The method of SMART goals (an acronym for the 5 steps of specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals) is one of the most effective and powerful tools used by high achievers to reach their goals — realistically and consistently. Whether you’re leading a 300-person organization, a trailblazing startup entrepreneur, or an individual who wants to gain traction towards a personal goal, learning how to set and utilize SMART goals can make the difference between failure and achievement. 1. Make your goal focused and well-defined. A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal.
- When setting your goal, make sure you can answer the 6 “W” questions: Who, What, When, Where, Which, and Why. The more specific a goal is, the more you can find ways of reaching your target. Ask questions such as:
- Who is involved?
- What do I want to accomplish?
- Where will this happen? Identify a location.
- When will this happen? Establish a time frame.
- Which requirements and obstacles will be part of the process? Identify them.
- Why am I setting this goal? Nail down the specific reasons and benefits of accomplishing this goal.
- Know the difference between a specific goal and a vague goal. For example, there is a difference between saying, “I work too much, and feel drained and bored with my life” and “I miss having fun in my life, and want to invest time each week to seek out fun/recreational opportunities that will allow me to feel restored and happy.” When you set a goal to invest in reshaping your work/life balance, track your mood as a way of measuring your progress as you build pleasurable experiences back into your schedule. This will help you see the direct benefit of the changes you’ve made, allowing you to see the payoff of shifting your behavior. Other examples of specific and vague goals:
- Vague: Get in shape for the summer.
- Specific: Join a crossfit studio and attend 3-4 times a week over the next 3 months.
- Vague: Own a home.
- Specific: Put 30% of income into savings account for the next 12 months and talk to a realtor.
2. Have identified metrics for measuring your progress and outcomes. A goal without a measurable outcome is like a sports competition without a scoreboard. Identify specific markers of success to measure your progress and build momentum towards your goals.
- Ask questions such as:
- How often?
- How much/how many?
- How will I know when my goal is accomplished?
- What is at the finish line?
- Set a daily reminder to track and measure your progress:
- Keep a journal, put up a whiteboard at the office, use your smartphone to download a tracking app — these are all tangible ways to track your development.
- Make the goal Attainable
- Draft realistic goals. Based on the present restrictions such as your schedule, workload, and knowledge, do you believe you can attain the objective you set? If not, then set a different goal, one that is attainable for you in the present.
- Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you prepared to make the commitment to reach your target?
- Are you willing to dramatically alter or at least tweak aspects your life?
- Is there a more achievable target you are willing to to work for?
3. Choose goals that are attainable. Is your goal a challenge but still possible to achieve? Goals should be achievable. The best goals require you to stretch a bit to achieve them but they are not impossible to achieve. Goals that may have seemed far away and out of reach eventually move closer and become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you grow and expand to match them. When you list your goals you build your self-image. You see yourself as worthy of these goals, and seek out experiences that allow you to develop the skills and work ethic that allow you to possess them.
4. Make the goal relevant to your life’s reality. For instance, if joining a certain social organization seems like a good idea, but most of the organization’s activities center around consuming alcohol which is inconsistent with your goal of cutting back your drinking, choose a different organization. Lack of options/choices is rarely a problem in today’s culture of endless options. Carefully consider how well your choices are fitting into the big picture of how you want your life to look.
- Set goals that are realistic. If you are 30 pounds overweight and haven’t trained for a challenging athletic endeavor in 5 years, it’s unrealistic not to mention physically risky to sign up for a triathlon with 6 weeks of training. So set a goal you have a realistic chance of achieving. In my coaching practice, most people come in motivated and capable of change, but their expectation of immediate progress/payoff is commonly unrealistic, and can lead to a sense of inadequacy and undermine their confidence when moving forward.
5. Ground the goal within a time frame. SMART goals should be time-bound, meaning they should have a deadline or there should be a date for completion. Setting a deadline reinforces the seriousness of the goal in your mind. It motivates you to take action. When you don’t set a timeline, there is no internal pressure to accomplish the goal, so it gets put in the back burner. Have a sense of urgency. If you want to raise your credit score to 720, when do you want to raise it by? “Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor it within a timeframe (example: Raise credit from 700 to 720 in 12-18 months), then you’ve set your mind into motion to begin working on the goal. Within your established time frame, ask yourself:
- What can I do TODAY to reach my goal?
- What can I do 3 weeks from now to reach my goal?
- What can I do 3 months from now to reach my goal?
- Document or share your milestones with supportive people in your life along the way to your target. Make a point to pair your milestones with healthy rewards.
- Remember, there will be days when you feel discouraged, overwhelmed and ‘not in the mood’ to work towards your goal(s). This is normal, and does NOT mean you are failing yourself, or your plan. Getting offtrack does not equal failure, and is not a reason to give up or relent to feelings of hopelessness. Hit the pause button and take a breather. High achieving, hard working people still need a break sometimes. But then get your mind and body back on track, and reconnect with the true purpose behind setting your goal in the first place. Why is it important to you? What will accomplishing it afford you in the long run? Then get back in the game.
- Don’t forget to enlist people, opportunities and a range of resources that can help you achieve your goal. Most people feel good about tapping into their strengths, skill sets, and networks to help others grow and achieve. Help them feel good about helping you by not only expressing your gratitude, but by showing them the positive evidence of their support.
- Use the power of visualization. Make sure to imagine yourself not JUST at the finish line of your goal(s), but visualize yourself achieving the small steps it takes to get there. Don’t let there be a huge abyss between where you are now and where you want to be in your fantasies. Yes it can be indulgent and fun to fantasize about ‘the ultimate fantasy’ coming true, but you’ll benefit more from fantasizing about hitting your goal for the week if it’s actually achievable in the here and now.