It's been said that a goal you don't write down is just a dream, and that's true. But even writing down your goals doesn't set you up for success if you don't optimize their conception, or even their phrasing. The better—a.k.a. more clearly defined—the goals, the better your results will be, so let's look at five key ways to supercharge the quality of your goals, so you can similarly upgrade what you get out of them.
The SMART acronym is a simple system for how to think about and form your goals. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. These are five characteristics possessed by every top-level goal statement. The more you make your goals SMART, in a systematic and focused manner, the better your goals will be.
If you write down your "goal" as a general statement of intent, it's not much less of a dream than if you hadn't written it down at all. Instead, you want to make your goals as specific as you can. Start by asking yourself what exactly you want to achieve, and add details as appropriate.
- Bad: I want to be rich.
- Good: I want to earn $25,000 a month
- Better: I want to earn $25,000 a month in passive income
Don't go too far. Too many details can make your goal hard to remember and too cluttered to remain meaningful. Stick with the top-level, essential information about exactly what you have committed to achieve.
If your goal isn't measurable, it's impossible to tell when you're done. Almost as bad, it's very difficult to set a workable pathway to success. As you saw in the examples for Specific goals, a numerical value is a great place to start.
- I want to be rich becomes I want to earn $25,000 a month
- I want to lose weight becomes I want to lose 50 pounds
- I want to grow my business becomes I want to hire three new sales staff and an admin assistant
Besides establishing a black-and-white "finish line" for the goal, measurable goals allow you to create benchmarks toward success, so you can gauge your progress as you go. You'll see more about that in the "Time-Bound" segment below.
If your goal is something that doesn't lend itself to numbers (perhaps I want a closer relationship with my children), shift the goal to behaviors that can lead to it (for example, I will spend one-on-one time with each of my children for an hour each week).
Of all the items in SMART, this is the simplest to explain but the hardest to make yourself stick to. Your goal must be realistic given all the realities of the time frame in which it is set. If you don't believe your goal can be achieved, you won't work in good faith toward achieving it. To that end, be certain your goal is attainable given:
- The resources you have. Buy a Corvette is not an attainable goal if you make $12,000 a year.
- Your (or your team's) skill sets. Learn C-PLUS coding is not an attainable goal if you're still struggling with Excel.
- The time frame. Lose 10 pounds is not an attainable goal for most people if you try during the holidays.
- Your context. Be the leading soft drink company is attainable for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. It's not reasonable for the beverage company you just started in your garage. At least not yet.
This means it must be relevant to your overall values and plan. Get a Ph.D. is a laudable goal, if high-end education is important to your life plan and congruent with what you find important. If it's not, it will be hard to engage with your goal enough to put in the work to achieve it.
This is where many company goal statements fall flat. They are relevant to the company's overall interests, but not to the motivations of the departments, teams, and individual tasked with achieving them. That's why career coaching, performance bonuses, an similar programs attaching relevance for the team are so effective in reaching company goals.
If you don't set a time limit for your goals, the temptation to "start tomorrow" every day looms large because so many other things will feel more urgent and pressing. Instead, give every goal statement you write a defined time limit.
- Bad: I want to lose 50 pounds
- Good: I want to lose 50 pounds by this date next year.
To really make SMART goals Time-Bound, split up your final goal into achievable benchmarks. Take those 50 pounds in a year, and make it 4 pounds per month (with a little left over). That way you can fine-tune your methods as you go.
How You Can Super-Charge Your SMART Goals
Making your goals SMART is good enough for many levels of success, but you can take it all a step further with these ways to make your goals even more powerful and motivating.
1. Be a SMART-E!
The E stands for "Emotionally charged." You want to care deeply about your goals, so you're willing to take on all the hardships necessary to get them done. Think deeply about why you want what you're writing down, then add a so I can statement at the end.
- Lose 50 pounds in a year , so I can fit into my favorite dress for my sister's wedding.
- Earn $25,000 a month, so I can give my children and grandchildren a life of opportunity.
- Hire two salesmen and an admin assistant by next January, so I can focus my efforts on the strategic leadership of my team.
Have your goals include why you have them, an internal compass pointing to your personal true north.
2. Set Your Short-Term Goals Low
One problem with a lot of goal-setting sessions is they happen when people are inspired and excited. That leads them to setting impossibly demanding short-term goals out of enthusiasm. But as the enthusiasm fades into the daily grind of actually working toward a goal, things usually begin falling apart. Soon, people abandon the goals at Unattainable, which they were.
Instead, do what you can to curb that enthusiasm at the goal-setting stage. Remain reasonable, even conservative, then apply that enthusiasm to working toward your goal.
3. Set Your Long-Term Goals High
If you go through the cycle from #2 enough times, you lose faith in your ability to achieve any goals...and yet the power of small, incremental progress over months is immense. Writing a page a day gives you a 365-page book in a year. Saving $10 a week is the price of a new car every three years. Losing a pound a week is 50 pounds in 12 months.
Dream big for the long game, and make it happen with SMART-E interim goals to show you how to get there.
One bonus best practice when it comes to setting and attaining your goals is to review them regularly. Post your top-level goals someplace you can see them every day:
- A post-it-note on the edge of your monitor
- A sticker on your steering wheel
- In dry-erase marker on your bathroom mirror
- As a printed poster in your conference room
- Stuck to your refrigerator with magnets
You get the idea. Place your goals, in written form, so that you interact with them all the time. Then, on at least a quarterly basis, review them in detail. Confirm they are still SMART, and that the methods you are using to attain them are actually bringing you closer to meeting your goals. Using these turbo-charged goals, and pairing them with frequent review, doesn't 100% guarantee that you will reach them...but it makes getting where you want to be much more likely than any other method.
About the Author: Isaac Yalsturm is a personal trainer and life coach. He’s seen his clients try and fail or try and succeed enough times to have devised a system to help them succeed almost every time thanks to SMART goals.