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Published on November 11, 2019

How to Write a Good SMART Goal Statement

How to Write a Good SMART Goal Statement

Goal setting used to be something only the elite successful few had knowledge of and utilized. But it is now becoming widely known as the smartest first step to achieve success.

In spite of this, it’s quite surprising to find that many people don’t know how to write a good SMART goal statement. They don’t write them well or even understand why it is so important.

SMART is a well-known acronym, which is mostly understood as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed. However, there are also a number of simple secrets to this acronym that can really make a difference.[1]

It took me ages to learn how to write an effective goal. I had mentors and trainers who would pick my goals apart to make them even more SMART. It took persistence until it eventually paid off and I have since experienced the myriad of benefits.

When we effectively write a good SMART goal statement, it gives our mind direction and we see more possibility. We become more focused and because of this, we often achieve what we want a lot faster. We also save time and work more productively.

And here’s why:

There is a tiny part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System. It acts like the gatekeeper between our conscious and unconscious mind. It filters information and controls what we become consciously aware of in our everyday environment.[2]

The thing that most people are unaware of is that, the RAS as it is often called, filters according to past and present experience, and it deletes anything that isn’t relevant to that.

This means if you don’t write a SMART goal statement with this in mind, you could miss essential cues that could help you achieve it. Your reticular activating system will delete that information.

A SMART goal statement is a sentence or even paragraph written to the formula of the SMART acronym. This contains all the effective criteria you need to help you write a powerful goal. When you adjust this acronym slightly, it brings that formula to life. This is where it becomes much more powerful.

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Let me explain how this works.

Specific – Where It Is Often Misused in Goal Statements

Specific means more than just precise objects like a house, car or money, although this is important. True specificity is also in the micro details of the experience.

What do I mean by that?

It’s essential to be clear on:

  • What you want to achieve
  • Who else will be involved in it
  • When and where it will be achieved
  • Why you want it

Including the sensory details of the experience is vital, such as what you will see, hear, feel, smell or taste as you achieve it.

This makes your goal statement sensory specific. And because we experience everything through our five senses, it brings your goal to life. It kind of tricks your reticular activating system. This is because it doesn’t know the difference between imagination and real experience. And we respond almost automatically to this sensory information, which means we will make different decisions. [3]

As you write your goal this way, your RAS will start to provide you with opportunities. Many people call them coincidences, but it’s just that your blinkers have come off and you are more consciously aware.

Writing your goals with specific and sensory detail you will begin to notice many more possibilities than ever before.

Measurable – The Necessary Requirements

This is anything with numbers in it, such as quantities, measurements, amounts and dates.

If a goal isn’t measurable, then it becomes quite easy to veer off track. It’s kind of like a football field with no goal post. The game would never end and no one would know which direction to play.

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When you make your goal measurable, it gives you a concrete criteria to aim for. This will increase your focus making your decisions and actions much more defined.

This can sometimes be tricky with certain goals. For instance, it’s easy to write a measurable goal when aiming for an increase in income or possibly a decrease in weight. Goals around things like relationships, friendships or health require more thought.

Think about how you will know the goal has been achieved and what measurements could be involved. For example, if you want to increase the fun in your relationship you may be having date night once each week. Or you may be doing something adventurous once a month. This makes your goal measurable.

As you write your goal statement as measurable as possible, it will give you a clear vision of what you are aiming for. This is vital to reaching your target.

Achievable – Replacing This with “as If” Will Power You Forward

It will benefit you greatly when you write your goals “As If” they are happening right now. This is because it makes your goal statement a current experience.

If you write your goals as a future experience, then it will always be in the future. This is because your mind will delete indicators, which can help you achieve what you want.

When you write your goals in present tense, your mind starts to think in a different way. Your goal becomes believable for your mind. And when your goal is believable, you will feel more confident in your ability to achieve it.

Writing your goal statement this way also changes the way your RAS is filtering information. You will notice things you used to be unaware of. This causes you to take actions you may not have taken before or go places you’ve never been. You may even bump into someone who can give you precise information to help you achieve your goal. These are often referred to as “signs” that you are meant to be doing it. When it just means your goal statement made you more aware.

Instead of beginning your goal with “By 31 December 2019”, I encourage you to write it this way; “It is 31 December 2019 and I am (or) I have.” As you write your goal in present tense, you will notice how real and exciting your achievement feels. This engages your senses too.

Realistic – A Different View to Consider

It’s important that you don’t make your goal realistic according to what you have achieved in the past. This is one of the most common ways you could limit yourself.

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Anything is possible and it is only your own mind that gets in the way of achieving it.

We create things twice, firstly in our imagination and secondly in our physical reality. And we do this with everything, even the things we don’t want. This means if we can see it in our minds eye, we can have or do it. It may just mean learning a new skill or building a key strength.

Realistic means assessing whether the goal is achievable in the time frame you have allowed. For example, if you want to become a competition tennis player and you are a beginner, then it is unrealistic to expect to do this in one month. Within this time frame, you would possibly have joined a club and begun lessons.

When you set your goals, do a realistic check. And if your time frame is a bit out, just change it.

When you use this version of realistic, you will notice your potential expand and so much more becomes possible.

Timed – Creating Motivation in Your Goal Statement

When you set a date to your goal, it gives your mind a deadline. And as you probably know with any deadline, it gets you off the starting line.

Whether you leave things until the last minute or whether you action a goal gradually over a longer time frame, it has the same effect.

The thing is, your date must be specific; because if it is too vague, it won’t motivate you as much.

Our unconscious mind always wants to protect us from the prospect of failure. One way we can do this is by not deciding on a firm deadline. If we don’t have a clear target date, then it’s easy to tell ourselves it’s not important. We might let ourselves off or get distracted with something else.

Giving your deadline more definition, however, it becomes urgent and something to be dealt with quickly. When you set the target date for your goal statement, make it very detailed with the day, month and year. You can even add the time if you want to be really specific. For example “It is Tuesday 31 December 2019 and it is 3pm”.

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Imagine how vivid this becomes in your mind’s eye when you do this. And the incredible sense of achievement you will feel when you reach your goal.

Bonus: Insight That Most People Don’t Think About

One of the most common mistakes I see is a goal statement written about what someone doesn’t want. You may think this is crazy, but it is easier done than you may think.

For example, say you are currently experiencing a lot of stress at work and you want less of that. You may write a goal that states you are “feeling less stressed” or you “have no pressure”. Your unconscious mind doesn’t understand comparison, negative or positive, it just hears words. If your goal includes the words stress or pressure, it will look for and create more of that.

So it’s important to state what you aim to have, instead of what you don’t.

Let’s look at another example. Say you want to lose weight. If you state the weight you have lost, your mind will go looking for it and guaranteed it will find it. This may be one reason you are experiencing weight loss and gain. In this case, it is essential to write a goal statement about what you weigh at your target date.

Carefully writing about what you do want instead of what you don’t, you will notice your achievement levels rise.

Final Thoughts

There was a much-quoted study, which was allegedly carried out in Yale University. The stories of this study have persisted since 1953. It showed that only 3% of those surveyed actually wrote goal statements. Findings claimed that elusive minority achieved their goals more consistently, had more confidence and earned more money than the other 97% who didn’t.

After further research this study and its stories were eventually found to be a myth. But, the reason they’ve perpetuated for so long is because their fundamental assertions are believable. The principals have been the practice of the most elite and successful for many years. And in my personal and professional experience I have found this to be true.[4]

Whether the study happened or not, what I do know is this:

One of the main reasons many goals remain dreams is because the deeper meaning of SMART is not fully utitilized.

Implementing these powerful principals in your SMART goal statements will dramatically increase your odds of consistently achieving high!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Álvaro Serrano via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Corporate Finance Institute: Smart Goal
[2] Study.com: Reticular Activating System: Definition & Function Video
[3] Education.gov.au: The senses working together
[4] ForbesBooks: The Science Behind Setting Goals (and Achieving Them)

More by this author

Deb Johnstone

Deb is a sought after mindset speaker and a transformational life and business coach specialising in NLP and dynamic mindset.

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

Want to know the good news?

No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Absolutely!

But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

Easier said than done, right? Try these:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

Be Patient about the Process

No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

2. Connect with Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

3. Find Strength in Unity

The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Recruit Some Cheerleaders

If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

Form an Accountability Group

Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
  • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
  • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
  • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
  • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
  • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

Tying it All Together

Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

But here’s the bottom line:

A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

More About Mental Strength

Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

Reference

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