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This is an excerpt from Essentials of Dance Psychology With HKPropel Access by Sanna Nordin-Bates.

Even if you have not studied per­for­mance psy­chol­ogy before, chances are that you have come across the acronym SMART in relation to goal setting. It is widely used across sport, exercise, education, management, and coaching psy­chol­ogy, and ­there appears to be agreement that the S stands for specific; M stands for mea­sur­able; and T is usually about goals needing to be timed, time-­bound, or similar. The A and the R variously reflect recommendations for goals to be achievable, agreed-­upon, or action-­oriented, realistic, and relevant. To capture ­these impor­tant aspects but also incorporate a slightly more nuanced and in-­depth view that accounts for wider and more recent research findings (e.g., Kwasnicka et al., 2021; Larsen et al., 2019; Locke and Latham, 2019; Swann et al., 2021), the acronym SMART GOALS is proposed ­here. This acronym comprises recommendations that goals should be specific, mea­sur­able, autonomous, realistic, time-­bound as well as grounded, or­ga­nized, adjustable, set in logical steps, and supported (­table 9.2 provides an overview of ­these features):

Specific, mea­sur­able, realistic, time-­bound, and in logical steps. In line with the aforementioned evidence, dancers are recommended to set goals that are as specific and mea­sur­able as pos­si­ble. Goals should also be realistic (not too easy, not too hard) and set in logical steps (e.g., break down long-­term goals into several short-­term goals; see figure 9.1). By making goals time-­bound (i.e., setting a date or time by which to achieve the goal), the frames for the pro­cess are further delineated. All ­these aspects help to guide the daily work and make monitoring and evaluation more objective and rewarding.

Autonomous. In line with the motivation lit­er­a­ture (see chapters 5 and 11), dancers are recommended to focus on goals that are their own and that feel personally relevant. Dance is typically taught in groups rather than fully personalized; moreover, no teacher can feel what an individual dancer’s body feels like on a par­tic­u­lar day or fully know all dancers’ personal dreams or sense of purpose. Therefore, dancers (especially ­those at higher levels) should have their own goals rather than rely solely on the goals and directives of teachers or rehearsal directors. While they cannot typically ignore the tasks or requirements that are set by leaders, dancers can be advised to set personal goals within existing structures. For instance, the pro­cess goal of working with varied dynamics can be integrated into almost any class. Ambitious dancers may also want to keep an eye on the extent to which the structures provided (e.g., types of classes in a school; choreographic style of a com­pany) actually align with their own personal long-­term goals and values.

Grounded. In line with the ACT lit­er­a­ture, dancers are recommended to set goals in line with their personal values—­who they ultimately want to be. For an example of how personal values can be identified, see the Get Practical exercise (form 9.1). For more information and exercises related to personal values, see Larsen et al. (2019).

Or­ga­nized. To clarify, monitor, evaluate, and remember one’s goals, they should be written down and or­ga­nized in some vis­i­ble and accessible place. For example, goals can be recorded in a training diary or app or by putting notes or a poster on a notice board or wall. Dancers may also get creative with where they write their pro­cess goals, such as on the insole of their dance shoe or on a piece of tape that is then put on their ­water ­bottle, to act as reminders.

Adjustable. Goal setting is no exact science, and ­there are many reasons why goals may not be achieved. It is therefore impor­tant to keep a flexible attitude and to individualize all goal-­setting pro­cesses (e.g., Jeong et al., 2021; Kwasnicka et al., 2021). Indeed, an overemphasis on goal achievement as a black-­or-­white dichotomy (“Did you succeed or fail?”) can undermine the effects of goal setting on pro­gress, learning, and satisfaction. Monitoring, feedback, and evaluations should focus more on what pro­gress was made and what was learned, including learning about strategies that did not work. In so ­doing, the commitment that is crucial to any goal-­setting program ­will be nurtured. It is also impor­tant to stay open to unexpected benefits; for instance, tips from friends may strengthen friendships more than dance ability. With time and practice, dancers ­will also learn more about what works for them and about the goal-­setting pro­cess itself.

Supported. Goals are best set in a supportive task-­involving climate, with leaders who encourage performers to focus on the task at hand and on their own personal pro­gress (Roberts and Kristiansen, 2012; see also chapter 11).

­Table 9.2 SMART GOALS for Dancers and Teachers

Further Recommendations for Setting Effective Subjective Goals
Dancers often wish to improve on aspects that are inherently subjective, such as artistry, movement quality, or staying confident in rehearsals. When setting such goals, it is particularly impor­tant to carefully delineate what is meant. For example, they can discuss what “sharper movement quality” means with their teacher, or make notes in a diary about what “staying confident” means to them. What kinds of be­hav­iors would indicate that they ­were confident? Once the goal is specific and clear, dancers can seek feedback from multiple sources to reach “multi-­subjectivity”: while not objective, getting multiple points of view at least means they rely on the opinions of several ­people rather than on one person’s opinion. For instance, dancers might rate their own subjective perceptions, ask their teacher, and ask a friend to film them.

Keeping a training diary helps dancers write down, keep track of, and evaluate their goals.
Keeping a training diary helps dancers write down, keep track of, and evaluate their goals.

Dancers can also make subjective experiences mea­sur­able by using rating scales. For psychological constructs such as motivation and self-­confidence, they might borrow items (questions, statements) from established questionnaires, which are sometimes available online. In other cases, writing one’s own items might be best. For example, a dancer who wants to stay confident throughout rehearsals might decide that for her, confidence is expressed in making eye contact with the rehearsal director; in making her movements large and expressive; and in speaking up as soon as she is unsure of a step. She then rates herself on a scale from 1 (did not do this at all) to 5 (did this often) ­after each rehearsal.

Another scoring system is known as goal attainment scaling (Kiresuk et al., 1994). With this type of scoring approximately five descriptions of probable outcomes are developed, ranging from least favorable to most favorable. The best pos­si­ble outcome (e.g., behaved confidently throughout rehearsal) is given a score of +2 while the worst pos­si­ble (e.g., did not behave confidently at all) is given a score of −2. No change from the baseline is given a score of 0. By rating oneself (or teachers rating ­things like student engagement, perhaps) on a regular basis, it becomes pos­si­ble to get a good overview of be­hav­ior change. Further suggestions on how to use goal setting with dance students alongside journaling and self-­talk is found in Carattini (2020).