SMART Goals: How to be SMART about Goal-Setting

“What’s so smart about SMART Goals?”

Would you play a football game without any end zones?  I’m not even sure what the field would look like…round?  Where would you line up?  Where would you try to go?    Like the endzones in a game of football, good goals give structure to what you are doing and help you measure progress.

In this post, we’re going to talk about a SMART way to set goals so you know which way to run with the ball and can start to put points on the board.

How to be SMART About Goal-Setting

Which Way am I Going?

Having a football game without any goals just doesn’t make any sense – that’s easy to see.  The problem is that there are a lot of people out there on the playing field who don’t really know where their goal posts are.  And as a result, they aren’t winning many games.

As a leader, that’s not where you want to be.  You want to be able to set clear goals that will get you and your team from where you are right now to where you want to be in the future.   Otherwise, it’s kind of like Yogi Berra said,

If you don't know where you are going, how are you going to know when you get there? - Yogi Berra Click To Tweet

Often you will hear people express goals like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get in shape” or “I want to get better grades” – these are all great ideas, but the problem is that they are vague – how much weight? How will you know when you are in shape?  What grades qualify as “better?”

Because their ideas of what they want to achieve are not clear, it’s hard for them to know what to do to achieve them.  A better way to approach this is to make your goals clear and concrete by using the acronym SMART.

Getting SMART About SMART Goals

A lot of people are trying to lose weight, so let’s take that for an example.  We’ll apply the SMART acronym to try and make this a clear, concrete goal.

S  The S stands for Specific You need to be very clear about what it is you want to achieve.  What kind of weight are we talking about?  Is it how much you weigh when you walk to school or get on an airplane – maybe just take some things out of your backpack.  But you probably mean body weight, and specifically body fat.   For a goal to be useful, it has to be specific.

What if we try, “I want to lose body fat.”?  OK, that’s a little better.  Let’s keep going.

Getting SMART About SMART Goals - MeasurableM The M stands for measurable.  You need to have some way to gage your progress and whether or not you have accomplished your goal; something that tells you how much or how many or quantifies your achievement in some way.

People trying to lose weight often measure their progress in pounds, which is fine.  Another way could be to measure body fat as a percentage of total weight.  A third way could be by waist size or dress size; there are usually several ways to measure your goals, you just have to pick one that you can easily and regularly measure so you know if you’re getting anywhere.

So how about, “I want to lose 30 pounds body of body fat.”  That’s starting to sound pretty clear, but we’re not done yet.

Getting SMART About SMART Goals - AttainableA The A stands for Attainable
.  Your goal should be realistic and within reach.  Do you have the resources you will need, like time or money?  Is your goal something that you can influence and control? – If it’s dependent on people or forces outside your control, you can’t be sure your efforts will pay off, so make sure success depends on you.

In this case, it might be beach week next month, but you’re probably not going to lose 30 pounds by then.  It would be dangerous to try, and you’ll probably end up frustrated and no better off.  Make the goal something that is physically possible, something that you can reasonably attain.

Let’s go with “I want to lose 30 pounds of body fat in the next 90 days.”  Great.  We’re getting there.

R The R stands for Relevant
.  Your goal has to have meaning to you, to help you accomplish whatever it is that you are trying to do.   This is the “why.”  So ask yourself what your purpose is.

If you are trying to lose weight so you can get better grades, than I’m not so sure a lot of weight loss is going to help, and soon you might start to lose motivation.  If your purpose is to become more healthy and fit, it is easy to see how losing excess body fat can contribute to better health.

So how about: “I want to lose 30 pounds of body fat in the next 90 days so that I can improve my health.” You could be even more specific about what part of your health you want to improve (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.  but you get the idea).  Now you have your purpose built in and a reason to go to the effort to accomplish your goal.

Almost there, but wait, there’s one more…

Getting SMART About SMART Goals:  Time-BoundT The T stands for Time-Bound
When are we talking about getting this done?  Tomorrow?   We already made the target 90 days so that it would be attainable.  But 90 days ending when?

An arbitrary number is still a vague idea that doesn’t really grab your attention.  But guess what?  Once you put a date on it, it gets a lot more real.  There’s no dancing around about when you really started, or if weekends and holidays count, or other ways to try and quibble out of it.  A date is a date.  Now you have a no-kidding real target to shoot for.

Let’s go with, “I want to lose 30 pounds of body fat by the 1st of June 2015 (90 days from now) so that I can improve my health.

SMART Goals – The Takeaway

Using the Acronym SMART, you now have a very clear goal and you will definitely know whether or not you have accomplished it.  You can even measure your progress along the way so you know if you are on track or not.

SMART goals are a great way for you as an individual to focus on what you are trying to achieve and measure your progress in getting there.

So what comes next?  Now that you have this goal, it’s time to start taking steps to achieve it.  Check out this video on Three Ways to Make Your Goal a Reality which will give you some great techniques to follow to start making your dreams come true.

If you are leading a team and plan to do some delegating so that you can get organized, it might be helpful to take a look at the video series on delegating, and how you incorporate SMART goals to do it well.

Goal-Getting CourseIf you want to achieve that goal you have always dreamed about, it helps to be SMART about what it is in the first place.  Then you need to establish positive habits that stick, and build a framework that will keep you motivated and moving forward.

It’s a challenging business, but with the right tools, you can make it happen. You can learn more about how to do this in the course Goal-Getting:  How to Build Your Framework for Success.  The course starts with three free videos to give you a sense of how you can customize a personal framework to help you meet your own specific goals.

Whether you are setting SMART goals for yourself or your team, using this tool will take you a huge step forward in doing what leaders do:  turning a vision into a reality.

Good luck with your goals, and thanks for reading.

Lead On!


Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives” Management Review (AMA FORUM) 70 (11): 35–36.


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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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