Goal Setting the S.M.A.R.T. Way

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We only need to reflect on the measly quota of those around us who steadfastly adhere to their New Year’s resolutions, to comprehend that many of us fail to attain the goals we set for ourselves.

Yet why do so many of us struggle to realise our objectives? In many instances, it’s because of how we set upon them. 

Essentially, goal setting is about asking ourselves two questions…

  1. Where do we want to go?
  2. How will we know when we get there?

To fulfil our intentions, we first need to determine where we want to go. 

Alice, who had come to a crossroads, asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “I just wanted to ask you which way I ought to go?


The cat enquired, “Well, that depends on where you want to get to?


Oh it really doesn’t matter.” Alice replied.


Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter which way you go.


– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

And once we have a clear view of our destination, we need to have a prominent signalling post to show when we’ve arrived.

Creating a SMART goal

To help answer these questions, we can use the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting technique, first popularised by George T. Doran in the 1981 issue of Management Review.

The technique enables us to create a clear, attainable and meaningful goal, whilst also developing the motivation, strategy, and resources, needed to achieve it.



Specific goals intensify our focus because we then know exactly what we’re working towards. The chances of reaching our goal is much improved when we define our objectives in greater detail – the more detailed, the better. That is to say, rather than having a vague goal, such as to lose weight, it’s far more effective when we specify how much we want to lose. For example, to reduce my body fat percentage by 5%. This gives us a clearer marker to set our sights on.


By having measurable goals, we can track our progress, thereby giving us confirmation of whether or not we’re heading in the right direction. They also help us to maintain motivation. Often when we’re pursuing something, we focus most of our attention on how far we still need to go, which can be demoralising. A measurable goal allows us to see how far we’ve come, which can then give us the added impetus to carry on. As the maxim goes, if we’re not measurin’, we’re guessin’!


Attainable goal setting is about establishing objectives that are neither too difficult nor too easy. Goals that are efficacious tend to stretch us beyond our comfort zones, whilst not diminishing our self-belief that we can meet them.

Stretch Goals

Goals that are too easy tend to increase our boredom, decrease our motivation, and maintain the status quo. On the other hand, unrealistic goals may also lead to demotivation, as it can be frustrating when we lack the requisite skills or resources to achieve them.


Relevant goals are those which match up with our core values. When our goal contradicts our values, it becomes very difficult for us to sustain the necessary drive to carry on pursuing it. We therefore really need to dig down and understand what we truly want – why are we doing this? If we don’t know our ‘why’, we’ll be much less inclined to commit to, and relish, our goal-seeking journey.


When we apply dates or timelines to our goal, we instantly set deadlines on which to focus, making us accountable to the process. This mitigates the likelihood of irrelevant tasks taking priority over our goal. Creating deadlines is one of the pivotal factors for separating those who achieve their goal from those who don’t.

It’s also highly effective to assign multiple deadlines, breaking a goal down into smaller tasks, each with it’s own due date. This encourages us to stay in the now, so that we can centre on the process of how to achieve these bite-sized tasks, rather than looking into the future at one big outcome that can seem intimidating. Taking care of the small goals will take care of the big goal.

Perhaps then, finally, we can now proclaim our S.M.A.R.T. New Year resolutions to all, confident in the knowledge that this time we may just adhere to them!

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23 Thoughts

  1. I’ve always liked the S.M.A.R.T. Method for goal-setting. I usually look to it for my own personal goals, and break up those goals into smaller objectives along the way. Where I tend to flounder the most is R for relevance. What do I want to do? Well, that’s simple: Lose 10 pounds, or read 10 classic books this year, or run a 10K (not actual goals of mine). But then if I ask, why is that important to me? I am at a loss. Because really, most of my goals are not important at all. Who cares if I never run that 10K or read those 10 classics? Goal-setting often feels more like a game I am playing against myself, just to give myself something to focus on and look forward to in life. But the lack of relevance can make it challenging to stay motivated.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I once attended a two day training event on increasing self-esteem for people with severe and enduring mental health needs. Although there are many techniques that are relevant for this, depending on whether self-esteem is focused more towards worthiness or competency issues, goal setting came out as the number one most effective tool for improving self-esteem. As a CBT-based psychological practitioner, SMART goal setting, along with breathing techniques, were the two skills people reported that provided rapid and valued change in their day to day lives. The more people who learn these wonderful techniques the better, I think, so thanks for putting a really effective piece of work together on this subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I set goals and i fail myself all the time. when i was younger i would set goals and nothing could ever stop me from reaching each one of them but now i get lazy by the day so i guess i need the S.M.A.R.T.

    Liked by 1 person

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