We all know we need to create goals if we want to be successful. Setting SMART goals will give you a roadmap to actually reach the goals you want. The problem most people have is that they basically name their dream and call it a goal. However, dreams typically aren’t specific enough or have timeframes attached. Learning to create SMART goals can set the foundations for success.
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What are SMART Goals?
I’ve talked about goals before and the importance of prioritizing them. Today, I’m going to get specific and talk about SMART goals in particular. Although most people think the ideas behind SMART goals make sense, it tends to be difficult to put into practice.
The acronym SMART spells out how to approach goal setting. Each letter stands for a step in the process: S-specific; M-measurable; A-attainable; R-relatable; T-time bound. Let’s take a look at each of these a little more in-depth.
Specificity will lead to Success
First, you want to be Specific as possible. For example, instead of I want to exercise more, you should say, I will walk for 30 minutes every day after dinner. Instead of saying I want to be a better friend, you say I will call/text at least 2 friends each week.
Specific goals are important because they provide direction and allow you to focus on what’s important. The 5 W’s are a good place to start to figure out how to make your goal specific.
Who will this goal involve?
What exactly do I want to accomplish?
When do I want to accomplish this goal?
Where will I achieve this goal?
Why is this goal important to me?
Here’s a vague example: I want to drink more water.
Better: I want to drink at least 8 glasses of water every day. I will drink 2 glasses before breakfast, 2 at lunch, 2 in the afternoon, and 2 before bed. I want to drink more water to be healthier.
Measure for Progress
Next, the goal needs to be Measurable. Why does this matter? Without having a way to measure, how will you know if you’ve been successful? Having a method of measuring will allow you to track your progress. As you see your progress, you will be more motivated to continue toward your goal.
Ask yourself similar questions when you want to determine how you will measure your progress. Tracking your progress will help you stay motivated.
How much or how many? – How will you know you’re being successful?
Looking back at the example above, I’ve stated how many glasses of water I plan to drink every day. I also break down when I will drink them.
Attain and Achieve
The next step is to make sure your goal is Attainable. Sometimes this step is called Achievable and that’s what we’re looking for here. Your goal needs to be realistic. For example, I despise running. I’ve done programs like Couch to 5K and I still believe that people who talk about “runner’s high” are lying. Not only have I never achieved pleasure from running, I still actively hate it.
So an Attainable goal for me would not be to run a marathon by next year. Is it physically possible? Can such a thing be attained? Sure. But knowing that I hate running, it’s not realistic. If I want to be physically healthier, I need to choose a goal that is achievable FOR ME.
Choosing goals that are attainable is important. You should stretch and push yourself out of your comfort zone, but it needs to be doable for you. If you choose a goal that is too far out for you to achieve, you will lose motivation and give up.
Using our water example, if you currently don’t drink any water, 8 glasses might seem doable until you start. Maybe you need to start smaller, say 1 glass at each of those times. Then, once you’ve achieved that, bump it up to 2 glasses.
This is a good way to make big goals attainable: give yourself smaller milestones. Milestone goals are smaller goals that lead you toward that big goal you set for yourself. Milestone goals help keep you motivated because you see success along the way.
In addition, milestone goals work well with people who struggle with planning. Because milestones are smaller steps, they’re easier to follow.
Know Your Why
The next step goes hand in hand with being attainable because it relates to my last point of it being realistic—Relevant. You need to choose goals that are in line with how you live and what is important to you. Yes, I should be more physically active. But if someone keeps telling me to start running because it’s the best way to improve my health, it still won’t make sense for me.
Can you tell I’m not lying about how much I hate running?
One of the most important parts of goal-setting is understanding your why. Relevance is often overlooked when setting SMART goals. We choose things that seem like they will make us better, healthier, smarter, and more successful. However, sometimes we choose things based on what other people think is important.
You need to ask yourself whether the goal resonates with you.
Is the goal worthwhile? Is the effort worth the result?
Does this goal align with my other goals?
Is this the right time for this goal?
Does it make sense financially?
Is this goal right for me? Is it attainable? Do I have the skills and abilities to be successful in this goal?
These are some tough questions, but being honest with yourself will save you a whole lot of disappointment. Don’t let others dictate what’s important to you right now. Choosing their goals is setting yourself up for failure.
Just because a significant other or friend has told you to lose weight or work toward a promotion at your job doesn’t mean it’s a right goal for you right now. Maybe you know you should lose weight or you are working in a position for which you are overqualified. But if you are swamped with other issues—depression, anxiety, hell-figuring out your executive function skills—now might not be the right time for those things, even if you know they should be goals for you.
It's important to match your goals to all aspects of your life to align what’s important to you.
Deadlines are Your Friends
Finally, your goal needs to be Time-bound. You need to have a deadline. A goal without a deadline is really just a dream. If you don’t have a deadline, what will keep you on track? What will prevent you from saying, “Tomorrow,” and then again, “Tomorrow”?
For a goal to be time-bound, it should have a start and end date. These will allow you to stay on track. As noted above, milestone goals with deadlines will increase your motivation to keep going. With every win, we want to achieve more.
Deadlines will give you a sense of urgency. Otherwise, we fall into a pattern of “someday”s. Start and end dates will help you stay focused. They will also help you learn to prioritize.
If you know you only have 3 weeks to finish a goal, you will forego other things that don’t help you to achieve your goals. This kind of prioritization can help you streamline different aspects of your life because you will cut out the unnecessary things in order to reach your goal.
Write It Down
The last thing I want to mention in regard to setting SMART Goals is that it’s not enough to just think about them. Studies show that writing our goals down and reviewing them regularly increase success. Writing the goals down will help you visualize them as your new reality.
Writing your goals down will help cement them in your brain. The act of writing makes new connections in your brain and just the act of doing this will help you remember things. This is why I tell people to take notes and write things in a planner or journal. You are more likely to remember if you write it.
And you can’t just write them down once and forget them. You need to review them and remind yourself of the journey you’re on. You need to remind yourself why you’re doing this, especially when your motivation starts to wane.
Reviewing your goals will remind you why the goal matters to you, why you set it, and why you want it. Review will give you renewed purpose and increase your rate for success.