SMART Goals

SMART is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-limited

Setting smart goals helps ensure the right focus and appropriate expectations as you start taking steps in a new direction. If goals are too large, too vague or too open-ended, you may have a hard time meeting them. Business expert George T. Doran is generally credited with creating SMART goals, which are used often in business applications, and like a lot of business strategies, they work wonderfully in many general areas.

Here’s what SMART goals look like:

Specific

A good goal is one that includes details like who, what, when, where and why. A goal such as “be happier” is vague, which makes it hard to know whether you have achieved it. A better goal might be focus on the happiness a specific activity or hobby brings such as, “I will spend more time on painting because it brings me happiness.”

Measurable

The best goals have a quantity associated with them so you can evaluate your progress toward them and adjust your approach as needed. Using the example above, you could make it more measurable by saying you will paint for four hours each week. If, over time, you look back and see that you’re only painting three hours per week, evaluate ways to dedicate another hour. Being aware you may have to overcome other feelings, such as guilt, to dedicate time to yourself and not focus your time on things you think you should do that do not bring you happiness.

Attainable

One of the problems with goal setting is that we sometimes dive in full of enthusiasm eager to make as much progress as possible, which leads to objectives that simply can’t be reached. For a person with a history of alcohol abuse, deciding to stop drinking altogether by March may not be realistic. And when we fail to meet our goals—even the unreasonable ones—it can be disappointing and frustrating.

Relevant

If what you need in your life is to better manage your depression, setting the goal to learn to ski it is just one action. This isn’t to say you can’t have goals that are related to your enjoyment of life and personal fulfillment, but take time to assemble a set of relevant objectives.

Time-limited

While you want to give yourself a reasonable amount of time to achieve your goals, allowing too much time can keep you from making progress. Deadlines provide motivation and help you prioritize goals over the many other tasks vying for your attention.

SMART goals is a method that is used to help people define and implement intentions. SMART goals are often used in healthcare settings, but they are also used successfully in business and educational settings because they help to create increase a sense of ownership and personal importance when trying to make important changes.1

A SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. The SMART criteria help to incorporate guidance and realistic direction in goal setting, which increases motivation and leads to better results in achieving lasting change.

Tips for Success

You don’t have to wait for New Year’s Eve to set your SMART goals. There is no better time to start than today, but keep in mind that the method requires a bit of practice.

The following tips can help you better achieve success in reaching your goals:

  • Accept that sometimes things happen and making adjustments to a goal is part of the learning process. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, evaluate your progress and your goals to see whether you missed a SMART criterion or step. Simply readjust your goals, and jump back in.
  • Don’t set yourself up for failure by taking on too much or setting an unattainable goal. For example, if you work an office job 65 hours a week, don’t set a goal of going to the gym seven days a week for 2 hours a day unless that is actually a feasible schedule for you.
  • Focus on process goals instead of just an outcome. Focusing on an outcome gives you a target, but it doesn’t address how you will reach the goal.
  • For sustainable lifestyle changes, feel free to set long-term goals to keep the big picture in mind. However, break down the long-term goal into a series of smaller short-term goals in order to track progress and keep yourself motivated.
  • Remember that someone else’s goals are not your goals. Your goals have to be meaningful and attainable for you.
  • Share it with others. It’s much more difficult to give up on your goals when others know about them.
  • Work on changing behaviors and habits.
  • Write your SMART goal down. This will allow you to go back to your goal to reference and review.