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Last Updated on May 12, 2022

What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them For Success)

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What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them For Success)

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. 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 with 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, though, 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 what exactly 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 that works time and time again.

See our article on how to set smart goals in life on our achieving goals guide.

What Is a SMART Goal And How To Use It?

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

Originally conceived by George T. Doran in a 1981 paper[1], this formula has been used in various forms ever since.

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. To find out more about how SMART goal setting makes you more successful, check out How Smart Goal Setting Helps You Make Lasting Changes.

    Let’s look at the SMART criteria 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?” 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, as 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.

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    Attainable

    Being attainable means that SMART goals are realistic and that you have what you need in order to achieve them.

    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.

    If motivation is an area where you struggle, you can check out Lifehack’s Ultimate Worksheet for Instant Motivation Boost.

    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 formula for SMART goals are included.

    People Fail To Reach Their Goals Without a SMART Goal

    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[2].

    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.

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

    How to Reach a SMART Goal

    The problem I have always found with the SMART goal formula is it does not take into account the human factor. We need motivation and a reason for achieving these goals.

    If you decide to lose twenty-pounds, for example, you are going to spend many months feeling hungry, and unless you possess superhuman 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 it 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.

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    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].

    2. Identify Your “Why”

    If you take losing twenty-pounds as an example, once you have made the decision that you want to do this, 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 SMART 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 it.

    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.

    You can learn more about how to use SMART goals to achieve success and lasting change in this video:

    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.

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    Action

    If you do not take action on any goal, then even SMART goals won’t be achieved. You need to make sure you remind yourself of your goal and why you want to achieve it each day. Read your mission statement, make an action plan, 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. 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.

    Self-Evaluation When Setting SMART Goals

    Despite understanding what SMART goals are and how to effectively write them out, some of you will succeed in your goals while some of you will fail.

    That is the nature of goals. Despite your best efforts, sometimes you’ll come out short. But that’s okay because this reveals another aspect of goals.

    You see, goals help us change in so many ways, and they themselves can change, too. As you work through your goals, you might make adjustments to them. Maybe you need a little more time, or you weren’t expecting other life distractions to dig into your time.

    Regardless, here is how you want to approach and evaluate these aspects:

    Evaluating Failure

    Take failure as a learning opportunity. It’s a chance for you to learn about yourself, your goal-setting strategy, and the goal itself. From there, you can take that information and begin to make adjustments before attempting the goal again.

    It is essential that if you experience roadblocks or failure, you don’t take them as such. These are challenges and opportunities for growth and further adjustment. The key is to walk away from these aspects with more knowledge than before.

    Evaluating Success

    While this is a good opportunity to enjoy your rewards, you should also use this opportunity for reflection, perhaps even more than with failure.

    Success is great, but that often leads to the question of “What’s next?” And for many people, this is not an easy question to answer.[4] All in all, success can lead to us stagnating, which is dangerous.

    That’s not to say we need to be constantly achieving and setting goals. You should certainly be celebrating victories big or small. Not only that, but it’s key that we enjoy the results of our efforts.

    However, there comes a point where we need to reflect on that success. What have you gained from that success? What can you do moving forward to achieve more? What do you want to do next?

    By asking deeper questions about what you have achieved, you can further develop yourself and narrow down what needs to be focused on next.

    How SMART Goal Setting Makes a Lasting Impact

    Smart goal setting examples can be found all around you. Through SMART goal setting, Stephen Cooley was able to grow his real estate business to the point of closing at $110 million in sales when the average price point of homes was between $100,000 – $200,000 in South Carolina[5].

    Through SMART goal setting, Steve Jobs was able to improve the fortunes of Apple and prevent the company from going bankrupt, even when it had barely 90 days left before being declared so.

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    SMART goal setting can make a lasting impact in your life in several ways.

    Make Your Goal Clearer

    When you use the SMART criteria to set goals, it is easier for you to understand the various phases of your goal.

    By using SMART goal setting, you’re able to ask yourself relevant questions pertaining to your goal.

    Motivate You Into Acting on Your Goals

    When you use SMART goal setting and break down the goal into smaller goals or milestones, the bigger goal no longer looks intimidating or impossible.

    Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, wrote in his book How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be about how they applied the rule of five in marketing their book, Chicken Soup, and were able to make the book a best seller after some months[6]. The rule of five simply means doing five specific things every day that will move you closer to achieving your goal.

    In order not to be overwhelmed, you would have to measure your performance using the right metrics. Here we are considering the Measurable and Achievable aspects of the SMART acronym. It is critical that you measure yourself in terms of lead measures.

    What are lead measures? They are the things you do that leads you closer to your goals. On the other hand, you would have to avoid “lag measures.”

    While lag measures mean a successful outcome that you wished for and got, they can be emotionally draining and deceitful because, whenever they don’t happen, you can become discouraged.

    Therefore, it is better to stick to lead measures.

    Help You Save Time

    You can achieve more when you use SMART model goal setting.

    To be strategic, your goal would have to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. If you can’t identify any of these points in your goal, you probably will be wasting your time on a wild goose chase.

    When your goals are written down, it’s easier for you to go into action mode.

    Improve Your Self-Discipline

    Self-improvement is an important thing for everyone to do periodically. When you set SMART goals, it makes you realize that you have to sit up and work on achieving them.

    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.

    Whether it’s personal or business goals, 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.

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    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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