Few doubt the efficacy of goal setting as a means of accomplishing what you need or want. Yet for most people, goal setting is limited to “Lose weight” or “Get fit” or even “Get better at _____.” Those who leave their goals at this point are either doomed to failure, or damned with faint success. I’ve recently encountered two acronyms for goal setting: SPIRO and SMART.

SPIRO
Specific
Practical
Inspirational
Realistic
Obtainable

A SPIRO goal contains all of these elements. But what do they mean? In brief: Specific means something concrete, something you can point to and say “I achieved that.” Practical means the goal has to be applicable in a meaningful way, a specific goal of lifting 150 lbs. is not really germane if your overall objective is to write 2000 words a day. Inspirational means the goal has to be something that you not only want to achieve, but will provide something on which you can base further developments. In other words, the goal itself is something you want to achieve as opposed to being merely a means to an end. Realistic means it has to be achievable without having to take drastic, and potentially harmful, measures. For instance, losing 30 pounds in two weeks can be done, but only at severe hazard to both short term and long term health. Obtainable means it must be achievable within a person’s limitations. For instance, someone with advanced cerebral palsy is probably not going to be able to type 100 words a minute, though typing as an activity is not necessarily out of their range of ability.

SMART
Specific
Measureable
Attainable
Relevant
Time-bound

SMART goals have a lot in common with SPIRO goals. “Specific” is obviously the same, “attainable” and “obtainable” are close enough in meaning that most people use them interchangeably, “practical” and “relevant” in all the discussions I’ve seen on these two processes are essentially the same. The main differences, then, are that SMART goals tend to be more numbers drive (or at least have an emphasis on concrete results) and SMART goals have a time limit. It should be noted that “attainable” includes not only “obtainable” but also “realistic”.

Despite their similarities, SMART and SPIRO goals have different emphases. SPIRO goals appear to be more applicable to therapeutic milieux. In that setting, “realistic” and “obtainable” are separate. While an inspirational goal is generally to be desired in any setting, it plays a special role in therapy that is not generally required in other settings. SMART goals lend themselves to benchmarking. The acronym actually contains the word “measurable”. SMART goals are more likely to be used where productivity is a factor since time is a component both of the goal and of productivity.

So why does it matter that there are multiple acronyms to guide goal setting? Who cares about the differences? For many people, it doesn’t really matter. Those will read this post and say, “Meh. Kind of a dry subject.” Others, though, may have encountered multiple goal setting methods and been confused. To those readers, I’d like to point out that goal setting methods are not really interchangeable…a particular method may or may not be appropriate to a specific setting. All these methods guide you to setting good and appropriate goals, but in order for the goal to be truly good and appropriate to your purpose, the guide must also be appropriate. For instance, if there’s no reason for a goal to be time-bound, as in some therapies, adding an artificial deadline adds yet one more thing for the client to deal with, which may act as a barrier to the client’s ability to achieve the goal. On the other hand, if you’re training for a race, time will definitely be a factor in setting goals since the deadline is not only concrete, but very public.

Having a goal is often necessary to progress. It provides something to strive for, something to make it worth overcoming obstacles. It’s the first step in motivating yourself. For a goal to accomplish these things, though, it must be meaningful. Both SPIRO and SMART are guides to creating a meaningful goal. They are not the only ones, but they’re a couple of the easiest to remember.  Which one gets used will depend on the activity or activities in question.

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