Setting SMARTer Goals

A journal entry with goals listed
A journal entry with goals listed

Goals. We set them, and with any luck we achieve them. In theory, this is what moves us forward as individuals, and as a society. That being said, goal setting is the first part of achieving any goal. It helps to frame how we talk about it and helps us to create a plan for success.

S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting Defined

S.M.A.R.T. goal setting is a system that has been around for a while and has been proven to be a very effective. I’ve started using this both at work and in my every day life and have been astonished at the positive impact it has had. Combining S.M.A.R.T. goal setting with a methodical process for developing achievement plans (to be covered in an upcoming post) can greatly increase your chances for success.

Now, without further ado, let’s dig into the definition of S.M.A.R.T.

S – Specific

The first thing about S.M.A.R.T. goals is that they have to be specific. None of this “My goal is to be a better person.” Goals need to be very intentional if you ever hope to achieve them. Specificity is what provides you with the motivation to keep going. It also provides you with the ability to talk about the details of what you hope to accomplish. Avoid making goals that are too broad.

M – Measurable

Being able to articulate success is quite possibly the most important thing about setting goals. Creating a goal that is measurable allows you to evaluate your progress as time goes on (in most cases) and allows you to clearly define a success state. Being able to measure your progress will allow you to make adjustments and optimize while working towards your goals.

A – Achievable

This one is a bit fo a no brainer. There is no point in setting a goal that you cannot achieve. Saying “I’m going to settle on Mars next year” is quite ridiculous. Setting unachievable goals will do nothing but discourage you in the long term and should be avoided without question.

R – Relevant

Does the goal relate to your greater aspirations? There’s no point in setting goals if it doesn’t move you or your interests forward. This one is pretty straightforward, set goals that apply to you and your beloved.

T – Time-bound

Setting a goal that is time-bound helps to create more well defined success and failure criteria. If there is no timetable associated with the a goal, you could say you’re working on it for the rest of your life and never actually achieve anything… Does that sound like fun? By forcing yourself to set a date, you can create milestones, track progress, and thus make necessary changes as you march towards success.


Phrase your goals as affirmations, don’t make them aspirational. Use words such as “I am going to” instead of “I want to.” This will help put you in the mindset to and also reinforce your belief that you can accomplish what you set out to.

Applying S.M.A.R.T.

Having the definition of S.M.A.R.T. is all well and good, but how can you apply it to your life? Let’s start with a simple example, a perennial New Year’s resolution of mine; read more.

On the surface it sounds great, noble, something we should probably all aspire to. My rate of success over the last decade? 0%.

This year I’ve decided to reconstruct my New Year’s resolution as a S.M.A.R.T. goal:

I am going to read twelve books by the end of the year (December 31st).

Now, let’s break this down according to the S.M.A.R.T. framework.

SpecificCan I sensibly articulate the goal in plenty of detail? Yes, it is concrete and leaves little room for interpretation (unless you start to question the definition of the word “book”). One thing to make this more specific is to create a list of books I plan to read. I won’t belabor anyone the details of that list, but I do have one!

MeasurableCan I easily tell if I accomplished my goal? Either I read 12 books before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, or I didn’t. While you may think there is some wiggle room, you need to be ruthless in how you evaluate yourself. Either the last book is read, or it isn’t. If you’re 50 pages short, you failed (coming close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades).

AchievableCan I actually read 12 books in one year? I don’t think I have before. It is a bit of a stretch, but it is certainly humanly possible. This comes down to discipline more than ability. As such, I am saying it is achievable, and that if I fail, it is on me, not some external force.

RelevantDoes the goal move me closer to my dreams? Absolutely.I didn’t pick this goal because it seemed like something I should do. There is so much I want to learn and the list of books applies very much to the topics I am pursuing. If a goal doesn’t move you forward in your life, why would you pursue it?

Time-boundIs the goal restricted by time? Yes. With a one-year deadline, this one is pretty straight forward. I’ll be evaluating my progress every month and making changes to my execution plan as necessary.

Follow Through

You’ve got everything you need to start setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, time to seize the day! Share your goals in the comments section or share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. If you need help turning some more complex personal goals into S.M.A.R.T. goals, reach out and I’d be happy to talk with you about it.

While it’s a good start, creating a plan to help you reach your goal is arguably more important. I’ll be covering plan development in an upcoming post and go into detail in figuring out the “how”.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash


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