When I was little, I was bossy. Just ask my younger sister. As an adult, I think they delicately call this “forthright.” Because I'm pretty sure I'm making the right decision in any given situation, I figure others will listen and do what is clearly the best idea. So when I find that what I want isn't happening, my first instinct is to turn to force. Not like I'm going to punch out the guy sitting next to me on the bus, but rather, that through coercion, persuasion, a little sale pitch, or some spiked and well-placed guilt, that I will get what I want. What I have found is that what I want is not always what's supposed to happen, and that what I want rarely comes effortlessly from force. Whatever it is that's supposed to happen, that makes life better, that brightens someone’s day, usually comes from grace.

As I'm swimming along, two types of strokes occur. One is the huffing, puffing, inefficient but difficult stroke. This gets me a gulp of water and leaves me winded. The other kind is graceful. My body slides, almost effortlessly, through the water. My arm comes up and over, dips in, reeeeeaaaches so I feel a pull in my side and I naturally rotate my body, a good solid pull through and a strong sweep back, my hand brushing my thigh as I begin again. And again, and again. Gracefully moving through the water, using less energy, less force, and nevertheless getting farther much faster.

Perhaps the lesson is that grace moves you farther than force. That you have to just let go sometimes. To gracefully meet others where they are. To allow yourself to just be once in a while. Know you are doing the best you can at any given moment, and that others are doing the same. By gliding through life instead of bulldozing it down, we get the good stuff: the relieved reaction when we smile as we walk past, the appreciation of the harried mother or the worried father when we take a moment to help them at the grocery store, the internal calm when we allow ourselves to accept who we are, without the need for change or improvement. 

Perhaps I will continue to meet the world forcefully sometimes. But maybe, if I can meet the world with grace, I will understand the depth, the exponential acceptance, with which it meets me back.

Just imagine the headline: “SF Underwater; Local Resident Swims Home from Produce Market.” What I actually did was swim the distance from 10th Avenue all the way to my doorstep – one mile. This seems to be a sort of initiation rite of swimmers and a daunting one at that. I started swimming for fitness in grad school, and my classmate Mike remarked that it took a looooong time to swim an entire mile. I had never thought about it before as I was used to drills and mixing up the workouts with my awesome coach, Angela, but he certainly put the bug in my ear. It would be about 7 years before I would realize that I could accomplish it.

When I found out from the lifeguard how long a mile was in my pool (36 laps!), I had already done 20 laps that day on a whim. Thirty-six didn’t sound so bad! But how was I to get there, almost twice the distance? I decided to practice what I preach and create my very own SMART three-month goal and weekly goals to accomplish. Let’s outline how to make a goal SMART:

Specific – What will you do? Not the end result (I will lose 20 lbs.) but what steps will you be taking (I will exercise three times a week for 30 minutes each time).

Measurable – Give it some numbers! Duration, distance, times per week, intensity. The more measurable, the better.

Actionable – What are you doing? Even if it’s finding out more information, asking people about their successes, listing reasons of why this is important to you, or doing research on the internet, as long as you’re in action, that’s what matters.

Realistic – Is this a realistic goal? “I will exercise seven days a week next week for 60 minutes each time” is not a realistic weekly goal for someone who is currently sedentary. Even working out three times a week for 30 minutes could be unrealistic depending on the person. It has to be realistic and manageable for YOU and only you.

Timelined – When will you do this? By when will you achieve it? Setting time limits gives it an end date to achieve and a time to re-evaluate the goal.

You can use these criteria to create SMART three-month and weekly goals. Here is the SMART outline and the goals I set:

Specific – I will swim one mile at the USF pool by August.

Measurable – I will increase my laps by 2 each week, starting from my baseline of 20 laps.

Actionable – I already swim on the weekends, so I am adding to what I already do.

Realistic – I feel confident that 2 additional laps per week are achievable.

Timelined – By increasing yardage each week and giving leeway in my schedule for travel on some weekends, I will swim a minimum of 8 times in three months and meet my August deadline.

My three-month goal: I will swim one mile at the USF pool by the end of August by increasing my yardage by 2 laps each week from my baseline of 20 laps. I will swim one day each weekend that I am in town.

My weekly goal: I will add two laps to my previous yardage each week.

By combining these five elements, the goal gets legs. You measure what you are doing and take pride as the accomplishment incrementally increases. Sometimes the goal is so exciting and motivating that the little steps turn into big ones; just a few weeks after starting my two-lap-per-week goal, I got really excited to accomplish it and did a whole mile! I was pretty tired and a little sore the next day, but by breaking down my goal into manageable steps, I could see how I would get there – the X-marks-the-spot at the end of a treasure map. My treasure was successfully swimming a mile and knowing that I could complete that workout anytime I wanted. It was no longer overwhelming and scary.

What goals have slipped through your fingers because they weren’t SMART enough? How would you modify the goal to make it fit the SMART criteria? If you did, do you think you could accomplish that goal now? I’d love to hear your goals or help you to make them SMART-er!