How to Set SMART Goals and Achieve More
We all have one: the goal that got away.
In the beginning, you were young and hopeful. Now, you're wondering what happened. Why weren't you right for each other?
It's not you. It's your goal.
It's time to make the SMART [goal] move.
There's more to goal-setting than meets the eye. In this article, we'll take a look at the SMART goal framework, we'll practice setting SMART goals, and I'll share some examples and alternatives.
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART is an acronym for a strategic goal-setting framework. It's a guide to help you define a concrete goal instead of a vague, wishy-washy dream.
Here's what SMART stands for:
Specific - it's clear and concrete, ideally action-oriented
Measurable - you can objectively evaluate whether or not you met the goal
Achievable - it is possible, realistic
Relevant - it connects back to your big objectives and matters to you
Time-bound - has some time component as a deadline or frequency
Using these criteria, you can frame your goals properly.
SMART Goal Builder
Here's a quick fill-in-the-blank I use to help me write out my goals:
I will ___________(specific action) ___________(number of times) by/for ___________(date/frequency) so that ___________(reason).
I will run 4 mornings a week this month so that I can improve my 5k record at next month's race.
See how concrete that is? It's easy to objectively measure whether or not you met the goal because you either ran 4 mornings or you didn't.
I will create a blog and publish it live by the end of this year so that I'm officially a blogger and can start my side hustle.
Here's another example:
I will schedule one meeting with my therapist by the end of this week so that I can officially say I've started getting help for stress.
The reason I included this last example is to show that your SMART goal doesn't have to be big or "complete." You can set a goal to take the first step and then set another goal to actually go to your session, and so on.
Examples of bad goals and how to improve them
Bad goal #1: I want to lose weight
This is one of the most popular goals stated among Supporti pilot users. Let's put it through the SMART test:
Specific - how exactly are you planning to lose the weight?
Measurable - how much weight are looking to lose?
Achievable - are there other things that need to be taken care of first to make this possible?
Relevant - why are you looking to lose weight, as opposed to eating better or being more fit?
Time-bound - when do you want to lose weight by?
Better: I will swap soda for seltzer for this week so that I can cut out the extra sugar and calories to help me improve my diet and ultimately help me lose 25 pounds.
Psst! If you're looking to lose weight, be sure to check out my article, How to Stay Motivated to Lose Weight.
Bad goal #2: I want to be the next Adele.
I have some bad news: there's only one Adele.
Having aspirations and role models are great. Here's how you can use that inspiration to set a SMART goal.
Specific - what does "being Adele" look like for you? performing live and getting a standing ovation? what can you do to get closer to that?
Measurable - how much or how frequently will you act?
Achievable - is it realistic for you given other priorities and factors?
Relevant - why is this important to you?
Time-bound - how frequently or by what date does this need to happen?
Better: I will attend weekly voice lessons for the next three months so that I can sing at my cousin’s wedding next spring because I know it will mean the world to her.
What’s considered “achievable” can be highly variable. Here’s how to not set yourself up for disappointment.
Outcomes ≠ goals
A common problem with goal setting is that people focus on the outcome.
Outcomes—such as a publishing a book, launching a startup, getting a flat stomach—can be great inspiration because they help you focus on the reward that comes at the end of the hard work. But one of the worst parts of focusing solely on the outcome is it ignores the smaller, incremental steps it takes to get to there.
If you don’t know HOW to achieve the outcome, or if you don’t celebrate those small steps it takes to get there, you’re at risk of failing and becoming discouraged.
If you can identify the smaller, strategic behaviors that incrementally work towards that main outcome, you’ll see that you’re making progress, which is very motivating.
Alternatives to SMART Goal Setting
Another problem with either focusing on outcomes or defining incremental behaviors that are too lofty is that they don’t account for the fact that change is hard. Even if we have the best intentions, sometimes life—and things we cannot control—get in the way. This is discouraging.
A way around this is the Precision Nutrition framework of the Five S Formula (yup, another acronym), which can apply to goals well beyond nutrition:
Simple - easy to remember and do
Segmental - broken down into steps
Sequential - doing steps in the right order
Strategic - focus on one thing at t time
Supported - have someone hold you accountable
The main takeaway from the Five S Formula is to keep the behaviors easy, and progress them along the way. The behaviors should be easy that you are extremely confident you can achieve them.
Tiny Buddha takes simplicity to the extreme with mini-habits, setting goals that are so “stupid small” (like doing one single push up every day) that it’s practically harder to NOT do it!
When I was training for a marathon, I read a line in Hal Higdon’s book that said it’s better to show up to the starting line underprepared than to miss the race due to injury. In other words, it’s better to master a simple behavior than to fail at a lofty goal.
Of course, you’ll notice that the fifth “s” stands for support. Support is crucial, arguably moreso for small behaviors than the overarching goal. You already have motivation for the outcome. You know you want it. It’s what you don’t want (those pesky daily behaviors) that you need to focus on and make sure happen. That’s why Supporti aims to help you achieve the small daily goals rather than the big outcomes.
Is it time to break up with your goal?
If you set a SMART goal and it doesn't work out, no sweat. Think of it as a new data point along your journey. You'll go into your next goal relationship wiser because of it.
Here's a crazy idea: What if you set a goal that fits your life rather than fitting your life to that goal?
What if instead of rushing through goal-setting (and consequently choosing a goal that that would require extreme behavior change), you put effort towards thinking through really good goals that coincide with your life and are extremely easy to do?
Stop setting goals that are "out of your league." Find a goal that loves and respects you as you are. Sounds SMART, doesn't it?
For guidance organizing and planning out your goal, download our FREE goal setting worksheet.