How to Create and Achieve SMART Goals

Setting goals is essential to achieving success in both personal and professional life. However, if you're going to do it, you might as well do it right. That means “SMART” , which has become increasingly popular in recent years. The SMART acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely goals. These five attributes will help you to focus, be realistic, and prioritise your efforts. Creating SMART goals provides a clear roadmap to achieving your objectives and creating a plan of action to get to a previously established destination.

I should add here that SMART goals are applicable both to individuals and to groups. In fact, smart -setting is often used as a part of corporate planning. In this article,however, I am concentrating on goal setting for people seeking to organise and upgrade their lives, though much of what is covered can be easily extended to the corporate environment with a little imagination.

What are SMART Goals?

Let's start by looking at the 5 attributes of SMART and why they are important:

S – Specific

The "S" in SMART goals stands for specific, and it's essential to establish the who, what, where, and when for your goal. Without a clear and specific goal, it is easy to get sidetracked and lose direction. Quite honestly, this rather ties in to both the "M" and the "T" below since your goal can't really be specific without them. Since we are talking about personal goals, "who" is often just you – but you can involve partners or groups in goals too – it can help to have an ‘accountability buddy' and you can motivate each other. Of course, the "what" question ties into "M" below and the "when" into "T". So, make the goals as specific as possible, e.g. instead of saying "I want to lose weight," you should rephrase your goal as "I want to lose 10 pounds in three months by running 30 minutes every day and following a low-carb diet." A specific goal like this provides a roadmap, enabling you to track your progress and adjust your approach if needed.

M – Measurable

When creating SMART goals, the "M" stands for measurable, which means you need a way to determine success. This step is crucial for you to track your progress and know when you've achieved your objective. If you were specific enough in the "S" step above, you are probably already on your way here. Just make sure you set a specific target that you want to reach, and then establish a way to measure it. Setting measurable goals allows you to track your progress, and that can provide when you are on track. It can also allow you to tweak your approach when needed, make necessary adjustments to your methods – but try not to tweak the target – stick with it.

A – Achievable

When creating goals, it is important to know that you have the appropriate skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to attain success. Setting goals that you have no way to achieve is not going to help, and you may well end up disappointed or dejected. Consider your current abilities in each given area to see if you need additional education, , or resources to achieve your goals effectively. Make sure that you have the right tools and/or resources available to track and measure your progress towards achieving your goal. By ensuring you have the necessary skills and tools, you can set achievable goals that are both realistic and measurable, thus reducing the likelihood of and disappointment. Achieving even a modest goal to start with will give you a success you can use as a base to go on to bigger things.

R – Relevant

The "R" in SMART goals stands for relevant, which means that achieving the goal should align with broader objectives. To my mind, this is more relevant to the corporate setting, where goals need to align with a broader corporate objective. For personal goals, knowing yourself now and knowing where you want to go allows you to make goals that align with your life plans.

T – Time-Bound

The "T" stands for -bound. This is crucial. Goals need to have a specific time limit to work well. This really ties back to "M" – without it you can't actually measure progress towards the goal. Failure to create a specific timeline can allow you to slip – can set in and thwart your achievements. That said, timelines can be altered if there are good reasons – and we should all regularly evaluate and adjust if necessary. Challenges may arise that get in the way, and, especially when you first get into goal setting, you can misestimate the challenges of the goal. So, you must be ready to adjust – but only if really necessary. Continual readjustment to make goals easier or extend timelines generally leads to a situation where little or nothing is the final result.

Benefits of SMART Goals

By making our goals "SMART" we make it easy to track our progress and keep ourselves accountable. Using SMART goals as part of a bigger plan, list each step needed to achieve the overall objective separately, with its own timeline and criteria for completion. This allows for easier tracking of progress against these individual items as well as evaluation of any changes or adjustments necessary along the way. It also makes it easier to adjust timelines if circumstances prevent certain tasks from being completed on time.

Once you get started with your goal plan, the trackability provided by making the goals SMART, means that you can see your progress. This kind of is a great motivator. If you are on track, you can bask a little in your own glory, knowing that if you just keep going, you will achieve your objectives. On the other hand, if you are starting to fall behind, it gives you the extra impetus to increase your effort. Since each plan is a roadmap that you can compare your progress to on a regular basis, you can see very quickly if you start to fall behind and make the corrections needed.

How to Set Up your Goals

Create a goal document to record your goals and track progress.

Do this first. Creating a goal document to record your goals and track progress is essential to putting them into place. You should make records from the get-go as you plan out your goals, this will help you keep everything organised. Your SMART goal document should outline your specific goals and each of their SMART components. It will help you plan out your goals, and then stay accountable and track progress as you work towards them. You can also come back to it when a goal is achieved, study the goal within the bigger picture of your life, and use it to come up with the next set of goals. Each goal being small and actionable means they are like steps along a greater pathway of your life. So, create a document – physical or electronic, it makes no difference – and use it for all your planning and tracking.

Identifying Objectives

The is, it's very difficult to get somewhere if you don't know where you want to go. Identifying objectives is the next important step when it comes to creating smart goals. This means breaking down each goal into manageable chunks and determining what needs to be done in what order to reach your bigger objectives. It also helps organise tasks so they can be monitored and tracked more easily.

Start off by determining the reasons behind your particular goal or objective. Knowing the purpose will make it easier to identify how progress should be measured, as well as whether any special resources are needed to achieve success. Knowing the behind the goal also allows you to assign a priority to the goal, which may well help develop its timeframe.

You need to consider potential obstacles ahead of time and form contingency plans to cope with any issues early on, so you can feel better prepared for whatever challenges come your way when the plan is put into action.

Divide your overall task load into buckets.

As you strive to achieve your SMART goals, it is crucial to divide your overall task load into smaller "buckets". You might have a to lose 50 pounds to reach your "ideal" weight, and to increase your overall health. Break that down into buckets like exercise, diet, etc., and then break each of those into smaller, more manageable steps.

Develop goal statements for each bucket.

Once you have identified your buckets, take the time to craft specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for each one. Make sure your goal statements are specific, aligned with your overall objectives, and reflect a realistic assessment of what you can reasonably achieve. Make sure they are measurable by defining clear criteria for progress and success that are relevant to your desired outcomes and time-bound to provide a clear sense of when you expect to achieve them.

You might decide you want to give up eating some specific unhealthy foods and go to the gym three times a week to lose 10 pounds in the next two months. You can then move from there to create specific plans of action and put the requirements in place, such as joining that gym. This empowers you to stay organised and focused, ensuring you are making progress towards your larger objectives while also taking care of the smaller, necessary steps to achieve your goals. Remember to regularly evaluate and adjust your buckets to ensure you are on track to meet your SMART goals. This clarity and specificity can help you stay motivated and focused, especially when the going gets tough. The more specific your goals are, the greater your chances of success will be. Keep this in mind when setting your goals, and strive for the right balance of high level thinking combined with clear and specific action items.

Avoid too many goals.

When creating your SMART goals, it is important to avoid having too many of them. Having too many goals can lead to cognitive overload, which can result in decreased and effectiveness. It can also cause a lack of focus, making it difficult to prioritise and achieve your most important objectives. Instead, it is recommended to focus on a few specific and achievable goals that will have a significant impact on your overall success. By limiting the number of goals you set, you can optimise your effort and increase the likelihood of achieving them. Remember, quality over quantity is key when it comes to creating effective and efficient goals.

Chunking

A key element of success here is to convert a "big picture" into its component parts; this is known as . Big goals may seem daunting or overwhelming, and that can lead to procrastination, a lack of , or, worse, failure to complete a task. Dividing a larger goal into smaller, more manageable chunks helps you see progress at an earlier stage and thus feel a sense of achievement as you work towards your big picture. By celebrating small wins along the way on a regular basis, you stay motivated and inspired to keep pushing forward.



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Putting your Plan into Action

Measuring Progress

Once the desired outcomes and objectives of a goal have been identified, measuring progress becomes an essential part of achieving it. To do this effectively, there are three essential steps that must be taken: tracking, evaluating, and adjusting. You should plan, as part of your goal programme, a schedule for reviewing progress. Set aside some time on a regular basis where you can update your goal tracking documents – for most personal goals, this only needs to take a few minutes each week. Record your progress. Since you have already decided how your goal is measurable and given it a timeline, you should easily be able to see if you are on track. Record any problems encountered, and decide how you will solve them. This leads to the last phase – adjusting if necessary. While it is sometimes necessary to change your plan, you should start by asking yourself what else you can do to keep the plan on track. Maybe you can still achieve your goal with some extra effort. This is generally better than adjusting the goal or its timeline. If that's not possible, then you may have to adjust your goals – but you should never abandon them.

Adjusting Goals As Needed

As the old adage goes, "The only constant is change". When setting SMART goals, it is important to be aware of this and keep an open mind as life happens. Changing circumstances, or perhaps some misjudgement of them during the planning phase, may lead to change. These kinds of changes can affect both the priority and viability of your goals, so you need to change your ambitions in order to remain on track for success. Modifying goals may include changing the goal itself or adjusting how one intends to achieve it.

When a goal needs to be changed, it is essential that the new objective align with the original intentions behind it. In addition, making sure that all components still adhere to the elements of SMART should also take place when replacing a goal or tweaking its objectives. 

It can often feel disappointing and overwhelming to try to adapt a plan, even though changes are necessary for progress. However, having a clear strategy and taking time to regularly assess your situation will help ease the you face when alterations are needed along the way. Adjusting goals allows you to not just stay on track but also exceed expectations as you learn from experience gained along the way.

Accountability and Support

Some people set and achieve their goals with ease – while others might need a little help along the way. Goals need accountability – you should not let them slip unless you are going through the tracking, evaluating, and adjusting processes listed above. If you need some help, you could look to one of the several goal-tracking apps out there, that can give you some support and encouragement. You should also consider using a friend as an accountability partner (even if they are not aiming for the same goals themselves). If you have a life partner or a close friend who you are happy to confide in, this might be the ideal choice. If none of those exist, there might be support groups to help you in your neighbourhood or online. Your accountability partner should be aware of the specific goals and how you track them, so they can encourage you if you fall behind or provide help and emotional support if needed.

Another thing to consider is whether any of your friends might have the same or similar goals as you. If you decide you need a workout goal, find somebody to go to the gym with, this will add a lot of accountability, make the goal part of a joint routine, and add to the enjoyment of carrying out the goal.

Celebrating Successes

Reaching a goal is like climbing to the top of a mountain. As you reach the top, you can take in the beauty and grandeur of the surroundings while feeling proud of having come so far. Celebrating successes along the way makes reaching that peak all the more enjoyable.

Make sure to celebrate your achievement when you achieve your goals. The idea is not only to reach a long-term objective, but also to recognise short-term successes for motivation and reinforcement. Achieving small goals on the way to larger ones helps build and create . This encourages people to stay focused on their end goal by celebrating each step taken towards it.

By taking time out periodically to appreciate achievements big or small, you are able to reflect on your hard work and dedication, which will ultimately take you closer to achieving your ultimate destination – be it scaling new heights or climbing ever higher peaks!

Tips for Keeping Things on Track

Strategies to Stay Motivated

It's no surprise that setting smart goals is essential to achieving success. But it doesn't end there – staying motivated is just as important! It's easy to get discouraged when you don't see the results you want, so implementing strategies for staying motivated can help keep your momentum going.

Rewarding yourself is an excellent way to motivate yourself during the goal-setting process. Whether it's taking time out of your day to relax or treating yourself to something special after reaching a milestone, making sure you celebrate small successes along the way will help keep you from getting overwhelmed by large tasks.

Creating routines around what needs to be done each day will also work wonders for maintaining motivation because it gives structure and purpose to our activities without feeling like a chore.

The Power of Visualisation

techniques can also be an effective way to make progress towards your goals. By mentally preparing yourself and creating plans based on what you want, you'll be setting yourself up for long-term success! Visualisation isn't just about daydreaming; it's a powerful goal-setting technique that gives you clarity and focus.

It helps you create detailed mental images of your desired outcomes and gives you something tangible to work towards. When combined with practical strategies like breaking down tasks into manageable chunks or setting realistic deadlines, visualising your future successes can become a very valuable part of any goal-setting plan.

The power of visualisation doesn't end there, though: it can also help you stay motivated when challenges arise or when you feel overwhelmed by your goals. Visualising yourself succeeding in spite of obstacles is a great way to cultivate resilience and the determination to keep going even during tough times.

With some simple yet effective goal-setting tips, such as taking regular breaks or scheduling more time for , the journey towards achieving success becomes easier and much more enjoyable!



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Time Management

Goal-setting and are intertwined. To achieve your goals, you need to block out the time required and take steps to avoid interruptions. You need to prioritise your goals, and only yield to them in emergencies. Set aside specific times during the day dedicated solely to completing your goal activities while avoiding distractions like social media and emails. Make sure those around you understand that you will be working on your special project at specific times, and request that they support you in that. If you live in a family situation, sometimes a late evening timeslot when others are in bed can work well.

Setting limits can be difficult in an environment where there are competing priorities and expectations. Learning how to say ‘no' can be very beneficial, maybe even required. Sometimes you will need to make some sacrifices to get there – you might need, for instance, to miss out on a social event to spend time on your goals. If your goals are worth pursuing and so important to you, that should be an easy choice. That said, keeping to a manageable number of goals is key too, you shouldn't become ‘all work and no play.'

Overcoming Challenges

Setting a goal is a great first step, but without taking the necessary actions to make it happen, you can easily become overwhelmed. Achieving your goals requires that you acknowledge any fears or doubts that may arise so they don't get in the way of success. It's important to identify roadblocks and break through them with an actionable plan. This helps keep momentum going and allows for reassessment when needed.

Taking ownership of and responsibility for the tasks that make up your goal plan gives you control over your own destiny and shows you what you're capable of achieving. Creating new habits takes time and dedication, but understanding how small victories add up to big successes makes the journey more manageable and rewarding.

Recognising your accomplishments along the way boosts your motivation and confidence to continue striving towards our vision each day. With proper planning and determination, there's no limit to what you can achieve!

Conclusion

Achieving success in any endeavour is a process, and setting SMART goals is an important part of the journey. A well-crafted set of objectives helps provide focus and direction towards the desired results. By taking time to identify specific, measurable goals, develop strategies that are realistic and achievable, measure your progress along the way, adjust plans as needed, seek support from others when necessary, and celebrate successes, you can find yourself closer to your desires and aspirations than ever before.

The power of SMART goal setting lies not only in its ability to help guide actions but also in its capacity to create a sense of accountability while providing motivation and inspiration. The tangible nature of tracking steps towards achievement gives you peace of mind that you are on the right path with meaningful accomplishments constantly being made. Furthermore, it evokes feelings of pride and joy upon recognising how far you have come over time, enabling you to continue striving for greater heights.

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Author: Steve Cato
Steve CatoSteve Cato is a PhD-level scientist who brings a strong scientific perspective to the study of mind improvement.

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