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SMART Goals: 5 Tips for Successful Goal Setting

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People who set goals are more successful1, confident2, and motivated3,%20Fred%20C.%20Goal-Setting%20Theoryof%20Motivation%20IJMBA%20V15%20N1%202011.pdf. But without an action plan, a vague goal can quickly become an unfulfilled dream.

The SMART goal-setting method helps define and clarify goals so you can bring them to fruition. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-bound. 

Whether it’s a small project or a big business objective, here is how to use this science-backed framework to bring your personal and professional goals to life.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART goals are outcome-based statements that turn vague goals into an achievable plan. SMART is an acronym for:

  • Specific: Define an exact target that covers who, what, when, where, why, and which.
  • Measurable: How will you measure success or failure? Use quantifiable metrics.
  • Attainable: What tools are needed to reach the goal? Do you have everything at your disposal to achieve the outcome?
  • Realistic/Relevant: Check that the target is achievable, practical, and consistent with personal or organizational goals. Will you need to alter your methods or organization to make this possible? Does this goal contribute to a greater mission?
  • Time-bound: Plan a specific timeline to meet the goal. Work backwards from the deadline to outline the specific phases and steps that need to get done and the time period in which they need to be accomplished.

Planning a SMART goal takes the guesswork out of project execution and creates a space for strategic brainstorming and planning to ensure a successful outcome.

Basketball star Michael Jordan, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps all reportedly use SMART goals to achieve their greatest ambitions.

The SMART goal setting theory was coined by corporate business consultants George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham in a groundbreaking 1981 research paper4 published in Management Review. 

SMART goals examples

It’s easy to say, “I want to be financially free,” or “The company needs to increase sales.” But these vague goals lack clarity or direction. 

Remember, a dream without a plan is just a fantasy. 

Goal-setting is the key to structuring projects or dreams into achievable realities. Adding specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant, and time-bound metrics to a goal makes it significantly more achievable. 

Here are some examples of SMART goal statements:

  • I will make $70,000 by 2024 by asking for a raise, building a $200/week freelance photography side hustle, and investing 15% of my income into a Roth IRA account. 
  • The marketing team will increase the email opt-in rate by 30% to reach 1,000 email subscribers by December 2023 by building 3 new funnels, posting on social media twice per week, and targeting our campaigns to local businesses.
  • My goal is to lose 20 pounds by my birthday by weight training 3 times per week with my trainer, 2 yoga classes per week with my best friend, and eating 100 grams of clean protein (wild fish, chicken, and organic eggs) per day.

This simple template is a great place to start:

“My/our goal is to [quantifiable objective] by [deadline]. [Key people or teams] will accomplish this goal by [steps they’ll take], which will lead to [key outcome].”

You can write a SMART goal on an index card and post it on your mirror or your desk, where you can see it regularly. 

You can also try Bob Proctor’s Goal Card Method, where he recommends making a laminated goal card and carrying it around in your pocket. Read the card multiple times throughout the day and regularly touch it in your pocket to remind you of what you’re working to achieve. 

Why should you use SMART Goals?

SMART goals are backed by science and anecdotal experience. Whether for personal or professional growth, the SMART framework adds structure to your vision to help:

  • Boost clarity: In a study of 267 diverse participants, psychologist Dr. Gail Matthews found that people who vividly write down their goals are 42% more likely5 to accomplish them. 
  • Building accountability: Dr. Matthews’ study also discovered that more than 70% of the participants who sent weekly updates to their friends reported more goal achievement. Here are 7 Smart Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable (& Be Disciplined)
  • Increase focus: A SMART goal narrows down your focus so you don’t get distracted on your path to the top. 
  • Improve motivation: When your destination is clear, you are more motivated to get there. A SMART goal helps you visualize your outcome and fit it into the larger framework of your values and life goals.

This is particularly important for long-term goals that seem overwhelming or too far out to visualize in the present.

What are the benefits of using SMART Goals?

SMART goals can help you achieve greater success in your personal and professional life because they:

  • Improve time management
  • Reduce stress
  • Clearly define what you want
  • Increase satisfaction of achievement
  • Ensure you have a support system
  • Hold yourself and others accountable
  • Simplify the goal-reaching process

5 Tips to Make Your Goal SMART 

Metamorphosizing a basic goal into a SMART goal is actually quite simple. Follow these 5 simple steps to get crystal clear on what you want and how you’ll achieve it. 

Step 1: Define success

Success is a simple word with a million meanings. In order to make a SMART end goal, you first need a clear vision of what success actually looks and feels like. 

What is the ultimate outcome of this goal, and how does it fit into the bigger picture?

How will you know if you have succeeded or failed?

Your definition of success may be based on:

Any vision of success should include:

  • Who? Consider the key players in achieving the goal.
  • What? Define the exact metrics, outcomes, or vision that embodies success.
  • When/Where? The timing and location of your accomplishment are crucial to creating the vision. 
  • Why? Don’t forget the driving core values and mission behind the goal. 

If you can fit your definition of success into 1-2 sentences, you’ve already laid a solid foundation for your SMART goal. For example:

  • We will know our product launch was successful if we have high social media engagement, 1,000 pre-orders, and an uptick in website traffic. 
  • My most successful life includes a corporate career, dependable salary, stable spouse, two children, and a home with a beautiful view of the water. I feel excited, motivated, energized, and driven by a purpose larger than myself.
  • This event will be successful if the majority of invitees attend, participation is high, and post-event surveys indicate overall satisfaction.

Pro Tip for High Achievers: Remember to allow yourself wiggle room and grace. In the first example above, achieving 990 pre-orders would not make the product launch a failure. Be grateful if not all your goals are achieved because this leaves room for improvement and growth. Every attempt at success includes a valuable lesson. Your efforts still be celebrated even if you fall a little short of an ambitious metric.

We’ll go into more detail below about how to quantify these metrics and fit your idea of success into your final SMART goal statement.

Business Goal Action Step: Zoom out and think of the big picture. Grab a whiteboard and meet with your team for a brainstorming session. Write at the top, “What does success look like?” and let people begin contributing words, phrases, numbers, and metrics. Jot down all the ideas to ensure that everyone feels heard and valued.

Let the ideas marinate, and then reconvene to strategically develop a definition of success for this specific project. Start with the phrase, “Success looks like….”

You may also create a:

  • Inspirational board of images and photos
  • Brand guide
  • Project mission statement
  • Digital mockup of a store design, marketing campaign, or 
  • Spreadsheet with financial goals

Personal Goal Action Step: Before setting a SMART personal goal, consider the balance of your life overall. On a piece of paper or on our downloadable goal-setting worksheet, rate each area of your life on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being extremely dissatisfied, 5 being extremely satisfied).

  • Business: How do you feel about your work, career, or business effectiveness and success?
  • Friends: How is your social life? Your friendships and support system?
  • Family: How are your personal relationships? Your partner or spouse?
  • Personal Passions: Do you have personal passion projects, hobbies, or fun activities that fulfill you?
  • Spiritual: You can interpret this one any way you like. It could be your faith, mental health, personal journeys, or mindset.
  • Health: Are you happy with your physical health and wellness?

A finished Goal Wheel will have the lines filled in so you can see what your ’emotional temperature’ is in each area. For example, this is mine right now:

An example of a Goal Setting Wheel worksheet you can use to help you with goal setting, before setting SMART goals.

You quickly can see that my goals for 2019 were going to be focused on Business, Friends, and Spirituality. This little exercise is a really easy way to check in with yourself and make sure your goals are in alignment with your deeper values and lifestyle.

Pro Tip: I save all of my Goal Wheels and then check in to see if there are any patterns. You can use these worksheets over and over again to see how far you have come from previous months or years, depending on how often you do it.

Step 2: Measure the outcome

Science shows that measurable goals are easier to implement6×12996065859364?journalCode=bjod. You probably wouldn’t trust a profit/loss report or a scientific study that didn’t have any numbers. One of the biggest impediments to achieving a goal is the lack of clarity around the actual metrics. It’s easy to visualize an outcome, but how do you measure it? 

Once you define success, the SMART framework asks that you get specific and measurable. 

Measurable simply means there is a number or quantity involved. For example:

  • A dollar value (e.g., increase net income by $1,000)
  • An amount of output (e.g., write 1,000 words per day)
  • A number of leads (e.g., gain 5,000 new followers or 1 million views)
  • A percentage (e.g., increase profitability by 30%)
  • A weight measurement (e.g., lose 10 pounds)
  • A grade (e.g. a 3.5 GPA)
  • An average (e.g., average of 10 hours of training per employee)

Here are some examples of how you can turn an outcome into a quantifiable process.

Basic Goal (Not Measurable)Measurable SMART goal
Level up my career so I can make more moneyWork toward a 15% salary raise and $500 per month side hustle income
Improve marketing efforts so we can reach and help more peopleHire a marketing agency to increase web traffic by 30% and grow the email list by 400 subscribers
Set aside time to support and reach out to friends more regularlyText 1 friend per day and set aside 1 hour every weekend for coffee with my mom
Get more toned and increase your enduranceWork towards 10 reps of 100-pound deadlifts and a 10-minute mile
Get more creative by learning how to paint and spending more time readingSign up for a 1-hour painting class every other week and read 1 book per month

Step 3: Assess and attain key resources

A realistic and attainable goal is possible with the tools and resources that are already at your disposal (or easy to get). 

Building a multimillion dollar Airbnb rental business is not very realistic if you have poor credit or zero real estate resources at your disposal. However, investing in a single duplex property and living on one side may be more realistic with the income, credit score, and network you already have. 

Similarly, a SAAS business that wants to expand its customer base overseas may not yet be able to attract Spanish-speaking customers because they don’t have its program translated into any other languages. Fortunately, a translator and developer are reasonably attainable resources that could help achieve that goal.

Take an inventory of your current resources, including intellectual, human, physical, and monetary resources:

  • Do you need to acquire any new skills or experience?
  • Do you need more information from books, studies, or online references?
  • Do you need more people on your team?
  • Do you have enough money to fund the project?
  • Do you need to reach out to investors or lenders?

Action Step: Identify possible blockers and plan for them in advance. Ask:

  • What logistical constraints might make it difficult for you to achieve your goals?
  • What behaviors might make it difficult for you to achieve your goals?
  • Who might make it difficult for you to achieve your goals?

A keen awareness of your weak points can help you modify your goals or create a fallback plan in advance.

Step 4: Create a realistic time frame with smaller deadlines

Studies show that setting deadlines helps prevent procrastination7 Whether you need to achieve something by the end of the month or the end of the year, a sequence of self-imposed deadlines adds built-in accountability and motivation. 

“A goal without a timeline is just a dream.”

—Robert Herjavec

The larger the project, the more daunting it can seem. Research shows that longer deadlines are less effective8 Far-out timelines can cause workers to feel like something is harder than it really is, which can increase their likelihood of procrastinating or giving up. 

When you create a timeline of realistic and achievable benchmarks, a goal becomes digestible. We’ve all heard the advice to “break down a large goal into bite-size chunks,” but those chunks need to be time-based milestones. For example:

  • Let’s say you have a major sales meeting planned 6 months out. 
  • You start with a strategic meeting to create a SMART Goal for the event (examples below) and 6 achievable deadlines.
    • By the end of month 1, you coordinate your team to complete the 2-day event itinerary and book all required reservations.
    • By month 2, your team has finalized the budget, and your boss can approve the funding. 
    • By month 3, all invitations should be sent and vendors confirmed.
    • By month 4, print and digital marketing materials need to be in place.
    • By month 5, the event layout, structure, and rehearsal will be finalized.
    • When the month of the event arrives, you can feel confident that everyone is simply tying loose ends. 

Allow each milestone to earn its own mini-celebration, then move quickly to the next. You can’t rush excellence; however, a sense of urgency allows you to make the magic happen more quickly. An object in motion stays in motion. 

Pro Tip: Set timelines based on past experiences. If it usually takes you 3 hours to write an article, don’t punish yourself with a 1-hour deadline. Similarly, if a task has previously taken your team 1 week to complete, it is unfair to create a deadline 2 days out. Sometimes your timeline needs a reality check. Expecting things to happen at warp-speed is unrealistic and can set you up for defeat. 

Step 5: Build an accountability and support system

Research shows that sharing your goals9,had%20higher%20status%20than%20themselves.&text=advertisement-,If%20you%20want%20to%20achieve%20a%20goal%2C%20make%20sure%20you,objective%20with%20the%20right%20person. results in greater commitment and success. You can leverage this “social accountability” by communicating about your goals and milestone achievements with someone you trust. Ideally, this person can help root you on and keep you focused.

Key Caveat: Share your goals with the right person! Scientists have found9,had%20higher%20status%20than%20themselves.&text=advertisement-,If%20you%20want%20to%20achieve%20a%20goal%2C%20make%20sure%20you,objective%20with%20the%20right%20person. that, in order to feel truly accountable and excited about achieving a goal, you need to share it with someone who you perceive as having “higher status.” If you don’t value this person’s opinion, you are less likely to hold yourself accountable to what you share.

Building accountability could include:

  • Communicate with your boss about your career aspirations. Once they know you are reaching for a promotion to a specific position, they may help assign you “stretch” projects that test your skills and help you grow.
  • Ask a “tough-love” friend or family member to help hold you accountable. Tell them that if you don’t reach a specific goal by next month, you’ll pay them $100. 
  • Schedule a weekly check-in call with your mentor or life coach. Tell them your specific plans and timelines so they can help you measure progress and stay on track.
  • Publicly announce a goal on your social media. For example, if you are launching an Etsy business or remodeling your home, you could post “before” photos and share your progress. This can be inspiring to others as well. Just be sure you don’t get too personal.
  • Sign up for a twice-weekly workout class with a friend that you look up to (perhaps someone who is more fit than you). You’ve already paid and committed to the date, so you’re more likely to show up together! 

Ultimately, we are social beings. You don’t have to announce your goals to the entire world, but sharing with a few people in your close circle could help improve your motivation.

Want to learn more about communicating with confidence and leveling up your social skills? This goodie can help you master the 12 advanced people skills to help bring your goals to life:

pointing in photos

Master Your People Skills

  • Create a Memorable Presence
  • Communicate with Confidence
  • Achieve Your Goals

Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.

Step 6: Finalize your SMART Goal Statement

Once you have accumulated all these ingredients for a successful goal, it’s time to mix them together in a concise, motivating SMART Goal statement. 

This statement is perfect for:

  • Pasting on your vision board
  • Writing in your phone notes
  • Putting on a sticky note by your mirror
  • Adding as your desktop background
  • Sharing with project collaborators and team members.
  • Posting on office white boards
  • Highlighting on your calendar
  • Reiterating in meetings or check-ins

To assemble your SMART goal, grab a blank sheet of paper and follow these steps:

  1. Write your goal in the simplest, broad terms in the center. For example, I want to build an online business.
An example of a very broad goal written on a piece of paper. It is the first step in the goal setting process, before working your way to a SMART goal, which is an essential part of the goal setting process.
  1. Add arrows and extra phrases to get more specific about the “why” and “how” of the goal. Remember the success exercise. Get detailed about what success looks like. 
An example of a broad goal written on a piece of paper with arrows coming out of it that target the why and how. It is one of the steps in the goal setting process, before working your way to a SMART goal, which is an essential part of the goal setting process.
  1. Now, add in some numbers. Think about real metrics you can measure. 
An example of a broad goal written on a piece of paper with arrows coming out of it that target the why and how, as well as metrics added to make it measurable. This goal is on it's way to being a SMART goal, which is an essential part of the goal setting process.
  1. Check your research to ensure that these numbers are realistic and achievable. In this example, I did a quick Google search about the average profit margins of Amazon FBA businesses.
  2. Next, narrow down more details to make sure this is a relevant goal. For this example, we’ll consider the type of product(s) we want to sell and whether or not they are in demand. Then, we’ll assess how this business model fits into our personal values.
An example of a broad goal written on a piece of paper with arrows coming out of it that target the why and how, as well as metrics added to make it measurable, and extra details to make sure it's relevant, fits into our business model, and reflects our personal values. This goal is on it's way to becoming a smart goal, which is an essential part of the goal setting process.
  1. Finally, add some deadlines to your goal. We want to make $5,000 per month by May 2024, so how can we narrow down achievable mini-goals for the upcoming months?
  2. Now grab a new blank sheet and re-arrange this brainstorm into a tidy statement.
An example of SMART goal written out on a piece of paper that includes the why and how, as well as metrics added to make it measurable, and extra details to make sure it's relevant, fits into our business model, reflects our personal values. It also has a deadline. This goal is a SMART goal, which is an essential part of the goal setting process.

Key Takeaways: Build Your Goals on a Smart Foundation

The SMART criteria allow you to dig deeper into the logistics of your goal, laying a solid bedrock for achievement and motivation. Remember to keep it:

  • Specific: What exactly do you want? What does success look like?
  • Measurable: What are the numbers? How will you know you’ve achieved?
  • Attainable: Take an inventory of your toolbox and strategically decide what other resources you’ll need to reach the outcome. 
  • Realistic/Relevant: How does this goal get you to where you want to go? Does it align with your greater vision for your business or life?
  • Time-Bound: Break it up into mini-deadlines and celebrate your wins along the way.

Want more? This goal-setting class can help you master the art of goal-setting and practical execution:  

12 thoughts on “SMART Goals: 5 Tips for Successful Goal Setting”

  1. I really enjoyed this article – helped me re-focus my goals and give me a leg up on my 2015 resolutions! I always find enacting a plan is my downfall, I have a personal block on moving through with my ideas. The MAC daddy plan can help with that 100%

    1. Woo! Cheers to an awesome 2015 for you, Yada!

      – Danielle & The Science of People Team

  2. What do you do if your goal requires money that you don’t have? Does that mean the goal isn’t realistic?

  3. I love setting goals, but the Emotional Temperature takes our Personal Passions to an another level. Such a great way to reflect on what we want to achieve within the year, and make it measurable so we don’t lose interest. Thank you Vanessa for this!! I will implement this for 2016 as I ponder on my goals 🙂

  4. I think some people have a naturally strong endowment effect. For example my father: if I ask him to give me a hand with a project, it’s all of a sudden his project and our roles are reversed; suddenly I’m giving him a hand with helping me with my project…

  5. Wow, an actual Vanessa Van Edwards video I’ve never seen before, and on a topic I love! I really loved the goals wheel. I may just start to use it!

  6. I’ve always made various to-do goal lists, but I never actually followed through! This will help me get my butt in gear and actually achieve my goals ! Now that I’m about to graduate college, I have so many new goals to work toward. Knowing these steps that can help me get to where I want to be keeps me inspired 🙂

  7. Nikki Thornton

    I find that if i dont set myself goals then I will just coast in life and hope for the best! However when i do set myself goals i tend to super exceed any expectations that i may have ?

  8. I think I needed this this for motivation! The whole science behind goal setting and why goals fail is mesmerizing. I need to start apply them now! Thank you Vanessa!

  9. I love setting goals, but the Emotional Temperature takes our Personal Passions to an another level. Such a great way to reflect on what we want to achieve within the year in third question have many things so Vanessa Pls tell me what I can do???

Comments are closed.

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