You may have heard the acronym SMART goals by now, and you may be wondering what it means and how to use this tool to up your goal-setting game.
This article is meant to help you understand SMART goals and how to use them. By giving plenty of examples along the way, you can use this goal-making tool to your advantage and achieve all your personal and professional goals.
What are SMART Goals?
The 5 elements of a SMART goal are the 5 key characteristics of an effective goal that you can actually achieve. You want the goals you make to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Ask who, what, where, and any other details?
To make your goals specific enough, you want to answer the key “W” questions, who, what, when, where, why?
You want to decide your goal and describe it in as much detail as possible. The key is to have a clearly defined picture of your goal in your mind, leaving no room for ambiguity.
Making your goal measurable is mainly making it so you have a measurable outcome to work toward, so you’ll know for certain when you are successful or not.
So instead of just wanting to lose weight, figure out how many pounds you want to lose. If you want more Instagram followers, think about how many more followers you want.
What you can measure is going to be different for each goal, but there is always something you can measure.
Maybe you want to be happier, what are some measurable things you can keep track of that will show whether your plans are working? Maybe you can measure how many hours of sleep you get each night to see if you’re getting your full 8 hours each night, or record in a mood journal how you feel at certain times of the day for a couple of weeks to try and find patterns.
What’s the level of attainability?
Just like when dealing with your finances you’ll want to determine whether the ROI is worth it. Each goal is going to take time and resources.
Are they going to yield worthwhile results? Is the effort your goal would require doable?
Maybe you want to run a marathon but you’ve never run before, so perhaps a better goal to start with would be to run 20 minutes every day. Sometimes you need to take your vision down a bit for a goal that you are actually able to do right now in your life.
Sometimes we feel pressured by our surroundings to make certain goals. Maybe your parents want you to be a doctor, but you want to be an English teacher. Maybe the people around you make you feel like you need to make intense dieting and weight goals to buff up or slim down, but you’re actually at a healthy BMI.
Goals take time and effort, they come with their own costs, so above all your goals have to be made for you, by you. So when making a goal ask yourself what your motives are and make sure they’re good, worth it, will actually yield the results you desire.
Time needs to be a major element in any goal you make. You need to create a plan that aligns with calendar dates and deadlines.
Having a due date helps us stay focused, motivated, and kick us into action. Remember that it is here where you can bog yourself down if you’re not careful, so be flexible and plan smartly so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Don’t be afraid to adjust when you need to, sometimes learning your limits and what works best for you takes some trial and error.
SMART Goal Examples
There are different elements that make up our lives and thus there are different kinds of goals we can make for each aspect of our lives. There are the more formal, professional, and serious goals we need to make, and then there are personal and fun goals we want to make.
Make goals for your more professional and serious successes, but set goals for yourself as well. Below are some key goal categories to remember:
1. Professional Goals
Specific (ask who, what, where, and any other details): You want to wake up earlier for work each morning.
Measurable (ask how): You record on a chart beside your bed every night you manage to go to bed at 10:30 pm. On a similar chart beside the door, you mark each morning you are able to leave your house for work at 7:30 am.
Attainable (what’s the level of attainability): Instead of making a goal to get to work by 7 each morning, you’ve started with a goal to get to work by 8 each morning, because you know working toward this goal is more feasible for you right now.
Relevant (ask why): This goal is relevant for you because going to work earlier will allow you to leave earlier in the day, giving you more time for other goals and endeavors outside of work.
Time-Bound (ask when): You’ve set alarms on your phone to remind you when to get ready for bed, and when to wake up and get ready for the day. You’ve decided to give yourself a month to get into this routine, and if you are successful, you’ll reward yourself with a Friday movie night with friends.
2. Fun Personal Goals
Specific (ask who, what, where, and any other details): You want to make more friends in college.
Measurable (ask how): You plan social events to go to every weekend this month and decide you have to stay at each for at least a full hour and must talk to at least 3 people you don’t know. You record the events, how long you stayed, and who you befriended in your journal after each weekend.
Attainable (what’s the level of attainability): You know you can attain this goal because there are social events you know you’ll be able to go to, and you have a roommate who is very social land willing to go with you to each event.
Relevant (ask why): This goal is relevant to you because you’re a freshman in college and want to make friends in this new phase of your life. You know your overall wellbeing and happiness will increase by reaching this goal.
Time-Bound (ask when): You have this month to enact your plan before reevaluating all the new people you met, and continuing with your goal by inviting some of those people to a social event at your own apartment at the beginning of the following month.
3. Serious Personal Goals
Specific (ask who, what, where, and any other details): You want to lose 10 pounds.
Measurable (ask how): You’ll weigh yourself on a scale and record your weight progress on a chart.
Attainable (what’s the level of attainability): This goal is attainable because you’ve spoken with your doctor and it is ok for you to lose 10 pounds. You also have a dietary and exercise plan that should yield results over time.
Relevant (ask why): This goal is relevant to you because losing 10 pounds will put you at a healthier weight, give you more energy, and build your confidence.
Time-Bound (ask when): You schedule regular weigh-in dates for the following weeks to come, and estimate that you should reach your weight loss goal in time for the beginning of summer.
4. Financial Goals
Specific (ask who, what, where, and any other details): You want to decrease your debts.
Measurable (ask how): You know how much overall debt you have, and after sitting down with your budget you can reorganize your spending so you know exactly how much you can spend on debts and other spending each month. This will also tell you exactly how long it will take for you to pay it all off. You can keep a record of when you successfully make each payment and visually see yourself getting closer to paying all of it.
Attainable (what’s the level of attainability): You can know the attainability of this goal by how well you budget for spending more on debts and less on other varied expenses.
Relevant (ask why): This goal is relevant because you have debt to get rid of, and getting rid of debt will free you to spend more on other things and save for the future.
Time-Bound (ask when): You have a due date for your bills each month and by keeping on track with these monthly dates, you stay on track to finish paying off your debt in the months you’ve given yourself.
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In order to make sure your goals follow the SMART goal rules, it may help to record them on a chart or utilize a goal-setting app.
“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” —Pablo Picasso
There are countless goal-setting apps out there to help you track your habits and reach your aspirations. Here are some of the best goal setting apps for making SMART goals:
In some ways, goals are how we live our lives. It’s how we make decisions and enact change. Understanding the 5 key characteristics of SMART goal-making can help you level up in your personal and professional life.