• Sarah Carter

Measuring Abstract Goals



“I want to make this change so I have more _____ and can be better at _____” is one of the most common phases I hear in my office from clients. More time for self-care so I can be better in general. More money so I can take better vacations. More meaningful relationships so I can have better social outings that don’t always involve bars/clubs.


They are very clear about wanting more and better something but when I ask them to describe to me what they mean by more and better I’m often met with silence for several minutes. These are abstract statements that can lead people to get stuck like Jerry was in a “just not this” situation. The key to success with abstract goals is making them specific.


I introduce my friend Dan in Chapter 6: Set Goals, in the subheading How to Measure and Achieve the Abstract. Dan wanted to have more time at home to be a better dad and husband. About as abstract as it gets. I recommended to him, as I do with many of my clients, that he create SMART goals and that we start with the S: Specific.


Here is an excerpt from that section:

Some measurements are obvious: make one hundred more products than last year, earn 0.5 higher GPA points this semester than last semester, or earn the gold level of recognition points toward your volunteer award. Those are all fairly numerical and well defined. However, when we are talking about goals that go with personal change, they are usually a bit more abstract. “Be better at, or have more of, (insert goal here)” is common phrasing of personal change goals. This phrasing is too vague. How the heck do you measure better or more? Phrases like these commonly lead to people getting stuck or intimidated by their change, but not my friend Dan.


Dan worked as a diesel engineer on large cargo ships. He was routinely out on the ship for four months at a stretch and then home for four months. He made great money so his family of four people and two dogs lived in a nice, new subdivision in a house they were close to paying off after only owning for a few years. Outwardly, he was doing great, but inwardly he was struggling. He needed a change so he could have more time with his family and be a better dad and husband. Dan took the leap, left his stable job with the shipping union, and went to work for a shore-based, ship-related company working a traditional nine-to-five job close to their house.


On paper, Dan had more time to be at home to be a better dad and husband, but things at home didn’t change the way he had expected with this extra time. He still didn’t seem to be home as often as he’d thought he would be and he still didn’t seem to be any better at the dad thing. When I asked Dan how he was measuring better and more. He said, “Ummm, I’m not sure.”


Through some exploratory questions and reflection on his part, we put a number to more and some parameters to better that fit his vision. His measurements were doing homework with the kids two nights a week, dropping them off and picking them up three days a week, fitting in a date night each week, and cooking two nights a week to give his wife a break.


In this article series, I share excerpts, insights and stories from my book, All About Change: How to Successfully Make Personal Life Changes. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed it and want to connect you can reach me here via email sarah@inwiththenewyou.com or connect with me on social: Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. Also, you can also find my book on Amazon — here is the link to buy it: Amazon.

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