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Last Updated on August 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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    Last Updated on October 13, 2020

    A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

    A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

    If there was a rule book of life, there would be one particular page that was highlighted, underlined, and titled as most important. It would be the one which told you that you need to master effective goal setting and have an aim in mind before you get on with the process. Luckily, this goal setting guide is here to help.

    Yes, goal setting is important. In fact, it’s more important than achieving the goal itself. This is because it is the sense of direction that is needed for you to fulfill any task in life.

    You don’t have to feel overwhelmed if this sounds new to you because all the following information has you covered.

    Today you’ll find out all about the importance of goal setting, types of goals, and tips to define realistic goals for yourself!

    What Are Goals?

    To kick off our goal setting guide, you need to first recognize what goals are and how they are different from objectives, dreams, and expectations.

    A goal is basically your aim for the relatively long-term future. It is the bigger umbrella, the main focus.

    Objectives, on the other hand, fall under the umbrella of goals. They are the stepping stones that help you achieve your goals[1].

    Objects vs goals for goal setting

      Let’s say you want to learn a new foreign language. Your goal is to be fluent in the new language. Everything you do to achieve this goal, such as the daily tasks and learning aims, are the objectives.

      Similarly, your expectations, visions, and dreams are not your goals. If you wish to learn a new language someday, that is your dream. If you see yourself fluently speaking multiple foreign languages, that is your vision. If you think you’re capable of learning a new language, that is your expectation.

      However, if you aim to fulfill these visions, dreams, and expectations practically, that is your goal.

      Why Is Goal Setting Important?

      Why should you bother with goal setting at all? Wouldn’t it be more convenient to just get on with your daily objectives, follow a dream or vision, and let life take you wherever?

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      Well, if that’s what you want to do in your life, go ahead, but if you actually want to tick off things from your list of goals to achieve, goal setting is necessary.

      Being committed to a goal puts your brain to work in one specific direction. Believe it or not, by having a defined goal, your brain does its magic unconsciously, 24/7, with full efficiency, to achieve the desired results[2].

      Goal setting is important to shift your focus, boost your motivation, and give you a sense of direction. Without formally defining a particular aim that you want to reach, you won’t be able to keep your objectives in line.

      Hence, this one tiny step can end up saving you a lot of hassle and time while also encouraging your productivity in the right regard.

      Types of Goals

      Before we move onto the technique of setting effective goals, we need to first take a look at all types of goals in this goal setting guide.

      These categories will not just help you brainstorm new one for yourself, but it will also guide you to list them down in the right way.

      Time-Based

      One of the two broad categories of goals is based on time. These goals define how far in the future you want to achieve them.

      Daily

      There are certain smaller goals that you can easily achieve in a day or two. In fact, some of these daily goals can be recurring, too. For example, you may want to run for an hour every morning.

      Now, these daily goals can also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. You may be running every day because, in the long-term, you want to increase your stamina.

      Daily goals are highly effective for people who want to improve their mental wellbeing, time management skills, and stress management.

      Short-Term

      Next in line are short-term goals. As you would have already guessed, these are aimed for the near future.

      The great thing about these is that they are generally easier to achieve. This is because short-term goals are set for the foreseeable future. You are aware of the circumstances and have an idea of how much the situation can change. That is unless, of course, something extremely unpredictable happens, the chances of which are quite slim.

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      Just like daily goals, short-term goals may also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. Your short-term goal may be to lose 5 pounds in one month. That could be a goal in itself, or maybe it is just one objective to fulfill your goal to adopt a healthy lifestyle in the next two years.

      Another example of a short-term goal is to fulfill the checklist for promotion within the next 6 months. Or, you may want to reduce your screen time within the coming week.

      Long-Term

      Lastly, we have long-term goals that are meant to be completed over a stretched period.

      Whatever you want to achieve in a later stage of life is a long-term goal. An insurance plan, for example, is a long-term goal.

      Some long-term goals don’t have any time frame at all. They are goals that you want to accomplish at some point in your life. So, something like traveling the whole world is a lifelong goal with no specific time constraint at all.

      There’s one thing about long-term goals that isn’t great.

      They are the hardest to keep up with since you’re not seeing any huge achievements regularly. This may take a toll on your motivation. To tackle this problem, it is best to divide a long-term goal into various short-term and daily objectives so that you’re always tracking the progress you’re making.

      Life-Based

      Moving forward, you can also start goal setting based on the results you want to achieve instead of the time period.

      Career

      Like all humans, you will always want to succeed and excel in your career. No one wants to stay where they are forever.

      Anything that has to do with this intention, regardless of the time frame, is a career goal.

      You can learn more about how to set successful career goals here.

      Personal

      The past few years have all been about emphasizing your personal health. So, when it comes to goals, how can we forget the ones that have to do with our personal gains?

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      From health to finances to relationships, everything that brings you happiness and composure as a person is a personal goal.

      Whether you want to get rid of your debt, quit smoking, start a side hustle, get married, or have children, all these goals are personal and very important to have on your list.

      How to Set Goals

      The best way to guarantee the fulfillment of goals is to set them the right way.

      SMART Goals

      Every goal you define has to be smart[3]. No, we don’t mean the adjective. We’re referring to the acronym here.

      SMART stands for:

      • Specific
      • Measurable
      • Attainable
      • Relevant
      • Time-Bound

      In summary, your specific goals should be very well defined. They shouldn’t be generic or broad, and every detail should be clarified. 

      If you want to start running, how often do you want to do it? How long will each session be? For how long will you continue this habit?

      There has to be a connection between your goals and beliefs or you’ll never be able to achieve the results you want. Most importantly, do not be unrealistic. You cannot learn to fly, and forcing yourself to try is only going to demotivate and stress you out.

      Some Rules

      Whenever you’re working your way through this goal setting guide, keep a few things in mind.

      First and foremost, prioritize your goals. Things that you want to achieve the quickest should be worked on first.

      Don’t act in a way that is self-centered. There are people around you who will be affected by the things you do. Keep them in mind when defining goals.

      Lastly, do not let yourself forget the bigger picture. Whether it is the long-term result or the connection of the goal with your desire, keep it in mind to keep yourself from getting distracted.

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      I also recommend you to watch this video to learn 7 strategies to set goals effectively:

      How to Reach Your Goals

      You can ensure your progress by following some foolproof tactics. The use of relevant helpful tools can also keep you on the right track.

      Tactics

      One rookie mistake that most people make is that they work on too many goals simultaneously. Create an action plan and focus on one thing at a time.

      Divide your goal into smaller, easily achievable tasks. Taking it one step at a time makes it way easier. However, do not break them down too much. For example, for long-term goals, you should go for weekly checkpoints instead of daily ones.

      Also, keep track of your progress. This will keep you motivated to work harder.

      Tools

      With so many categories of goals and so many aims, it is almost impossible to remember, let alone work, on all of them.

      Luckily, numerous goal tracker apps will help you keep track of your goals, as well as your plan to achieve every single one. Have at least one installed in your smartphone so that your plan is always within reach.

      Bottom Line

      In conclusion, using a goal setting guide is not rocket science. All that it takes is strong will power along with all the knowledge that you’ve learned so far.

      Try out the tactics and tips mentioned above to be able to set successful goals so that you can achieve the life that you want!

      More Tips on Achieving Success

      Featured photo credit: Danielle MacInnes via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Smart Insights: The difference between marketing objectives and marketing goals?
      [2] Confluence: Goal Setting Theory
      [3] University of California: SMART Goals: A How-To Guide

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