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Use SMART Goals to Get Through Tough Times

Andrew Cox

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The most effective thing any of us can do right now is to focus on our goals - define them, refine them to reflect changing realities, test them to see if they remain realistic and relevant, and act to achieve them.

It's hard. The steady drumbeat of news - about the economy, about the elections, about man's inhumanity to man - delivered with passion by so many talking heads on the 24 hour news cycle, can really divert attention from the really important things.

Rudyard Kipling, in his poem “If" has a verse that reads:

"If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs,
And blaming it on you. . . "

The last verse of the poem reads:

"Then you will be a man, my son"

Rudyard Kipling lived from December 1865 until January 1936. Had he lived now I ‘ll bet the last line of “IF" would have read “Then you will be a leader, my son or daughter"

An example of just how panic stricken and negative some people have become over current events showed up recently in a letter on the Wall Street Journal Op Ed page. It was written by a New York attorney who feels, while outward appearances remain the same, and people still consume $900 dinners at top restaurants, we as a nation are in denial. She feels that the US has lost its place in the world, that we are no longer the pre-eminent engine of commerce that we have been, that we will never regain it, that we are headed for economic disaster, and the reality of that has not yet sunk in. And while she admits she has no experience or expertise in things financial or economic, she writes that she was so upset by her conclusions that she got up at 2 AM to E Mail her mother to tell her to take all her remaining money out of the stock market and invest it in silver, or precious metals, or the mattress. Talk about losing your head! Unfortunately, she's got lots of company. Her emotional state has been affected by what is going on. It can be contagious - it is contagious. It's a contagion you want to avoid.

It's caused by FEAR - an acronym for “Fantasized Events/ Experiences Appearing Real. "

And when FEAR sets in, people can be immobilized - or so mobilized that they feel they have to act - do something - anything - like the attorney telling her mother to act and put her money in silver - or in the mattress. I hope her Mom didn't follow that advice.

I read that Op Ed piece just before I took off on my daily 5 mile run/walk. Halfway through I realized I had spent my time thinking and worrying about politics, the impact of the next President, the impact of the credit crunch and sub prime loans. The realization that I was doing that made me stop - it made me ask myself what the hell was I doing? I was giving in to the contagion. I was working myself into a lather about things I had no control over, and not focusing my thought on the important things in my life. And I suspect I have a lot of company

How to overcome those negative emotions, avoid that contagion and move forward? SMART goals provide focus on the main things. Goals that are SMART, an acronym for Specific/Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant/Realistic, and Time framed can scrape us off the ceiling and keep us pointed in the right direction. The goals may have to be modified - no one should suggest that the events of today should be ignored - but isn't that a positive exercise in reality?

Replace the hysterical talk we hear on the news about having to live in our cars - about being unable to access our funds because the financial institutions have failed - about losing savings or jobs. We will be subjected to that kind of extreme negative news for a long time - it's what the media lives on. But for most of us, hanging in there, not giving in to despair and fear, not selling and putting what's left in the mattress, is the right thing to do.

Two pieces of advice that can help:

1 - In Og Mandino's book “The Greatest Salesman In The World" he advises when things are good, or bad, or indifferent - remember " This too shall pass. " It's true. It's important not to let circumstances and events outside our control end up controlling our lives and causing us to make decisions on F. E. A. R. , rather than on hard headed reality.

2 - Dale Carnegie, in “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living" offers another piece of advice that is so relevant to today. He advises, when faced with stressful situations, to “Live life in daytight compartments. " Live in today, and work in today, slam the doors shut on yesterday and tomorrow, and the future will take care of itself. With all the negative stuff swirling around, living in daytight compartments creates focus. And SMART goals help make sure the effort put into daytight compartments is focused on the important few.

Use goals to direct positive effort to the things that can be accomplished - and to finding and acting on the opportunities and possibilities that are sure to present themselves.

If you don't have SMART goals for yourself, take the time to develop them. It can be tough when you start, but focus only on the three to five most important things in your life. Watch the cloud of negativity and doubt be replaced with positive energy and the motivation to accomplish. Use your SMART goals to keep from letting events and people wear you down. Start today - it's the only daytight compartment you have.

Andy Cox is President of Cox Consulting Group LLC. The focus of his work is on helping organizations and their people increase their success in the hiring, developing and enhancing the performance of leaders and emerging leaders. Cox Consulting Group LLC was started in 1995, and has worked with a wide range of organizations, managers and leaders - helping them define success, achieve success and make the ability to change a competitive advantage. He can be reached at


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