goals without specific plans set us up for failure. What does eat healthy mean? How much weight do you want to lose? What happens when you get invited to a decadent meal with close friends? How will you celebrate achieving this goal? What happens when you get off track?
When we fail to think through each of these scenarios, we make it difficult to actually accomplish any goal. And we’re stuck in the status quo rather than continuing our journey of personal growth. Or, the goal seems so daunting that we don’t even know where to start.
The S.M.A.R.T. Way
In my work as a coach for autistic young adults, I work with students and professionals who are committed to improving many areas of their life. Instead of tackling it all at once, we brainstorm the things they want to accomplish and then prioritize the items on their list. We then state each goal as clearly and specifically as we can. The final step before we begin working to achieve a goal is break it down into small steps that are easily achievable in a very short amount of time. It seems counter intuitive but starting small often leads to larger results in the long term.
Let’s take an example of a sample client who is looking to feel less lonely and build their community in 2022. If this happens to be a priority for you or your autistic young adult, these posts on friendship and a community building app may help.
The Old Way: I want to build and expand my community in 2022
The S.M.A.R.T. Way:
Specific: I want to try 3 new ways to connect with genuine friends so I can build my social support system and create stronger friendships in the first 2 months of the new year.
Measurable: I am going to try one new app, one new intramural on my campus and one new volunteering activity.
Attainable: I can balance these additional activities with my course load and homework.
Realistic: I believe that building my social network is important for my overall mental health.
Timely: I will join the app by January 5 and attend my first events by February 5.
Next, walk through this exercise as a whole family. Have each family member set a SMART goal. Part of our role as parents and mentors to young adults is showing our capacity to learn and grow. If we want to model lifelong learning to our children, we need to walk alongside them in their personal growth challenges. You’ll have built-in support and accountability!
Here’s a few thought questions to get the conversation started:
- It’s almost 2022. What are you most proud of from this year?
- What’s one thing is bothering you or stressing you out?
- If we’re sitting at this table next year, what about your life do you hope to be the same? To be different?
Bonus: Free download
Access the SMART Goal Guide by Spectrum Transition Coaching here. Walk through this example as a family and have each member chose one goal they’d like to focus on in 2022. Break it down into small chunks so everyone can feel a real sense of progress.
Happy 2022! May your SMART goals come true. We’re always here if you need help along the way.