Looking to build some SMART goals but have no idea where to start? We’ve got some SMART Goals with examples lined up, but first, we need to understand what SMART goals are.
If you’re like most people, you’ve set a goal or a resolution at some point in your life. Maybe you achieved it, and maybe you didn’t. Maybe you were in it for the long haul, but half of the people who set, for example, new year’s resolutions tap out before the year is half done. Some just plain forget about their resolutions. Whatever the reason, setting and failing to keep a goal or resolution has become a cliché. Does that mean it’s hopeless? Yes. The End.
Just joking, of course. The format of setting a goal can be problematic for several reasons. A year sounds like a lot of time, but it’s just 12 months. When we think of a year, we can get caught up in some pretty high pie-in-the-sky thinking.
So what can we do?
Lose weight, get healthier, exercise more, and save money. These popular resolutions are good starting points, but they’re going to have to be filled out with more details if we’re going to attain any of them—or know if we even have attained them. Likely, they’re going to have to be spaced out as well since any one of them will require a lot of our time, attention, energy, and discipline.
In this article, we’ll be going over some main points for making resolutions or goals and making them SMARTER:
The idea of SMART goal setting has been around since the eighties, and it’s a good way to make a goal or resolution that may be a bit vague and turn it into something specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s a method with a good starting point, and all we need to do is fill in the necessary details to create an action plan we can follow.
So how do we make our goals SMART? We’re going to look at each criterion in turn and then use those to ask a set of questions to turn a one-sentence (or more often two-word) resolution into a well-defined goal. The most basic questions will be: what exactly is it we want to accomplish? How will we know we have reached the goal? How realistic is it to work on this goal right now? What is the relevance of this goal?
Finally, a SMART goal must have a clear beginning and end. The beginning will be the new year for most people turning resolutions into goals, but we may want to pick specific months as the start times instead of January if we’re planning to work on several. That way we can take on our goals one at a time and dedicate more time, energy, and resources to each of them.
Specific: To make it specific, we need to make the goal as clear and concrete as possible. We want to identify what we want to accomplish and who and what we need to achieve the goal. We can use the five W’s—who, what, when, where, why—to fill in some details. When thinking of the where and when, think of the place and time you will be working towards your goals primarily.
You may weigh yourself in the bathroom, but a lot of dieting will actually happen in the kitchen. We are all social creatures, so think of people you might want to tell about goals you’re working on. Some people can be resistant or negative, so choose these people wisely! Someone who is active in the area you want to work on can be a great resource or accountability buddy.
Measurable: To make it measurable, we need a way to track our goals through different metrics—quantitative or qualitative—which will help us to know when we’ve reached our target. Numbers can work if we’re trying to reach a weight loss, fitness, or financial goal, such as pounds lost, exercise reps or days performing a routine, or dollars in savings.
For learning skills or developing practices, we may need to use other metrics like taking photos of finished work, recording practices with a video or audio log, or tracking our progress with a calendar or journal entries. Simple symbols like stars or emojis can add an easy rating system to our calendar or journal. Milestones, or steps along the way to success, are good things to include in a calendar. Self-assessment questionnaires can make our journal entries more cohesive and make progress more obvious.
Achievable: To make sure it’s attainable, our goal should be something we can realistically accomplish. I like the expression of finding something that is out of our grasp but still within reach. We also like the concept that getting from zero to one is much harder than going from one to ten. This part is going to involve some self-assessment to determine if we are starting from zero or progressing from a baseline.
We also want to inventory the resources we have available and which we might need. Finally, we want to make sure there are no other constraints that will hold us back, such as someone else having power over the outcome. Getting all the skills and training to be qualified for a promotion is in your sphere of influence, but the decision for job promotion is probably not.
Relevant: To gauge relevance, we want to ask what this goal means to us. That’s not to say it must be the most meaningful, life-fulfilling goal you could possibly work on at this moment. Those are great, but not necessary to start with. We may want to start with a small goal to build some self-discipline.
If it is a bigger goal, knowing that going in will help us plan accordingly. One way I like to test how relevant something is to ask “Will I be happier if I could snap my fingers and already have this done than actually work on it for 30 days?” If that’s the case, then I’ll probably find some excuse to drop the work. Knowing that going in, I could ask a friend to help keep me accountable or even work on it with me and make it more enjoyable.
Time-Bound: To make it time-bound, our goal should have a due date or deadline so we can stay on track and measure our progress. I really do think it’s better to think of a goal in terms of a one to three-month timeframe rather than a year, which can be a big issue, for example, such as a new year’s goal.
Planning for a few months keeps things more realistic. It will also help with breaking a big goal into smaller subgoals, which can help us feel a larger sense of accomplishment as we go along.
Some have argued for an update of the criteria to include a couple of extra terms that reflect the importance of feedback—evaluated and reviewed.
There are a couple of ways we can get feedback on our goals. Immediate feedback can include just being mindful when we are working towards a goal. Try noticing how we feel at the beginning, middle, and end of a meal, exercise session, or practice session of whatever timeframe we’ve set aside to work towards our goal will give us some in-the-moment data that we can use to reevaluate our goals if need be.
Recording with video, audio, or journal entries can allow us to evaluate our progress at different points in time as well. Setting up some questions for self-assessment can help with this, and we can use metrics for those questions like how we feel, how well we think we did, and how in line with our goal our practice is currently. Taking some of the questions we asked to define our goal can help to create a self-assessment tool to use while working on it.
We can also ask a friend or colleague to weigh in for a second opinion. We should be sure that this person understands our goals beforehand, or else they could water down or muddy our goals with feedback that lacks specifics or doesn’t relate.
Goals will often follow a few common formats. We generally want to increase, make, improve, reduce, save, or develop certain areas of our lives, such as health, wealth, happiness, personal and professional projects, relationships, skills, et cetera. Again, these are great starting points, but we want to make sure we ask ourselves the important questions that will help develop these into an action plan.
Crafting cues: Making your goals SMART(ER) should be positive since the intention is to help you succeed! You want to use language that is concise but also relatable to the goal at hand. Be realistic when determining a deadline—it always takes longer than you think, even when you try to account for that.
Initial Goal/Resolution you have in mind:
What exactly are we trying to accomplish?
Who needs to be involved?
Where will we be working on our goal?
When are we going to be working on our goal?
Why are we working on this?
What metrics will let us know if and when we’ve met our goal? Are they quantitative (pounds lost, exercise reps, days performing a new habit, or dollars in savings)? Qualitative (taking photos of finished work, recording practices with a video or audio log, or tracking our progress on a calendar or with journal entries)? Do we want to use a rating system (1-10)?
Are we starting from zero or somewhere else? Using a rating system of our current level here can be helpful to determine if we have the skills necessary to achieve this goal or if can realistically obtain them while working on it.
What is our motivation? Will this goal require more effort than we can or want to commit?
Inventory the resources we have available and which we might need:
Are there any other constraints that will hold us back? Does someone else have any power over the outcome?
What does this goal and its successful outcome mean to us?
Will it be life-changing in a big or small way?
If we could snap our fingers and have it done, would we rather do that or would we feel like we missed out on something?
Why are we setting this goal now?
Is this goal aligned with our other objectives?
What can we reasonably get done in 3 months?
Based on that, what is a realistic deadline for completing this?
After asking all these questions, it’s time to put it all together. We can word this however we like by crafting a statement with the answers to the above questions. One format we can use is “Because ________ of the relevance __________, I will ___________ achieve specific goal________by deadline/on timeline. I will _________ track progress with/know I have succeeded by these metrics.
Because I want to feel healthier, I will lose ten pounds in three months by working with a virtual personal trainer & dietician to develop an exercise & meal plan, each of which I will follow for at least 30 days straight. I will track my progress using weekly weigh-ins & daily journal logs.
For greater peace of mind, I will build an investment fund of $_____ amount for myself over the next three months by sticking to a budget daily and investing my savings monthly. I will use a budget sheet and investment spreadsheets to track progress.
Because I’m passionate about _____, I will teach myself to improve my _____ skills over the next month. To do this I will [practice/study] with _____ [tutorials/books/videos] every day for _____ minutes. I will share _____ [recordings of work/progress] with _____ [second opinion person] every week/month to get feedback and rate myself in daily journal entries on a one to ten scale.
You can listen to our SMART goal webinar below:
Ready to plan your SMART goals yet? It does take a while to fully flesh out a committed schedule to your goals, but even more to stick to them.