How to Set and Achieve Them

A common acronym in goal setting is the so called SMART goals, but what does it really mean and what is so smart about them?

The SMART acronym is used to describe what experts consider to be "good" goal statements because they contain most of the essential ingredients.

The SMART acronym itself has several different variations depending on who you ask. However, I think it is useful to look at all of them because it provides a well-rounded goal statement.

S  Specific & Significant
M Measurable, motivational, methodical & meaningful
A Action-oriented & achievable
R Realistic & relevant
T Time-bound & tangible

Writing SMART Goals

Let's take a closer look at each of these properties...

Specific - Your SMART goal statement should be a clear and specific statement of what you want.

The main reason is that your brain behaves like goal-seeking mechanism, similar to a precision guided missile. As these missiles fly, they continually make small adjustments and corrections to their trajectories to realign themselves to their target.

Your brain also works in a similar way. Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of the classic Psycho-Cybernetics, said that human beings have a built-in goal seeking "success mechanism" that is part of the subconscious mind.

This success mechanism is constantly searching for ways to help us reach our targets and find answers to our problems. According to Maltz, we work and feel better when our success mechanism is fully engaged going after clear targets.

All we have to do to use this mechanism is to give it a specific target. Without one, our success mechanism lies dormant, or worse, pursues targets we didn't consciously choose.

When your target is vague or ambiguous, your success mechanism can become confused and either shut down or go after the wrong target.

Significant - Significant goals are the ones that will make a positive difference in your life. If a goal is not significant, why are you even contemplating it? Is it really your goal?

Measurable - There is an old saying that says "what gets measured gets done."

Making your goal measurable helps you see your progress, recognize if you are moving in the right direction, and see how far you still need to go.

Some types of goals, like saving a certain amount of money each month, or reading 100 pages per week, are very easy to measure, while other goals aren't really measurable directly.

For example, if your goal is to improve your relationship with your significant other, how do you measure it?

One option is to use some sort of rating. For example, you could say that your relationship is a 6 and your goal is to make it an 8.

The problem is that these types of ratings are very subjective, can change from day to day, and don't really give you very good feedback.

A better option is to focus your goal on specific actions you can take that will help you achieve your overall objective.

For example, if you want to improve your relationship, your goal might be to practice the "4 small steps to a better relationship" every day. This is something that you can easily measure.

Even though measurable goals are very important, I think it is equally important to remember your original objective. Otherwise, it is easy to lose yourself in your goals and forget the reason you set them in the first place.

Motivational - Goals need to be motivational. They need to inspire you to take action and make progress. One of the best ways to make goals motivational is to ask yourself why you want to achieve it.

Methodical - Methodical means that you need to think about a strategy for how you are going to accomplish your goal. You don't need to know all the details at first, just start with a general plan.

Meaningful - Your goals should be meaningful to you. This just ensures that they are really your goals, rather than your parent's goals, or society's goals.

Action-Oriented - This means your goal should focus on actions you can take that are in your direct control. It's OK to have goals whose outcome you can't directly control, as long as you are clear about the actions you need to take to do your part in the process.

Achievable - This means that the goal should be achievable. It doesn't mean easy, just that you can have a reasonable expectation of achieving it.

For short-term targets, your probability of achieving the goal should be 80% of higher. Longer term targets could be more of a stretch and have less probability of success.

For your 5-10 year vision, you can go for something really big, even if you currently have no idea how to accomplish it.

Realistic - Realistic is another word for achievable. Again, this doesn't mean that the goal needs to be easy.

Realistic also means that the actions associated with your goal are things that you can do. For example, if your goal requires you to spend 3 hours at the gym each day, that may not be a very realistic assumption given your present situation and lifestyle.

Relevant - Good goals are relevant to you and to your life. Relevant goals are meaningful and significant, they can make a difference in your life.

If a goal is not relevant to you, then you need to ask yourself why you are even contemplating it.

Time-Bound - For goals that have a natural ending (like outcome goals), establishing a clear deadline for them adds an element of urgency and motivation.

Trackable - All goals should be trackable so you can see what your progress is, either in terms of results you are experiencing, or actions you are taking.

Tracking your goals helps you determine if you are going in the right direction and make any necessary adjustments along the way.

If you want help setting SMART goals for your personal and professional life, life coaching is a great resource that can help you get clear about what you really want, set realistic SMART goals and develop a plan to get it.


The best SMART goals are focused, specific, short-term targets that involve things that are under your direct control. This is what makes goals such powerful achievement tools, but it is also what can limit them.

When To Use SMART Goals

If you only use SMART goals, you run the risk of losing sight of the big picture, the reasons why you are setting goals in the first place.

SMART goals can help you climb the ladder of success step-by-step, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall!

That's why you also need longer-term dreams/goals that may not be SMART, but that give you overall direction, motivation, and guidance.

It's when you combine these two types of goals that you can really make tremendous progress.

Coaching Resources:

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