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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them to Be Successful)

What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them to Be Successful)

As a track and field runner in school, every year I would sit down with my coach and set a series of goals for the season. What times would I like to run that year? Which races would I like to win? Once we had set my goals for the year, we would create a training plan so I could achieve those targets. This helped me answer the main question here: “What are SMART goals?”

Before I got a coach, I used to run aimlessly. No plan, no target races. More often than not, I would end up injured and find my season ending after achieving very little.

Once I got a coach, everything changed. I started winning races that mattered and began enjoying my sport. This annual process taught me from a very early age that goals are important if I want to achieve the things that are important to me.

So exactly what are SMART goals? This article will talk about why goals matter, how to use SMART goals effectively with your time and resources, and how these goals give you a clear, specific plan, whether they are personal or business, that works time and time again.

Why Do People Fail to Reach Their Goals?

Setting SMART goals and achieving them

is not easy, and many people fail. A study by Scranton University found that only 8% of those who set New Year goals actually achieve them, meaning 92% who set new year goals fail[1]. Why is that?

The problem is that many people see goals, such as New Year resolutions, as hopes and wishes. They hope they will lose some weight, they wish to start their own business, or they hope to get a better job. The problem with “hoping” and “wishing” for something is that there is no plan, no purpose, and no time frame set for achieving the goals.

Once these hopes and wishes come face-to-face with the realities of daily life, they soon dissolve into lost hopes and wishful thinking.

So, in order to really achieve something, you need a concrete goal: a SMART goal.

What Are SMART Goals?

The foundation of all successfully accomplished goals is the SMART goal.

Originally conceived by George T. Doran in a 1981 paper[2], this formula has been used in various forms ever since.

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SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. It has been used by corporations and individuals to achieve their goals and objectives and is a formula that, on the whole, works well.

Use SMART goals to help you achieve more.

    The strength of SMART goals is that they set a clear path to achieving goals, and they have a clear time frame in which to achieve them. Let’s look at these in a little more detail:

    Specific

    For a goal to be achievable, it needs to have a very clear outcome. What you are asking is “What exactly do I want to achieve here?” The clearer the goal, the more likely it is you will achieve it.

    For example, if you just say “I want to lose weight,” then technically you could achieve your goal just by not eating dinner for one day—you would lose weight that way, even if it were temporary.

    You need to have a more specific goal: “I want to lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year.”

    Measurable

    To achieve anything, it’s important to have measurable goals. T

    ake the example above: “I want to lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year.” It’s measurable.

    All you need do is weigh yourself on 1 January, then deduct twenty-pounds from that and set that weight as the target for 31 July. Then, each week you weigh yourself to measure progress.

    Attainable

    Being attainable means that the goal is realistic and that you have what you need in order to achieve this goal.

    In our example of losing weight, 20 pounds in six months is certainly doable. Your resources could include a gym membership, some at-home weights, or simply motivation to get outside and run everyday.

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    Relevant

    For any goal to be achieved, you need to set relevant goals for your unique life.

    If losing weight is doable with the lifestyle you have, and if you believe it will lead to a happier, healthier life, then it is certainly relevant to you. It’s even more relevant if your doctor has pointed out that you need to lose weight to prevent health issues.

    Time-based

    Finally, you need a timeline. All your goals need to have an end date because it creates a sense of urgency and gives you a deadline.

    In our example of losing twenty-pounds, a timeline of six months would be specific, measurable, relevant, and would have a timeline. Furthermore, as you have what you need to achieve that goal, it is attainable—all elements of the SMART goal formula are included.

    How to Reach a SMART Goal

    The problem I have always found with the SMART goal formula is it does not take in to account the human factor. We need motivation. We need a reason for achieving these goals. If you have no real motivation—no “why”—then you will fail.

    Losing twenty-pounds, for example, isn’t easy. You are going to spend many months feeling hungry, and unless you possess super-human mental strength, you are going to give in to the food temptations.

    All SMART goals can be distilled down to three words:

    • What do you want to achieve?
    • Why do you want to achieve it?
    • How are you going to achieve it?

    When you simplify your goal in this way, achieving the goal becomes much easier.

    1. Visualize What You Want

    One way to make your goals achievable is to visualize the end result. When you write out your mission statement, you should be imagining what it will be like once you have achieved the goal.

    In our weight loss example, you would close your eyes and imagine walking down from your hotel room in Ibiza in July with your towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and swimwear on. You would imagine walking past all the other sunbathers and the feeling you have, the pride in the way you look and feel.

    Try to invoke as many of the five senses as you possibly can[3].

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    2. Identify Your “Why”

    If you take losing twenty-pounds as an example, once you have made the decision that you want to lose twenty-pounds, the next question to ask yourself is “Why?” The more personal your why, the better.

    Your why could be, “Because I want to look and feel fantastic by the pool in Ibiza this summer.” That is a strong why.

    If your why is, “Because my doctor told me to lose some weight,” that is not a good why because it’s your doctor’s, not yours.

    One way to identify your “why” is to write your mission statement.

    To help with setting achievable goals, when working with my clients, I always ask them to complete the following mission statement:

    I will [STATE GOAL CLEARLY] by [DATE YOU WANT TO COMPLETE THE GOAL] because [YOUR WHY].

    If you want to write a SMART goal for the weight loss example, your mission statement would be written: “I will lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year because I want to look and feel fantastic by the pool in Ibiza.”

    Never write a mission statement that is full of vague words. The words you use should be simple, direct, and clear.

    3. Figure Out Your “How”

    Before you can begin achieving your goal, you need to create a list of steps you can take to make it happen.

    Write down everything you can think of that will help achieve your goal. It doesn’t matter what order you write these tasks down; what matters is that you write down as many action steps you can think of.

    I always aim for around one hundred small steps. This makes it much easier to assign tasks for each day that not only moves you forward on your goal, but also keeps you focused every day on achieving the goal.

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    Once you have your list, you can create a to-do list for the goal and allocate the steps to different days so you create momentum towards a successful outcome.

    For more on how to create a great to-do list, check out this article.

    Bonus: Make a PACT

    There is one more part needed to really make sure you achieve the SMART goals you set for yourself, and that is something I call PACT. PACT is another acronym meaning Patience, Action, Consistency, and Time. You need all four of these to achieve goals.

    Patience

    Without patience, you will give up. To achieve anything worthwhile requires patience. Success does not happen overnight. Be patient and enjoy the process of stepping a little closer towards achieving your goal each day.

    Action

    If you do not take action on any goal, then no goal will be achieved. You need to make sure each day you remind yourself of your goal and why you want to achieve it. Read your mission statement, and then take the necessary action to make sure you move a step closer each day.

    Consistency

    The action you take each day towards achieving your goal needs to be consistent. You can’t follow your diet program for a week and then have three weeks off. It doesn’t work like that. Jim Rohn said it perfectly when he said:

    “Success is a few simple disciplines practised every day.”

    Time

    Of course, you need to allow enough time between where you are today and where you want to be in the future. Be realistic about time, and don’t get disheartened if you miss your deadline. Readjust your timeline if necessary.

    The Bottom Line

    The key to success is to put everything together. When you connect all of these elements, you create an environment where achieving SMART goals becomes much more attainable.

    When you have a strong personal “why” for your goal, your motivation to keep going stays strong.

    Start with your “why,” and then get started on the action steps that will take you all the way to the end.

    More Tips on Reaching Your Goals

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Carl Pullein

    Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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    Published on January 14, 2021

    What Is An Action Plan And Why Is it Important?

    What Is An Action Plan And Why Is it Important?

    All of us have goals we want to accomplish in life. Maybe you want to do your taxes yourself for the first time or lose weight. You may also have a really big goal, such as starting a successful business or remodeling your kitchen. But to achieve your goals efficiently and effectively, you must have an action plan. An action plan is a tool that lists the tasks you need to finish to achieve your goal by a certain date.

    The length and complexity of your action plan will depend on the complexity of your goal. If you just want to change your oil, your action plan can be a simple, half-page document. On the other hand, if you want to build that new kitchen, your action plan will consist of many pages and will likely have diagrams and drawings.

    In this article, I’ll explain why an action plan is important and how to create one to help you achieve your goals.

    Why Is an Action Plan Important?

    An action plan is critical in accomplishing goals because it will help you stay motivated and ensure that you’re on track to complete your goal in a reasonable amount of time.

    Have you ever planned to do something but procrastinated? Having an organized action plan will help you overcome procrastination by keeping you motivated with a visual map of exactly what you need to do and when you need to complete each task. It’s easy to put off that big project when you don’t have a solid plan to get it done.

    You may lose motivation because it feels overwhelming. But after you create an action plan, you may find that you aren’t overwhelmed anymore because all of the tasks are laid out in an organized, step-by-step manner.

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    The action plan will help you monitor your progress. You’ll have an official start and end date, and you’ll know approximately how long it will take to finish each step. It can also help ensure that you’re staying within a certain budget and if you need to make adjustments to your time or resources.

    How to Create an Action Plan

    Here are the 6 steps you should follow in creating an action plan.

    1. Define Your Goal

    If you want to create an action plan, you first need to know your goal. To do this effectively, make sure you create a SMART goal, which must be:

    • Specific – you must clearly identify the goal. An example is weight loss.
    • Measurable – define the metrics or measures you’ll use to make sure you’ve completed the goal. An example is “I want to lose 70 pounds.”
    • Attainable – make sure your goal is realistic. Losing 70 pounds in two months isn’t attainable, but losing 70 pounds in 7 months is something you can do.
    • Relevant – make sure the goal is very important to you. This is a critical part of the process. Why are you doing this? Why is it important to you? Make sure your goal is aligned with your values and is authentic to you. Don’t do something just because of peer pressure or because of a reason that conflicts with your core values.
    • Time-bound – you must have a specific start and end date. If your goal has a lot of steps, you’ll also want to know how long each step will take.

    In our weight loss example, the goal can be: “I want to lose 70 pounds in 7 months because I want to be in good physical and mental health. I want more energy and I want to set a good example for my kids. I want them to know that health is very important.”

    2. Pick a Tool to Create Your Action Plan

    The tool you use to create your action plan will depend on the complexity of your plan. If you have a large, complicated plan, you may need specialized software to aid you.

    Most action plans can be done with readily available software, such as Microsoft Excel or Word. I use Excel or Word for all of my action plans. A very simple action plan can even be written on a piece of paper.

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    3. List and Weigh Your Options

    Now that you have your goal, list all of your options and the costs and benefits of each one. Continuing with our dieting example, you’d research the different dieting options and then list the pros and cons of each one.

    Maybe the Mediterranean diet is the best one for you. Perhaps the keto diet would work well. Or maybe you want to create your custom diet. If necessary, get help from experts in the area in which you’re doing research.

    4. Define Your Budget and Identify Resources

    Not all goals require a defined budget, but many do. Define your budget up front. Then, identify the resources you need to complete each step of the plan.

    The main resources you will need to achieve your goals are time, money, people, and technology. There may be certain technologies you want to use, but you don’t have enough money to buy them. If you have more money, you can buy more technology and hire more people to help you complete certain steps, which decreases the amount of time it will take to finish your project.

    If you have fewer resources, it will take more time to reach your end date. Find the ideal balance for your goal.

    5. List the Steps You Need to Take

    Just like what I did in this article, you should list the steps you need to take in your action plan.

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    First, create a detailed, prioritized list of steps you must take to achieve your goal. Start with the very first step and end with the last one. Some steps will involve a series of other steps. Finding a good nutrition specialist may involve doing internet research, checking your current health plan for nutrition specialists, and talking to friends to see if they have specialists they can recommend to you.

    Next, make sure you document all of the steps and, if applicable, all sub-steps involved in achieving your goal. Also indicate who is responsible for performing the steps, if necessary. And include what tools, technologies, and other things you need to finish the steps, along with the price of these things.

    Then, ensure that you’re operating within your budget.

    Finally, Document how long it will take to finish each step. If you have people helping you, make sure you work with them to determine exactly how long it will take to finish each step.

    6. Monitor and Adjust Your Plan

    Once you execute your plan, you have to closely monitor and adjust it to make sure you’re staying within your budget and that you’re completing each task on time. If some things cost more than your original estimates, you may have to use more economical options. Another way to cut costs is to learn how to do more tasks yourself instead of hiring others to do them.

    I saved a lot of money creating my website for my life/business coaching and speaking website. You have to make sure you have enough time to learn new skills and technologies, which can sometimes require a big-time investment.

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    You may find that some tasks will take less or more time than you first estimated, so you’ll have to adjust your timeline as needed.

    Final Thoughts

    Creating an action plan gives you a clear direction. It’s a visual guide that will help you achieve your goals in an effective and timely manner.

    A well-crafted action plan will help you stay motivated and committed to your goal. It will allow you to track your progress and make adjustments that will keep you moving toward that very important goal.

    Always remember to start with a strong “why.” Make sure your end goal is something that’s aligned with your values and who you are. A lot of people procrastinate or fail to achieve their goals because they don’t have a strong reason to achieve them.

    Your action plan will help you achieve those goals and when you’re done, you’ll feel extremely proud.

    More Tips on How to Create an Action Plan

    Featured photo credit: ConvertKit via unsplash.com

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