Properly set goals can be great motivators for you. They can allow you to systematically achieve what you want to in your life. However, if not done properly, goal setting can have a negative effect. Improper goal setting can lower your motivation and your desire for achievement, and this can lead to frustration.

To be done right, you should ensure that your goals have some basic criterion. This basic criterion can help structure your goal so that is easier to achieve.


Setting SMART Goals

A lot of people have goals like, “I want to get in better shape.” Six month later, they wonder why they are not in better shape. They would be better off if they created SMART goals for themselves. SMART is an acronym used to effectively set goals. It is a simple tool to help create an actionable plan that gets results. There are several variants, but SMART usually stands for:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Relevant

T – Time-bound



The criteria for SMART Goals

Specific – Your goal should be detailed and state the exact level of performance expected.

Measurable – Your goal should contain a measurable indicator to assess the amount of your progress and to definitely determine if the goal has been achieved.

Achievable – Your goal should challenge you and stretch your abilities, but realistically be able to be attained.

Relevant – Your goals should be important to you and motivate you.

Time-bound – Your goal should specify when the result(s) will be achieved.



Different Variations of SMART

As indicated above, the SMART acronym has a number of slightly different variations. Different sources use the letters to refer to different criterion. Below is a table listing the most common association as well as some alternatives.



Specific means precise and detailed. Make sure your goal specifies what exactly needs to be done. Make sure they are precise and clear, rather than overly broad or ambiguous. For example, a specific goal might be “I will go to the gym and workout four days per week dedicating one hour each day to cardio and one hour to weight training” versus, “I will get in better shape.”

Below is a chart illustrating broad goals compared to a more specific goals.


Specific goals will also include some other elements of SMART goals such as being measurable and time-bound. For example, you may create a goal that states “I will eat 2 pieces of fruit and 3 different types of vegetables each day, and I will not eat junk food for 2 months.” This goal has measurable and time bound elements as well as being fairly specific. As you become more adept at creating goals, they should become more specific. Ultimately, your goals should be well-defined and focused. The more details the better.




SMART Goals should include numeric or descriptive measures that are quantifiable. It is important for you to know when your goal has been successfully reached. For example, a measurable goal might be “I will lose 10 pounds”, versus “I will to lose weight.” With the measurable goal, you are able to determine when you have hit your target.

Also, by using measurable quantifiers, you are able to determine whether you are making progress toward successful completion of your goal. For example, if your goal was to lose 10 pounds, and you have lost 5 pounds, you know you are half way to your goal.

When making a goal, establish concrete criteria for measuring your progress toward the attainment of the goal you set. Focus on elements such as observable quantity, quality, efficiency, or actions to measure outcomes.




Achievable means it is not just a hope or dream, but it is within your reach. Your goals should be ambitious, but realistic. The best goals require you to stretch your abilities, but not so far that the goal cannot be attained.

A significant part of determining if a goal is achievable is considering if it is possible to complete it within the fixed amount of time. For example, to lose five pounds may be achievable, but to lose it within a week may not be. However, if you break your ultimate goal down you will have better control and influence on it.

It is important to find the right balance when setting your goals. Goals that are set too high or too low become useless and meaningless. If they are set to high, you may be discourage and give up. If goals are set too low, you are not going to be motivated or reach your full potential.

You may set a goal to run 5 miles in less than 30 minutes by the end of the month. However, if you are just starting to run and get in shape, this may not be attainable. And if you feel a goal is not attainable, you may give up on completing it. Instead, if you set your first goal at running 2 miles in less than 20 minutes, and then slowly raise the bar, you will better maintain motivation and stay on track to reach your ultimate goal.




Relevant means it matters to you and what you want to achieve. Choose goals that are important to you.  If being in better physical shape matters to you, set a goal that specifies what you will do to get in better shape. However, if being in better shape does not really matter to you, you probably want to set a different goal. If it does not matter to you, you will probably not be motivated enough to achieve it.

Goals that are relevant to others such are spouse, parents, or friends, may not be relevant to you. Often times people set goals because some else is setting the same goal or recommends the goal to them. If you arbitrarily set a goal or decide on a goal because of other people’s influence, the chances of you achieving that are fairly slim. Even if you have the time, money, and skills, you still most likely will fail because your heart is not in it.

The goals that you choose should matter. They should motivate you and drive you forward.




Time-bound means the goal is not open-ended, but there is a timeframe for completion. These goals have an end point that can be found on a calendar. All your goals should specify a definite target date for completion. A commitment to a deadline helps you focus your efforts on completion of the goal on or before the set time. Instead of “I will lose 15 pounds,” a time-bound goal might state “I will lose 15 pounds in two months” or “I will lose 15 pounds by June 1.”

Timeframes tied to your goals provide a sense of urgency to help keep you moving towards it. With no time frame tied to it there is no sense of urgency. If you want to lose 15 lbs., state when you want to lose it by. This will set your conscious and unconscious mind in motion to begin working on the goal.




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