SMART Goals: How To Clearly Define Your Goals For Success


Is it that time of year again when you decide to make a change so you set a goal and make a promise to yourself that you will actually do it this time? Even though your track record has proven otherwise, what would make this time around any different? Don’t worry, you’re already on a different path if you landed on this page to learn how to write a SMART goal.

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. It is a simple and effective framework used for goal-setting. SMART is a guideline to ensure goals are well-detailed and thought out to help make them successful.

SMART goals acronym
S.M.A.R.T Goals Acronym

If you are determined to make goal-setting different this time, keep reading to learn all about writing a SMART goal.

What are SMART Goals?

First outlined and known in 1981 by George T. Doran in his November issue of Management Review. The article was titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives”. George T. Doran was a consultant, so even though this method was originally set up for a professional setting, it is still just as effective for personal use. The idea can be applied anywhere and to anyone.

SMART is an acronym made to easily remember every important aspect of a goal. The original 5 from Doran’s article were specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related. However, over the years similar words have been substituted to meet different needs and criteria for different companies or individuals. So that’s why you may see different variations here and there.

A SMART goal is simply a guideline for goal-setting. In this article, we will be using the words specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

A SMART goal outlines the specifics of a goal in detail, it determines measurable progress, how achievable it is, how it aligns with your values and other goals, and the exact time frame it will be completed.

A guideline is a great tool to use when writing out your goals because it will help express every and all details to write a clear vision of what you want and help carve a path to achieve it.

Read here what does it mean to achieve a goal.

What are the 5 SMART Goals?

The 5 parts of SMART are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Every component is an important aspect to consider when designing your goal to guarantee the most success.

Specific

A good goal is a specific one. The more details you can provide about the goal, the better. Get clear on what you want and visualize yourself there. A clear vision helps make a clear path. When you can visualize the details of what you want, you can come up with a better plan to get there.

Measurable

Measurable goals have a way to track progress. The only way to know if you are taking action and seeing results from them is if you have a way to measure it. Most goals don’t give instant gratification, so tracking even the smallest progress can help boost motivation to keep you going. Progress helps you know where you are in the process and it can be a way to celebrate milestones along the way.

Achievable

An achievable goal is the most subjective, only you can decide what is achievable. Finding the perfect balance will be the hardest part. You don’t want it to be too challenging that it discourages you to keep going, but you also don’t want it too easy or else it won’t challenge you enough to keep you satisfied. Only you can decide what is impossible and what is possible, but understand what it will take from you and your capabilities to achieve it.

Read here the consequences of setting unrealistic goals.

Relevant

A relevant goal is one that aligns with your values and beliefs, and is happening at the right time and right place. This goal will be adding value to your life in the direction that you want, rather than drain you and stress you out. It is what you prioritized that will help you achieve the bigger vision you have for yourself and fulfill you and give purpose and meaning to your life.

Time-Bound

A goal with a timeline creates a sense of urgency. A deadline to complete the goal ensures it’s on the radar and not a thought that was left behind. When you don’t have a deadline for your goals, you’re more likely to procrastinate and end up never completing it. A goal with a timeframe makes it real and easier for you to take action. Utilizing time management allows you to balance working on your goals while enjoying other things in life. Your goal plan will be incomplete if there is no sense of time included in it.

How to Write SMART Goals

SMART goals questions and definition
SMART goal questions

Now that you have a good understanding of what each letter stands for in SMART, it’s time for you to write your own SMART goals. Research has shown that people who write down their goals are 42% more likely to achieve them than those who don’t. Below is a guide of questions to ask yourself and reflect when you are planning your goal.

Specific

Remember: The clearer the details of your goal, the better the path will be to get there. Write down EVERYTHING you can think of and visualize.

  • What is your goal?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What do I want to happen?
  • Who, What, When, Where, Why?
    • Who is involved?
    • What do I want?
    • When do I need to achieve this?
    • Where would I achieve this?
    • Why is this important to me?
  • Does this goal make sense for me?

Example: My goal is… I want to create a YouTube channel and start making cooking videos, I love cooking and I want to showcase and share recipes. I need to learn how to do it and create a consistent schedule for me to cook, video, edit and upload. My goal is to upload 50 videos.

Measurable

  • What can I track to know I’m making progress?
  • How will I know when the goal is achieved?
  • How much or How many?
  • What is the indicator of progress?

Example: I will track my progress by… tracking the number of videos I upload.

Achievable

  • What could stop me from achieving this goal?
  • Do I have the skills and tools to help me achieve it?
  • Do I have what it takes?
  • Is this goal achievable, have other people completed it?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how confident do I feel that I can do it?

Example: I will achieve this goal by… taking a course or watching a few videos before I get started. I have seen many other people have success with this, if I keep a consistent routine and stick to it, I know I can do it.

Relevant

  • Is this goal worth it?
  • Does it align with who I am?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Why am I going after this?
  • Does it align with my long-term vision?
  • Will this add value to my life?
  • Why is this important?

Example: This goal helps me because… I want an outlet to share and document my cooking journey because I have a passion for cooking. It’s important for me to create something I’m proud of and have something to document my recipes for me to look back at one day. It will be fun for me to see my progress on everything.

Time-Bound

  • When will I start?
  • When will I achieve my goal?
  • “By this date, I will have…”
  • What is my deadline for this goal?

Example: I will give myself a year to complete this goal because one year has 52 weeks, so if I upload once a week, I will reach 50 videos by the end of one year.

How to Write SMARTER Goals

SMARTER goals acronym
Acronym for SMARTER goals

There have been many variations of SMART over the years to coordinate with different people and different companies and also to keep the method updated. One update includes the addition of E and R: SMARTER.

E – Evaluate

Evaluating a goal is how you can learn to improve on it. Writing down what worked and what didn’t helps you plan and improve for the next goal. Anticipate failure because it is part of the learning process, once you learn from it, you prepare so you don’t make the same mistake. Know your strengths and weaknesses so you can work around them and get better and better.

Questions to ask:

  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • What were my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What helped me stay focused?
  • What distracted or stopped me from the process?
  • What should I keep the same?
  • What should I eliminate for the future?
  • How can I improve?
  • How often will I evaluate?

Example: While working on my goal, I’m learning that I procrastinate when it comes to editing the videos. My strength is coming up with recipes and cooking, but my weakness is procrastinating when it comes to editing clips and putting the video together. My solution would be hiring an editor, setting timers to stay focused, or scheduling editing days.

R – Reward

Rewards are for making the process fun and enjoyable. Never forget to celebrate no matter how small or how big of progress is made. Rewards keep the motivation going and reminds you of where you started and how far you’ve come. Even if your progress is small, it’s a reminder that you made the choice to start and now you’re seeing results.

Questions to ask:

  • “What is something I can reward myself with when I reach…”
  • When I achieve ___ I will ___ to celebrate
  • When I reach ___ amount, I will ___ to celebrate

Example: Every time I upload 3 videos I get to treat myself to a trip to Target or new equipment that will improve the quality of my videos. When I reach 25 videos I will reward myself with a sushi dinner.

Do SMART goals need to be one sentence?

SMART goals do not have to be one sentence, but they do need to meet the requirement of including all elements of SMART to be complete.

SMART is a template used as a guide, which ultimately means it is a suggestion, so you can use it to which ever method that works best for you. You can write it down as one paragraph, or multiple sentences on different lines, or create boxes for each category, any method of your choice will work.

If you are doing this personally, have it written and printed somewhere you can easily visit and go over daily or weekly to remind yourself. If you are using this in a team setting, have it printed and posted somewhere where all members have access to it.

What’s important is that each element of SMART has been discussed, determined, and written down.

Benefits of SMART Goals

SMART goals come with many benefits, all of which help encourage and increase the motivation and chances of you completing the goal you set out for yourself.

Your idea becomes real. Writing down your goal and including details of how you will get there makes it become real. Goals that are not clear or written down are simply just a wish or a thought you had, and they will get lost and leave you disappointed. A vague goal with no intention behind it is just another idea. Written goals are accomplished significantly more than unwritten goals.

Gives you direction. SMART gives you the opportunity to reflect and visualize what you want and where you see yourself going. It defines your objectives and pushes you to set a completion date so you have something to work towards. It keeps you hopeful and optimistic about the future.

Easier to take action steps. A well thought out SMART goal means setting yourself up for a challenge that is not too challenging, which means you’re more likely to take your first action step to get started. A plan means you now know exactly what to do so you don’t feel lost and confused. A feasible time frame along with a step-by-step process is sure to motivate you to keep taking action.

The process is less overwhelming. Once you plan out the process and you can see the overall picture to get there, the goal is less overwhelming. When you break down your goal into manageable pieces, the goal will feel more achievable when you can take it one step at a time.

Motivating. Tracking progress and seeing results will increase your motivation to keep going. Motivation only grows once you get started and start seeing results, so the more progress you make, the more motivating it will be. Read here about the impact motivation has on the world.

No Training Necessary. The SMART guide is simple and easy to understand. There is no training required when you want to adopt this model for yourself. Anyone or any team can pick it up and get started right away.

Helps to prioritize. What we choose to put our time and energy in is what we choose to make important. Prioritizing is learning to put first what is important to us. SMART provides a plan and timeline for us to prioritize and complete our goal, without making a plan to put it first, it gets neglected and never complete. This not only helps to stay focused, but you are focused on the right things.

Drawbacks of SMART Goals

There are pros and cons to everything in life, it’s called balance. Even though SMART sounds like a smart way to do something, there are a few drawbacks to consider.

This method does not have much room for flexibility or change. SMART is typically used to set short-term goals (goal in the near future usually less than one year), which means if you use it to set a long-term goal, there is no plan in the book to make changes.

Unexpected things can come up while we are working on our goals and that can sometimes require pivoting. The question is then, do you start over and write a new SMART goal every time? This can lead to frustration and disappointment as you can imagine having many unfinished goals and having to start over every time.

SMART goals are also known to play it safe. The achievable aspect can make you set goals so achievable that it is not challenging enough to keep you interested or learning.

This method holds a ceiling of what you can accomplish with your abilities. Setting a goal that is within your reach doesn’t take any effort or push you to achieve more. Read here for the action and response alternative.

Are SMART Goals Still relevant and effective?

This system was first introduced back in 1981, admittedly it does sound outdated, however for as old as it is, it is still relevant and used today. That itself speaks volume for how valuable and effective it is, something written in the 1980s is still searched and studied today by many.

It’s popular because it’s simple to understand and quick and easy to get started. The name itself might provide a bias towards using it because it suggests a “smart” way of doing things, and of course, everyone wants to do things the “smart” way.

Do SMART goals really work?

The SMART goal method may not work for every individual, but like everything else, every system and method doesn’t work for everyone. SMART is one way of writing goals, not the only way.

It is a tool and a guiding system to help you write out your goals. It is not a magic goal-achieving wizard that completes goals for you. It’s simply a way for you to get gather all your thoughts and ideas about a goal you have onto paper and breaks it up into manageable steps and assigns a deadline on it so you can get working.

Truthfully, any method you choose will work, if you stick to it. Depending on how you look at it, goal-setting is the easy part, anyone can write down their goals, the hard part is following through.

However, some people need more guidance and structure, so a model like SMART is a great place to start. Goal-setting is a skill and will take practice, it takes trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. It can be personalized for anyone or any team, so give it a shot and don’t give up!

Read here about the 7 types of goals for long-lasting success.

Hong Singer

I'm the creator of Ambition Forward. I keep things simple by focusing on the goal and being consistent in my actions to get the results I want, and I'm here to help you do the same. I encourage you to look for the things that bring you joy and go for it!

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