Saturday, March 15, 2008

Attainable vs. Realistic

We all know the old acronym about SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bounded. Looking at my list of goals for this year, I begin to detect that I may have a problems with the whole attainable vs realistic concept.

By my understanding, having an attainable goal means that I have the ability or skill or talent or even the discipline to achieve that goal. Using this definition, a goal to read one business-related book a month is attainable. Becoming a starting forward on a professional basketball team is not.

Realistic, on the other hand means whether the goal in question fits with all of the other higher priorities in my life. For example, my highest priorities are to be a good husband and father, to spend time with my family, and to grow my business. That said, becoming a lawyer, while attainable -- I certainly have the ability to go to law school -- it isn't realistic -- the time requirements would conflict with my higher priorities.

The trick is, not all "unrealistic" goals are so obvious. For example, one of my goals for this year is to complete my 600th blog post by the end of the year. To do that, I will almost have to write one post every day without fail for the rest of the year. Attainable? Yes. Realistic? Looking at my life right now, maybe not.

So, then the question comes up: What do I do about such goals? Do I leave it in place as a target for which to aim? After all, if I only complete #580, that will still be quite an accomplishment. Do I cut back on the details of the goal? Aim for 500 posts instead? How about the time requirement? Should I make it by the end of January 2009? Should I abandon the goal altogether?

How do you deal with the "attainable" vs "realistic" problem?


Heather said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you a million times thank you! You put this into realistic human language, not some sort of unattainable fluff. ;-)

Seriously, I'm a Girl Scout leader and a lot of the program for older girls involves having them set SMART goals, and no one has ever been able to explain the difference between realistic and attainable in a way anyone could really understand. Your description and examples were perfect. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent interpretation of the whole concept of attainable vs realistic thing.
I'm a newbie starting out on setting SMART goals.. :D
Thank you

Rams said...

Thank you. This was very useful. I was really confused on the difference between the 2 but your example cleared it all up. So attainable is whether we have the skill to do something and realistic is whether we have the willingness to do it.

Mike said...

Attainable and realistic are the same... come on we need to admit this.

'Forced' acronyms do lead to problems like this. MAST doesn't sound as good does it?

I think it's lame to use SMART.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you are correct, but even if you were right in saying that "Attainable and realistic are the same", I, like many people would prefer SMART versus MAST or STAM or TAMS or MATS or ATMS. I know this is part of the point you're making, but I think all acronyms are somewhat "forced" in a sense, because we have to work to come up with them.
Mnemonic devices work best when they are easy to remember and associate.

Anonymous said...

It was great. I always had this confusion between attainable and realistic. Thanks. :)

Unknown said...

How about changing the R to Relevant? While it is perfectly attainable that you become a lawyer (change your priorities), it is not relevant for you and thus you would not change your priorities for it. Thus if somebody would give you this objective, it would be MAST, but not fully SMART :)

Russell said...

Thanks for the post, I'm doing goals right now and I was about to just merge the realistic / attainable section because I didn't see a difference. This cleared it up for me in a way I can share with others. Thanks.