How To Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

“What’s your personal goal?” I asked him.

“To go to the gym,” he responded.

“Great! How many times?” I asked.

“Three times per week,” he responded.

“Great! For how long?”

“45 minutes.”

“Great! Is that 45 minutes for all three sessions or 45 minutes per session?”

“Each session.”

“Great! Lastly, is this something you’ll have to push yourself to make happen this month?”

“Yes. I hate going to the gym.”

“Great! Now you have a S.M.A.R.T. Goal,” I concluded.

That was an actual conversation I had with someone I was coaching. Their initial goal was to “go to the gym.” When I was done with my questioning, their goal morphed into “go to the gym three times per week for 45 minutes per session.”

Notice the difference? What we did was create a S.M.A.R.T Goal. Setting reasonable goals is a major first step in actually achieving our goals. A study by psychologist Gail Matthews found that people who wrote down their goals were 42% more successful in achieving them compared to those who merely formulated outcomes in their heads.

Another study from the University of Scranton found that only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions. That’s right; a staggering 92% of us fail to stick to the goals we set for ourselves.

Houston, we have a problem!

Before we can discuss having a plan to achieve our goals or having an accountability buddy, we first have to consider what type of goals we are setting.

I’ve facilitated enough goal-setting sessions to know that most people set D.U.M.B. goals. By that, I mean Delusional, Unmeasurable, Misguided, and Boundless.

Instead, we need to set S.M.A.R.T. goals, a proven method that helps set realistic and achievable goals and drastically improves your chances of actually reaching them. In this post, I will show you exactly what I mean and how to do it so you can be a part of the successful 8%!

So, let’s walk through the S.M.A.R.T. process to help you create clear, well-defined goals.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals:


The “S” stands for specific.

When setting goals, it’s crucial to be as precise as possible. Specificity is like your goal’s GPS; it guides you clearly to your destination without detours or distractions.

Imagine telling a taxi driver, “I want to go somewhere nice.” Sounds good, but where exactly is that? Contrast that with, “I want to go to Central Park, near the Belvedere Castle.” That’s specific.

Similarly, your goals need that level of clarity.

Here’s a classic example. Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight,” a specific goal would be, “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next three months.” This clearly defines your goal, making planning and taking action easier.

Why does specificity matter? A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion showed that setting specific goals increases the likelihood of attainment. It’s not just about having a target; it’s about knowing exactly what it is.

So when setting your goal, ask yourself:

  • Who is involved?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where will it be done?
  • When do I want to achieve it?
  • And why is this goal important?

For example, if your goal is career-oriented, instead of “I want to advance in my career,” make it specific: “I want to earn a promotion to a senior manager role by the end of this year by enhancing my leadership skills and increasing my department’s performance.”

Remember, the more specific your goal, the more precise the path to achieving it. Specificity turns a vague aspiration into a clear, actionable objective.

And with that clear, specific goal in mind, let’s move on to the next step in our S.M.A.R.T. process.


The “M” stands for Measurable.

Once you have a specific goal, you must ensure it’s quantifiable. After all, if you can’t measure it, how will you know you’ve achieved it?

Take the goal of our gym-goer, for instance. By stating “45 minutes per session,” they’ve made their gym goal measurable. They can track their progress each week, and by the end of the month, they’ll know if they’ve hit their target.

Measurability turns intention into action.

Why is this important? A study by Forbes found that people who vividly describe their goals in written form are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to achieve them than those who do not. When goals are measurable, they provide a sense of achievement and feedback, which is critical for motivation and improvement.

But how do you make a goal measurable?

You need to add numbers or parameters that provide a way to assess progress. If your goal is to improve team performance, instead of a vague aim like “improve team collaboration,” set a measurable goal like “increase team productivity by 20% within six months by implementing weekly team-building exercises.” Measurable goals provide a tangible way to track your progress and keep you on course. They transform abstract aspirations into concrete achievements.

And that’s not all. When you measure your progress, you get valuable insights into what’s working and what’s not. This allows you to make necessary adjustments to stay on track.

So, remember to make your goals measurable. Whether it’s a number, a percentage, or a clear marker of success, having something concrete to aim for will significantly increase your chances of achieving your goals.

Now that we’ve covered the importance of making goals specific and measurable let’s move on to the next critical aspect of S.M.A.R.T. goals.


The “A” stands for Attainable.

This aspect of goal setting ensures that while your goal is challenging, it’s still achievable. Attainable goals strike a balance between being too easy and unrealistically ambitious.

Why is this important? Goals that are too easy don’t provide enough challenge or motivation. On the other hand, goals that are too ambitious can be overwhelming and lead to discouragement.

For instance, if our gym-goer had never exercised before, setting a goal to work out seven days a week for an hour might be too ambitious, setting them up for failure. But aiming for three times a week, as they did, is challenging yet achievable.

I’ve done enough goal-setting sessions with people and teams to tell that when someone sets a goal to do something every day for an extended period… I’ve NEVER… yes, NEVER seen them achieve it. Things come up. Life comes up. Weather comes up. So, make sure your goal is attainable.

The key to setting attainable goals lies in assessing your current abilities and resources and then stretching them further.

In fact, research from the Center for Creative Leadership highlights that unrealistic goals can worsen productivity rather than improve it. When people realize their goals are not feasible, it can lead to adverse effects.

It’s about knowing your limits and then pushing them just a bit.

When setting your goal, ask yourself:

  • Is this goal realistic for me right now?
  • Do I have the necessary resources and capabilities to achieve this goal?
  • If not, what would it take to get there?

For a career-oriented example, earning a promotion to a senior manager role in a year is challenging but might be attainable with dedicated effort and the right opportunities.

An attainable goal is like a ladder. Each rung represents a small, manageable step towards your ultimate objective. This approach keeps you motivated and builds confidence as you achieve each intermediate step.

Remember, while it’s good to dream big, your goals should be grounded in reality. By making your goals attainable, you set yourself up for success and build the momentum needed to achieve even bigger dreams.

With your goal now specific, measurable, and attainable, let’s move forward to the next critical component of S.M.A.R.T. goals.


The “R” stands for Relevant.

This is where you ensure that your goal matters to you and aligns well with other relevant aspects, such as your broader life plans, career aspirations, or personal development. Relevance is about ensuring the goal fits your life’s big picture.

Why is this crucial? Well, a goal that’s relevant to you is much more motivating. It’s like ensuring that the puzzle piece fits and contributes to the overall picture you’re trying to complete.

Take our gym-goer’s goal: going to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes. This goal is highly relevant if their broader aim is to improve their health or build a fitness habit. But if their primary focus is on something entirely different, say learning a new language, this goal might not hold the same significance.

When setting a goal, it’s essential to ask:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Does this match my other efforts/needs?
  • Am I the right person to achieve this goal?

For example, enhancing your leadership skills is highly relevant if you’re aspiring to become a manager or leader. However, if you plan to be a master chef, this same goal might take a back seat to others, like, oh, I don’t know, learning to cook!

In essence, relevant goals fit your lifestyle, values, and larger personal and professional plans. They feel worthwhile and are motivating because they directly align with what you truly want to achieve.

So, make sure your goals are relevant to your life goals. This will keep you engaged, motivated, and more likely to achieve them.

Now that we have a specific, measurable, attainable, and relevant goal, it’s time to address the final component of the S.M.A.R.T. methodology.


The “T” stands for Time Bound.

This means setting a specific timeline for achieving your goal. It’s about creating a sense of urgency and a deadline that compels you to take action and keeps you focused.

Ever notice how you get ten times more stuff done right before you are supposed to leave for a trip than the ten days prior?

This is why having a time frame is so important. Setting a goal without a deadline makes it easy to keep pushing it off. A goal without a timeline is like a ship without a rudder drifting aimlessly. But with a deadline, you have a clear target date to work towards.

In our gym example, our goal-setter plans to go to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes. 

Adding a time-bound element, such as “for the next three months,” creates a finite period during which they can measure their progress and reassess their goal at the end.

Setting a deadline does several things for your goal:

  • It creates urgency: A timeline pushes you to get started and keep moving forward. It’s a constant reminder that there’s an endpoint you’re striving to reach.
  • It allows for planning: Knowing your deadline helps you break down the goal into smaller, manageable tasks and plan accordingly.
  • It enables tracking: With a clear end date, you can regularly check your progress and adjust your strategies if needed.

For instance, if your career-oriented goal is to earn a promotion to a senior manager role, setting a deadline like “by the end of this year” allows you to plan specific steps you must take each month to enhance your leadership skills and increase your department’s performance.

Remember, a goal without a timeline is just a dream. By making your goals time-bound, you convert them into achievable objectives with a clear path to success.

And there you have it, the complete blueprint to not being D.U.M.B… uh, I mean setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. By following these steps, you’re not just setting goals but setting yourself up for success.

Remember, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals isn’t just about hitting targets; it’s about embarking on a journey of self-improvement and personal growth. It’s about turning those ‘one-day’ dreams into ‘day one’ action plans.

Let’s do a quick recap:

Be Specific: Nail down the what, where, when, and why.

Make it Measurable: If you can measure it, you can achieve it.

Ensure it’s Attainable: Push your limits, but stay within the realm of possibility.

Keep it Relevant: Align your goals with your bigger picture.

Time-bound it: Deadlines are the adrenaline of goals!

And now, armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to set goals that are not just wishes but blueprints for your success.

Before you click away, here’s a challenge for you: Take a moment after this article to jot down one S.M.A.R.T. goal you want to achieve in the next month. Write it down, pin it up where you can see it, and start your journey towards achieving it. Life’s too short for vague dreams – make them S.M.A.R.T. instead.

Here’s to setting goals that take you places!

In conclusion, the power of S.M.A.R.T. goals lies in their ability to transform aspirations into tangible achievements. By being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound, you create a roadmap that guides you toward success.

Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Your S.M.A.R.T. goal is that crucial first step, setting the tone for a purposeful and rewarding journey. It’s not just about reaching the destination but relishing the growth, learning, and personal development along the way.

As you embark on your goal-setting journey, remember that setbacks may happen. Life is unpredictable, and circumstances may change. However, with a well-crafted S.M.A.R.T. goal, you possess the flexibility to adapt and overcome challenges.

Share your goals with others, seek support, and celebrate your victories – both big and small. You’re not alone in your pursuit of success, and the accountability and encouragement of those around you can make a significant difference.

So, what are you waiting for? Take the plunge, set your S.M.A.R.T. goals, and watch your aspirations evolve into accomplishments. The journey is yours to shape, and each step forward is a triumph. Here’s to a future filled with purpose, growth, and the fulfillment of your S.M.A.R.T. goals!

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