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SMART goal setting: The 5 Laws of effective goal achievement

SMART goal setting

Are your goals going nowhere?

It’s a common problem!

For instance, think about the number of people who’ve said to you that they’ve got a New Year’s resolution – maybe to give-up smoking, lose weight, do more fitness training, get a new job etc. etc.

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Now think how many of those people you’ve spoken to who’ve actually told you that they’ve achieved their New Year’s resolution by the end of the year.

I bet I know the answer. A big, fat ‘ZERO’!


Why is it that so many people fail when it comes to goal-setting?

Let’s face it. Nobody ever seems to stick to New Year’s resolutions once they’ve been set. They’re just an illustration of how the best of intentions seem to go to pot very easily. What resolutions are meant to be, of course, are goals. And it’s because people never treat them as goals to be focused on that they never seem to be achieved.

Resolutions are related to a specific aim or goal. However, they are frequently open-ended with no time limit or specific result attached to them. Therefore, the goal-setter can’t measure their success in achieving the goal. As a result, it really just becomes an exercise in wishful-thinking – more of a statement of what we’d like to achieve, than an actual target which is going to change our lives significantly.


The good news there is another way…

‘Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment’ – Jim Rohn.

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There is a more effective way to achieve your goals in life and it can work very effectively if you set mind to it. But for this, you need to be focused and disciplined. However, it doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, the formula for smart goal setting is wonderfully simple and follows five basic laws.


S.M.A.R.T. it!

This model has been around for a while and has been used in various walks of life. I first encountered this many years ago during my public service career and still use it today to assist my students to achieve their academic goals. The formula is straightforward and is easily remembered by the pneumonic S.M.A.R.T.

Each of the laws of ‘SMART’, when used together, can provide a very powerful tool for providing extra sharp focus of the goal you are aiming to achieve.

Here’s how it works:


Law 1: Specific

Be specific about what it is you want to achieve with your goal. What is it you want to do?

Let’s say we want to lose weight. Great, very admirable – but unless we know how much weight we want to lose, chances are we won’t lose any at all.

For starters, how do you know if you’ve even achieved the goal or not? You need to give yourself a specific target to aim for. In other words, you need to have some definite figure that you wish to achieve. Be as detailed as you like, but remember – keep it simple!

This law is not just a conscious effort. As soon as you assign yourself a target consciously and focus on that goal, your subconscious also begins going to work on it as well. The more this happens, the greater the chance of you achieving your target. Neglect this factor, and the subconscious has nothing to lock into.

Indeed, it could very well end up doing the opposite. Soon, we find ourselves losing focus and may end up putting on more weight than losing it!

So, it’s important to be specific. Give yourself a definite idea about what it is you want to achieve and focus on it.


Law 2: Measurable

Your goal should be measurable. In other words, it should be quantifiable. You should be able to measure how far you have gone towards achieving your goal. Otherwise, how will you be able to know where you are?

Let’s take our example of losing weight again. We’ve decided you want to lose a stone in weight. In order to be able to measure how successful our progress towards our goal is, we would need to weigh ourselves. In order to measure progress when losing weight, we would need to constantly monitor our weight loss until we’ve reached our target and lost a stone. We do this by regularly weighing ourselves and recording the results so that we can track our progress.

The greatest benefit of the ‘measurable’ law is that by tracking our progress (and visibly seeing definite progress towards our goal), our motivation will almost certainly increase. This is, therefore, a very powerful yet simple method of increasing the attainment of our goal. The closer we get towards our target, the more likely it is that we’ll obtain our final result.

As an extra tip when tracking progress towards your goal, record your data on a chart and keep it visible! Place it on your wall, on a notice-board, stick it to the bathroom door so you see it first thing in the morning – whatever! There is no more powerful a motivator than having your progress chart visible constantly where it’s presence will be fixed in your mind!


Law 3: Achievable

Is your goal achievable? In other words, how can you actually achieve it?

For this, you need to ask ourselves – what will you need to do to achieve it?

In the case of our weight loss of one stone, we would need to ask ourselves what we would need to do to achieve the goal. Are we going to need to go on a diet to achieve the goal? How are we going to change our eating habits? Will we need to sign up to a support network such as ‘Weight-watchers’? What sort of exercise regime are we going to need to develop? How often are we going to need to exercise?

If we have the answers to these questions and they basically amount to something we can run with – bingo! Our goal is achievable. We know that we can achieve our aim of losing a stone in weight if we follow a plan based on our findings.

However, it also depends on another important factor. You – yourself! This brings us on to the next law…


Law 4: Realistic

How realistic is your goal?

In other words, how likely is that you can achieve it? Now, this really does require you to be honest with yourself.

Take our weight-loss goal, for instance. We’ve done our home-work. We’ve looked at all the options. We’ve come up with all the answers to the questions mentioned above. We’ve got our plan of action.

How realistic is it that we’re going to stick to your rigorous schedule and see it through? For instance, we’ve decided that we are going to exercise at least three times a week for at least thirty minutes. Sounds great, again?

But then we consider that we’ve got to find the time to commit to our exercise sessions. Let’s face it – we have very busy lives: working, commuting, family commitments e.g. looking after the kids, social life etc etc. So when are you going to fit it in? And even if we can find the time, are we really going to have the tenacity to stick to our exercise regime?

If the answer to this is more than a definite maybe, then you can be pretty sure that what you are aiming to achieve is realistic. If you are honest with yourself from the start with regard to this, then you’ll save yourself a whole lot of wasted time and effort!

And this brings us to the final law:


Law 5: Timely

You need a timescale within which to achieve your goal. No point in making it open-ended. Otherwise, there’s a strong possibility of drift leading to inaction and eventual failure. Give yourself a definite time-frame within which to achieve the goal and you will achieve it (even it takes slightly longer than anticipated. There’s nothing wrong with flexibility, as long as it doesn’t turn to drift.)

So with our weight loss goal, let’s set ourselves the time-frame of losing a stone in eight weeks. So, during that time, we should be aiming to monitor our progress by recording the training sessions we have done, progress regarding adherence to the diet and regularly weighing ourselves to see how much has been lost.

All this, of course, links in with the measurable law. Over this period of time, we can measure how far we have got, how much weight we have lost, how much more we have to go and feedback on what else we need to do or change in order to reach the goal.  So, by the end of the eight weeks, we’ll know if we’ve lost the stone or not. And guess what? Goal achieved because we focused!

The time limit also places a greater sense of positive pressure upon you to actually complete the task. For instance, it has been proved that working towards a deadline increases productivity and the likelihood of achieving the goal.


So that’s it – SMART your goals for success!




If you have a particular goal or set of goals you want to achieve, you can SMART them using the table below (to print the page or create a PDF worksheet, click the button below this post):



SPECIFIC (be clear about what it is you want to achieve, make it as detailed as possible but, at the same time, keep it simple and to the point. Avoid being vague like the plague!)  
MEASURABLE (make it quantifiable, so that you can measure your progress towards the goal and review it as necessary.)  
ACHIEVABLE (can you achieve you goal? What do you need to achieve it? Make sure you come up with a plan of action based on what you have identified.)  
REALISTIC (be critical and honest here. Is it realistic that you can achieve this goal given the time and resources available, and your own motivation?)  
TIMELY (what’s your timescale? How long do you estimate that it will take you to achieve this goal? When do you think you can achieve it by? Set yourself a definite deadline – and stick to it!)  


If you found this article interesting and helpful (or if you’d just like to provide some feedback), I’d love to know about it! Please feel free to leave a comment in the box below.


(For more on SMART goal setting and some other fabulous time-management stuff, I’d really recommend ‘Focus – Use the Power of Targeted Thinking to Get More Done’ by Jurgen Wolff. Now in its second addition, this book has been a major influence on the way I approach goal setting myself. For more information, click here to see the book on Amazon.  Please note –this is an affiliate link. Please ensure you undertake more research yourself before buying.)


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