The Secret to SMART Goal-Setting

Struggling to reach your goals? This five-step guide will help you establish SMART goals that are actually within your reach.

Last Updated
August 30, 2019
4 minute read

No matter who you are or where you are in life, each one of us has life goals and ambitions. It’s a natural human desire to do and be better, but there’s something unnatural about how we’re choosing our goals. After talking to thousands of clients, friends, and followers, these are the types of goals I tend to hear…

“I want to lose weight and look really good.”

“I want to buy a Tesla… a Rolex… designer handbags and shoes.”

“I want to live in a big house with my trophy spouse and have a cushy job that lets us travel all the time.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight or have job security. But the problem lies behind your MOTIVATION for and PROCESS of setting that goal.

Contrary to popular belief, not all goals are worth pursuing, and just because you “have” a goal doesn’t mean it's being properly set or accomplished. Goals have become LAZY. The word has lost its power. For many of us it’s no longer an action, but a fleeting thought. Most of our goals are constructed more like daydreams than reality.

If you’re not sure whether your goal is realistic, ask yourself this:

Do my goals feel stagnant or static? Have they evolved and developed as my life and network grows? Can I end EVERY day knowing I’ve accomplished or moved closer towards meeting this objective?

Most goals ARE stagnant and DON’T evolve with the person making them, which might explain why only 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions and 46 percent of people with a goal make it past six months. Our goals lack the practicality and planning to actually achieve them, so we get distracted or lose motivation way quicker than we should.

So, how can I form a worthwhile goal AND actually achieve it?

The secret to goal-setting is establishing your goals in a way that inspires and guides ACTION, not just a daydream of what your perfect life would look like.

Imagine one day you and your family are sitting around the table eating breakfast, and you say: “I would like for all of us to go to Disneyland.” The kids start screaming in excitement and all of a sudden, questions start getting thrown your way.

“When are we going?”

“What should I pack?”

“How are we gonna get there?”

For each of these questions, your answer is the same: “I would like for all of us to go to Disneyland.”

Can you imagine how frustrating that would be? Your family doesn’t even have enough information to leave the table, let alone to pack and prepare for a trip to Disneyland. 

That’s the damage you’re doing to your own ambitions— without steps and a strategy, you’re never going to leave the table and move towards your goals.

If you really wanna see tangible results, you have to set them up correctly. That’s where SMART goals come in. 

Coined by George T. Doran in 1981, SMART is a 5-step acronym designed to help give your goals precision, accountability, and ultimately, success. Here’s a breakdown of each step and how YOU can create a SMART goal guaranteed to get you results.

S - Specific

When creating your goal, target a specific area of improvement and provide yourself lots of details. What exactly do you want to achieve? What does it look, feel, sound like? Most importantly, WHY do you want it?

Specifying your goal might make it smaller, but that can sometimes be a good thing. It makes it more clear, less scary or overwhelming, and closer within your grasp. Having a vivid, clear-cut picture of what we want to achieve makes it easier to break the goal down into steps.

For example, consider these two goals:

I want to lose weight.

I want to lose weight so I can feel more energized throughout the day and run around more with my kids.

Already, specifying your objective makes it more realistic. If your goal is just to lose weight, you’ll never really know when you’ve reached the finish line, and you’ll stay unfulfilled.

This step can be difficult because we’re forced to come to terms with harsh truths behind why we want to change. Being specific brings us to the heart of the issue or improvement we seek. It can involve some tough realizations about your health or your life, but acknowledging areas of improvement is vital to making progress.

M - Measurable

The second step is to make your goal measurable by quantifying it. Whether it’s pounds lost, muscle gained, biometrics, clothing sizes, or weight lifted, you have to measure what you want to achieve.

Now is not the time to be vague. We are naturally programmed to give simple answers like, “I just want to be healthier” or “I want to be fitter.” In transformation, these goals are a no-go. Without a quantitative element, you can never fully gauge your progress or whether you’re on target to reach your goals.

Take these examples:

I want a better job with a higher salary.

I want to be making $10,000 more a year, or have a comprehensive benefits and compensation package alongside my salary.

With this second example, you have something concrete to work towards and can establish progress points along the way so you know you’re on track.

A - Attainable

A successful goal must be reachable —not too difficult or idealistic— or you set yourself up for failure from Day One. You should never make a goal that isn’t physically possible or so difficult to reach that your current workload or schedule doesn’t allow for daily milestones.

I want to be clear here that if you have a big, overarching goal you want to achieve, that doesn’t mean you can’t eventually get there. But to get from A to Z, you need to get from A to B first. Baby steps are key here, while still keeping long-term ambitions in mind.

Here’s an example I see quite often with clients:

Let’s say you want to cut sugar and processed foods out completely. As you’re establishing your goal, you decide to go cold turkey to get faster results. But your fridge is still full of your favorite sugary snacks, and you can’t cut out your morning pastry AND not have soda with lunch, so you lose motivation, feel overwhelmed, and promptly quit. DON’T DO THIS.

Instead, start small.

Clean out your pantry and stock it with healthier options, then make the goal of cutting out one soda a day. Keep that up for two weeks and now you’ve got the motivation (and energy) to level up and replace that morning pastry with quiche or an egg white sandwich.

Establishing smaller, attainable goals gets you to that big goal SO much faster and keeps your spirits up along the way. Start small and build yourself up; every little bit counts.

R - Relevant

Relevance here means structuring your goal based on what YOU want. A SMART goal must be important enough to you that you’ll want to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it. It must be a major priority in your life, and you need to be doing it for YOU.

Often, many of our goals aren’t really ours but the result of pressures from society and those around us. Consider these two variations of the same goal…

I want to lose 10 pounds so I can fit into that teeny swimsuit on our vacation and post a really great selfie on Instagram that gets tons of likes.

I want to lose 10 pounds so I can enjoy my time on the beach without feeling ashamed or self-conscious. I want to be more present with my family on vacation and be able to run around and play with my kids with confidence.

This second variation provides major motivation for this goal— it’s so much easier to stay on track when you’re doing it for the right reasons. And while there’s nothing wrong with factoring ego and appearance into your goal, goals that resonate with your spirit and values tend to provide the lasting drive needed to get you past the finish line.

T - Time Sensitive

The last thing your goal needs is a time limit, a specific window of time that keeps you active and accountable. Without it, your goal of “eventually”, “next year”, or “sometime soon” will never happen.

Setting milestones and deadlines creates a sense of urgency not meant to stress you, but to pressure you. Psychologically, we tend to prioritize things that are deemed time-sensitive, which provides another source of motivation.

So, program it into your phone. Write it on your calendar. Determine mini-deadlines and check-in points to keep you on track.

An example of a goal with and without a time restriction:

I want to master the violin.

In six months, I would like to be able to play three songs near-perfectly on the violin (and halfway through I’d like to master at least one of them).

Reaching your goals will always take effort and sacrifice, but when they reflect what you want most, they’re so worth the work. Everything starts in the MIND, and the way you think about your goals has everything to do with whether you’ll achieve them. By using the SMART goal guide, you can set yourself up for success and a life of transformation.

Chris Powell

Transformation Specialist