Set SMARTer Goals

Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to achieve what you set out to achieve? How many times have you got to the end of the year and realized that you are setting the same resolution that you did 12 months earlier? But you are an intelligent and (fairly) disciplined person, so surely it should be quite straight forward to achieve things deemed to be of upmost importance. But it seldom works. Why?

Well, you aren’t alone. The University of Scranton recently discovered that a whopping 92% of people don’t achieve their New Years resolution or other long term goals. And I’m here to assist you in transitioning into the other 8%; by giving you a brand new bag of tools when it comes to achieving what you want. 

We know that we ‘should’ set goals and be future focused in order to be productive, but we were never actually taught how to set a goal. So, we kind of guessed our way through it and have since decided that achieving predetermined goals is borderline impossible. The way that most people create goals is such that they are setting themselves up to fail.  

For you to achieve more, you need to ensure that all your goals are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timeframe).  If not, you will continue to struggle. Let me show you what a real goal consists of:

success via steps.jpg

S. Specific: If your goal isn’t specifically focused on you and your behaviour, then it isn’t under your control and thus shouldn’t be your goal. If your goal doesn’t explicitly and clearly spell out what you need to do (behavior) to achieve it, then it isn’t a goal, it is a vague direction, so be clear and literal.

Eg. Non-Specific: “I will exercise more this week”                                      

Specific: “For 4 (or more) days this week I will walk for 15 (or more) minutes without stopping”    

(Note: like a good recipe – you must clearly spell out what you will do)

M. Measurable: You wouldn’t start a race that had no finish line, so why torture yourself with a goal that has no measurable end point?! If you can’t measure the variable (like happiness) then be more strategic and think of what behaviors are likely to help in that department and state how much you will do.

e.g. Not Measurable: “I will socialize more this week”

Measurable: “I will text or call someone I know (be specific) before 12pm every day this week”

(Note: now you can recognize when you have achieved it)  

A. Achievable: Do not set the bar too high. Geez, we all struggle at this. If motivation is an issue, then set the bar low to allow some small successes along the way. Dopamine is the driver of behavior, so allow yourself as many hits of the stuff as you can get, particularly because you’ll be outside of your comfort zone.

e.g. Unachievable: “I will run for at least an hour every day this week” (But maybe you haven’t ran for             a full hour in over 3 months)

Achievable: “I will go for at least 2 (or more) jogs/runs this week for 10+ minutes each (even if it is just around the block)”

(Note: A lower bar will get you the activation energy needed to get started and anything extra that you do is a BONUS!!! Positive Psychology 101)

R. Relevant: Don’t set goals that you think you 'Should' be striving for. If you can’t clearly state WHY it is important and valuable to you then it isn’t your goal, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is. You don’t care about it, so you will struggle to find motivation, and it will be a chore. Even if you achieve it – you never really cared in the first place.

e.g. Irrelevant: “This year I will do 3 (or more) professional development courses because my wife says I should”

Relevant: “This year I will work for at least 1 hour a week (probably Sundays) on my dream website around aerospace engineering”  


T. Timeframe: If you don’t need to do it today, you will put it off until tomorrow. And tomorrow, you will repeat the process again. We can accomplish a great deal when given a strict time frame. It also allows you to break the goal down into smaller chunks (more dopamine).

e.g. No Timeframe: “I will get in touch with some prospective partners soon”

Timeframe: “This week (before Sunday 12pm) I will have sent at least one email to person X. Doesn’t matter what it says, I will have sent something in the hope of starting a dialogue”

There is no doubt that the more you set goals like this, the better you’ll get at it. I recall the first New Years celebrations that I turned to my wife and said “we need to make our resolutions S.M.A.R.T.” She then asked what that meant. “Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and with a timeframe.” Her palm raised to her forehead, she said “wow, you know how to squash the fun out of things.” But guess who is now the biggest S.M.A.R.T. goal setter of them all?! Forever insisting that we create an ‘Enough List’ for our businesses (a daily/task specific spin off from the above recipe).

Also, the more strictly that you stick to the S.M.A.R.T. formula, the more you will achieve and the more motivated you will feel. Make today the day that you stop confusing goals with vague themes, with no clear recipe or end point. Stop setting yourself up for guilt and disappointment. 

Bonus Tip: 

After you have created your S.M.A.R.T. goal, write it down (this is essential), then check to ensure that it meets all five S.M.A.R.T. criteria. Draw an empty box beside it, ready to be filled with a big tick once completed. The power of ticking off a goal has been well researched and is essential for releasing the dopamine that will trigger satisfaction and behaviour reinforcement.  

If you want some help in translating your vague themes into proper goals, then please get in touch. Otherwise stick to the recipe and you will do just fine.

- Mike