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How to Set Goals You Can Really Achieve

Updated on December 29, 2011

Make your goal a SMART goal you can achieve

Turning a goal from a proclamation into an achievable work-in-progress is a lot easier when it is transformed into a S.M.A.R.T. goal. It becomes a plan of action with steps and objectives, not just a stated desire to be hoped for. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. The explanation of using this type of goal-setting can be found in "5 Tips on Setting SMART Goals," a good place to start if you are new to SMART goal setting.

These tips and suggestions will address each part of the SMART goal setting process using a typical sample goal. If you already have a goal of your own - grab a pad and pencil and jot down your answers or steps as we go through the process.

Sample Goal: (which is not yet a SMART goal) - "I want to lose some weight"


Turn that into an achievable SMART goal

"I want to lose some weight" is not a goal - it's a wish, and trying to use it as a goal will almost certainly result in a frustrating failure. How much weight do you mean? Why? By when - next summer? How will you know if you achieve your goal? Is 5 pounds enough, or do you mean a lot more?

As you can see, that goal needs some work before it can be something you can really work on, rather than just wish for.

This is where turning it into a SMART goal will help guarantee a better chance of success.


A SMART goal is Specific

"I want to lose some weight" is not a specific goal, so it needs a few answers.

  • Why do you want to lose weight? - Because I want to be able to wear a bikini on our summer vacation.
  • How much weight will you need to lose? - 10 pounds will do it, as long as I tone up while I lose it.
  • Is there a deadline to achieve your goal? - Yes, we go on a 2-week summer vacation beginning May 10th.

Of course your particular goal(s) may require more, or fewer questions to narrow it down to a more defined statement, but you can see this step has changed the vague "I want to lose some weight" goal into a more specific, "I want to lose 10 pounds by May 10th" goal.

And that was a big step. Imagine how much easier it is to visualize achieving that goal, versus the original "wish" goal.


A SMART goal is measurable

Is the goal to " lose 10 pounds by May 10th," a measurable goal? Of course it is, with the bathroom scale and bedroom mirrors. And it is measurable in a couple other ways:

  • Most importantly it is a measurable goal - it's a definite number - 10 pounds, and it can be measured by using weight scales
  • It is incrementally measurable - weekly weigh-ins can be definite progress guides. If May 10th is 4 months away, then an even progress would be to lose 2.5 pounds a month.
  • It is visually measurable - try the bikini on - when you start and then monthly maybe. Visual progress to achieving your goal will be an extra motivator.

Different goals are measurable in different ways, this was an easy example. The point is that if you can't measure the progress or success of a goal, then it is not a SMART goal, and has very little chance of success.


A SMART goal is attainable

Understanding your personality, lifestyle, and typical habits;

  • Is losing 10 pounds by May 10th attainable? - yes it is. I can moderate my eating habits and develop an easy exercise routine.

Making sure your goal is attainable is not just smart - it is critical! If your goal is unrealistic or unattainable, then why even consider it? If you weigh 105 pounds, then a goal to lose 40 pounds is not a realistic goal, and probably not attainable. Or if you are 65 years old and working in the mail room, then a goal to become your company's CEO is probably out of reach, and unrealistic.

Those may sound like obviously silly examples, but so would trying to lose 10 pounds in 3 days, or increasing your salary by $200 per week in 30 days. Or trying to learn a new language if you do not have access to any training materials or resources. These are goals that are almost certainly unattainable. Make sure your goal has a reasonable chance of success.


A SMART goal is relevant

In order for a goal to have a chance for success you have to want it. Goals that aren't relevant to your life or desires aren't really going to motivate you very strongly to accomplish them.

  • Do I really want to lose 10 pounds, or is it just something somebody mentioned? yes I do want to lose the weight. I want to wear a bikini.

If it was a friend's idea that you lose 10 pounds by May to fit into your bikini, but it really doesn't matter to you very much, then you probably won't be very motivated to work towards achieving it. You may give it a half-hearted attempt, but achieving a goal takes all your effort, so it probably won't be a goal you successfully achieve.

So ask the question - "Why am I setting this goal, is it something I really want?"


A SMART goal has a time-line and and end-date

A SMART goal has a deadline. It is not an open ended effort that you just work at until you succeed or fail. Without the impetus of a deadline, or intermediate "checkpoints," there is no real motivation to "get it done."

"I want to lose 10 pounds by May 10th" has a deadline - May 10th. And because it is a measurable goal, it could also have progress "checkpoints," - 2.5 pounds per month. Both of these provide a motivating factor to drive you to successfully achieve the goal. Especially the "checkpoints," each one will renew your commitment as you evaluate your progress with a weigh-in.

S.M.A.R.T. should have an S for Steps

Making a S.M.A.R.T. goal will enhance your chances of success, but it really should be SMARTS - with an extra "S" for Steps. Writing the steps you plan to take to achieve your goal will help you successfully achieve your goal.

So here it is.


A SMARTS goal has steps to success

Creating a SMART goal is only the first step. Now you need a plan to achieve it.

  1. The undisputed #1 step to help you achieve your SMART goal is "Write it down!" Make it visual, not just a thought in you mind.

"I want to lose 10 pounds by May 10th." What will I do to lose the weight?

  1. I will reduce the size of my meal portions and eat more salads
  2. I will stop buying bags of snacks at the grocery store
  3. I will switch to diet sodas, and stop drinking so many
  4. I will start walking more, and try to get more outside exercise
  5. I will try to get Susie to do this with me - we can help each other stick to it
  6. I will weigh myself each week and keep a journal on my progress

Adding the extra "S for Steps" to you SMART goal will give you the motivation of having a plan. Now, not only do you know what you want to accomplish, but you also have a plan for how you will do it. A much better start than just saying I want to lose weight!


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How to Set Goals You Can Really Achieve Comments

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    • GA Anderson profile image

      GA Anderson 5 years ago from USA

      @Jackie - thanks for visiting and reading How to Set Goals You Can Really Achieve. I agree, goals with deadlines do give you a little extra push to get it done.

      Thanks for the comment


    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      You know come to think of it I always accomplished more having deadlines, I think that is the answer, keeps us grounded and not putting it off.

    • GA Anderson profile image

      GA Anderson 5 years ago from USA

      @Nell - Great, glad you liked How to Set Goals You Can Really Achieve, but I said without access to resources on the language, I see a gleam in your eye.... hablas espanol? LOL


    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi, this is great! what a brilliant way of putting it! yes you are right, saying I want to lose weight, means nothing, saying by a specific time is so much better. you mentioned learning a new language, not a good idea as you said, but its got me thinking now! lol!

    • GA Anderson profile image

      GA Anderson 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks for checking out How to Set Goals You Can Really Achieve Simone I hope others find it helpful for their goals for the new year


    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      These tips are SO helpful. Love it!