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Members of the gold medal winning men's eight rowing team, left to right, Dominic Seiterle, of Victoria, B.C., coxswain Brian Price, of Belleville, Ont., Adam Kreek, of London, Ont., and Malcolm Howard, of Victoria, B.C., pose together with their medals upon arrival at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Monday August 25, 2008.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Adam Kreek was a big fan of SMART goals until he attempted to row 6,500 kilometres from Africa to North America with three colleagues in a nine-metre rowboat with no support boats.

The two-time Olympian, who won a gold medal as part of an eight-man crew in 2008, had taught and coached others as a consultant in goals that fit the SMART acronym: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bound. It’s a logical, rational and very popular approach, but it didn’t seem up to the task.

“The SMART goal method doesn’t account for, nor does it capitalize on, the innate emotional and collaborative nature of big projects. Nor does this method allow you to adjust for changing outcomes,” he writes in his book The Responsibility Ethic.

So he came up with an alternative that might help you with preparing for activities in the new year: CLEAR goal-setting and planning. CLEAR stands for Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, and Refinable. Here’s how it works:

  • Collaborative: Goals must include some consideration of the social framework to drive momentum and completion of a task. Ask: Who will you work with to achieve this goal?
  • Limited: Goals must be limited in scope and duration. They require simple metrics so someone other than you can objectively decide if you have succeeded in reaching the goal. Ask: How will you and others know that this goal was achieved?
  • Emotional: Goals should connect emotionally to your inner core and that of your teammates. Ask: Why should you achieve this goal? Should others working with you care?
  • Appreciable: Large goals should be broken down into smaller actions and reasonable milestones. That allows results to grow over time. Ask: What are the small steps? What are the bigger steps? What are the weekly, quarterly and annual milestones?
  • Refinable: Goals must be set with a steadfast commitment, but as new situations or data arise, you should refine and modify your targets. “Anticipate change. Plan for risk,” he says. Ask: What are the best-case, worst-case, and likeliest scenarios? And make sure the best- and worst-case scenarios are dramatically different from the likeliest possibility.

He says you can use CLEAR goals in your career and life. If you develop a clear and compelling statement, he believes it will unite rather than divide your team.

It will, of course, take continuous hard work to achieve your goals. And with that will come stress. He believes that for success we need to take responsibility for what is happening in our life rather than blame it on others and that includes, as his book title suggests, taking responsibility for your stress.

“While you may be coming uncomfortably close to a deadline at work, your lack of progress is not your spouse’s or your children’s fault. Why do we so often save the worst of ourselves for the ones we love the most?” he asks, advising you to delineate and name the underlying stress.

If you’re in a bad mood or depressed, he urges you to embrace that energy and use it to move ahead. Don’t force happiness when you’re not happy. Denying and suppressing difficult emotions can be toxic.

“Resist the urge to be angry about being angry, being depressed about being depressed, or sad about being sad. This act of double feeling compounds our emotions into an unhealthy, destructive state,” he writes. He adds that compounding positivity – being happy about being happy or excited about being excited – can also be dangerous, pushing us into a manic state. That can result in a crash into negativity when the excess positivity fades.

When encountering stress, he advises you to make time for fun. If you are only focused on work, you will get worn out. Accompany your CLEAR goals with relaxation.

Quick hits

  • If your goals don’t scare you then you’re setting them wrong, warns high-performance coach Maria Marklove.
  • Every morning, you should plan your day. Don’t wing it, cautions media strategist Ryan Holiday: “If you do the tough planning in the morning, nothing can happen during the day contrary to your expectation or too tough for you to handle.”
  • Getting things done guru David Allen notes in his newsletter nothing since word processors and spreadsheets has actually improved our productivity.
  • Don’t rush to troubleshooting problems when you start to mentor someone. Establish a relationship of trust first, advises Rajiv Bhatia, a vice-president at Lyft.
  • We experience our lives chronologically but that’s not how other people want us to organize our presentations, says public speaking expert Nick Morgan. He points out that Homer started his epic about the Trojan War near the end of it, backfilling the rest.

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