In this post we’ll dive deep into how to set goals using the SMARTER System. I’ve found it super valuable in my own goal setting process and I hope you will too!
Do you also feel that rush of motivation and excitement around New Year’s Eve when you tell yourself that you want to accomplish all of the things in the new year? So you write down a long list of goals, then real life happens, your list of goals ends up in a drawer somewhere, and you fail look at it again?
Or is that just me? 😛
For a long time, I had SO many goals I wanted to achieve. I would have short bursts of motivation and really work hard on achieving them but then that motivation would ebb out and I would get distracted and forget about my goals.
Like the time I was 15 and I really wanted to become flexible enough to do the splits because I thought that would be super cool. I would stretch every day for a week (max!), then I would completely forget about it for the next 6 months. That actually went on for years, and just this year – 10 years later – did I achieve the freaking splits.
If you want to know, how I finally managed to achieve a 10 year old goal, along with other (and perhaps more important) goals, then keep reading and I’ll walk you through it.
Why Set Goals?
You might ask why create goals in the first place if you’ve already found some success in your life without setting goals. Or if you’ve set goals previously but all that’s done is make you feel terrible when you failed to meet them.
If you’ve seen statistics or read articles about goal setting before, you will know two things:
- People without goals are not as successful as they hope to be.
- People who don’t write down goals are less likely to accomplish their goals.
Getting clear on the milestones we have to accomplish on the road to our dreams help us set actionable goals. Goals that move us in the direction of our dreams.
Goals give us momentum to push through adversity while chasing our dreams.
BUT in order for goal setting to help us accomplish anything, we need to set the kinds of goals that actually set us up for success.
Goal Setting Gone Wrong
Most people probably set goals once a year in the shape of new year’s resolutions. The problem in doing this is that once they’re set, people never look at their new years resolutions again (they may not even have written them down).
There are many other common mistakes people make when setting goals, which set them up for failure:
- Setting goals which are very far from where you’re currently at – Result: Feeling overwhelmed, burned out, and giving up barely having started.
- Setting too many goals at once – Result: Feeling overwhelmed, burned out, and giving up barely having started.
- Setting goals with a negative connotation e.g. “I want to stop smoking” – Result: you avoid thinking about the goal because visualizing it only reminds you of smoking even more.
- Setting goals based on what you think others would appreciate for you to accomplish instead of what you actually want to accomplish for yourself – Result: lacking motivation and burning out as soon as the going gets tough because the goal doesn’t have profound meaning to us.
- Setting really vague and general goals – Result: failing to realise which actionable steps to take to achieve anything.
There are lots and lots of other common mistakes in goal setting but let’s instead get into how to set goals, that actually help you succeed!
Setting S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goals to Achieve Big Things
You might have heard of the S.M.A.R.T. goal system (specific, measurable, achievable, relatable, time-bound). This is a great system to make you set goals that put you up for success.
I used to set goals that I would always fail to meet until I learned about this system. I recently learned about the additional E.R. in goal setting, which only made the system even better.
So let’s get into the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. system for goal setting. I’ll walk you through each part, to help you create goals you can achieve.
The goals we set have to be specific. The more specific we can make them, the better.
Our goals have to be specific enough for us to be able to track our progress along the way. Specific enough for us to know once we’ve achieved them. That way we can also become motivated by knowing that we’ve already taken steps toward our goal or readjust our goals if we realise that they are impossible to achieve on the terms we set.
The more specific we are about our goals, the more we can imagine, feel, taste the outcome of achieving them, the more likely we are to stick to them even in the face of adversity.
Setting specific goals also helps us know which steps to take to achieve them. When our goals are general and vague, it can be hard to know where to start or which steps to take in order to achieve them. Without a clear direction we’re more likely to procrastinate or loose sight of our goals.
“I want to become more healthy by working out once a week for the next 3 months.”
is way better than
“I want to get healthy.”
Measurable or meaningful
The goals we set have to be measurable. Having measurable goals helps us know which outcome determines success. It also makes us able to track our progress along the way and feel excitement the closer we get to achieving our goals.
“I will complete writing a 60,000 word novel in 60 days.”
is way better than
“I want to write a novel.”
The goals we set have to be meaningful too. Having profound and life-altering reasons behind our goals will make us much more dedicated to achieving it. Attributing strong meaning to our goals will motivate us to stick to it.
If we’re setting a goal out of vanity or because we want to impress someone else, we’re more likely to give up when the going gets tough because our heart is not in it.
“I want to lose weight because it will allow me to lead a more fulfilling and active life.”
is way better than
“I want to lose weight because I want to prove to my co-workers that I can become skinny too.”
Achievable or actionable
The goals we set have to be achievable. They can require consistent effort but they need to still be possible. By dividing our goal into actionable steps we can get an overview of what it takes to accomplish our goal. If the actions we need to take in order to achieve our goal are unclear, we’re likely to become stuck.
When we set goals that are big, especially when we’re new to goal setting, it can be hard to stick to it in the long run. Especially if it requires many steps to achieve. It’s much better to divide bigger goals into smaller and more easily attainable goals. That way we get to celebrate achieving a goal faster, which helps us gain momentum to set and achieve bigger goals in the future.
You know you’ve set an achievable and actionable goal if the goal can be divided into small manageable steps and when it can be achieved within a reasonable timeframe.
“I want to learn how to play one beginner level song on the piano by practicing for 30 minutes, 3 times a week for 1 month.”
is way better than
“I want to learn how to play the piano in 3 months.”
Relatable or Relevant
The goals we set have to be relevant to our current stage of life and align with our core values.
When our goals do not align with the overall life we want to lead, we’ll quickly get frustrated or give up.
As yourself whether it is the right time and whether it seems worthwhile to work on your goal right now. Find out whether working on this goal will steal your focus/time/energy from other areas in your life that are important to you. Ask yourself whether you’re the right person to reach your goal. Ask yourself whether this goal aligns with your core values and the life you want to lead.
You find the most joy and value in life when you’re spending time with your family in the evening. You want to start practicing yoga when you come home (late) after work in the evenings.
“I want to make time for 20 minutes of yoga every morning before work.”
is way better than
“I want to do a full 90 minute yoga practice every day when I come home from work.”
It’s all about finding balance between what brings you joy now and working on what will bring you joy in the future. If our goals are preventing you from finding joy in everyday life, you’ll get frustrated and end up quitting.
The goals we set need to be time-bound. Setting a specific date as a deadline gives us the urgency to complete our goals. It prevents us from ending up in a never ending cycle of procrastination or postponing our work. Setting a time-bound goal pressures us to kick our butt into gear and start doing!
I recommend setting time-bound goals with manageable time chunks such as 1-3 month goals. If the deadline seems too far off into the future we will loose the sense of urgency that makes us take action.
Time-bound goals also enables us to monitor our progress every step of the way. Setting a specific date as the deadline for your goal enables you to keep track of your progress. You will continually know whether you’re behind or ahead on taking action toward it and readjust your approach accordingly.
“I want to learn how to do a free 20 second handstand by December 31st.”
is way better than
“I want to learn how to do a free 20 second handstand.”
We need to evaluate our goals regularly in order to stay on track with them. Setting up a system for regularly evaluating our goals so it becomes a habit will help remind us to work toward our goals.
Most people only look at their goals a couple of times a year. That is probably why they fail to accomplish them. Reading through our goals every morning or the same time every week will make our goals stay at the top of our minds. This helps us stay in an actionable mindset.
Not only reading but evaluating our goals weekly or monthly is super important too. By regularly tracking our progress we make sure our goal is still achievable within our set timeframe. If we find we’re getting behind we can set up a more realistic plan that enables us to make up for lost time. That way we hold ourselves accountable and are so much more likely to achieve the goal within the set time.
Reward or Readjust
Rewarding ourselves when we achieve the goals we set out to, will not only make us feel good. Rewarding ourselves creates a positive feedback loop. It makes our brains associate working on and achieving our goals with something positive. This makes it all the more likely that we’re going to achieve the next goals we set out to. Resulting in another reward, aso. Creating a stronger and stronger positive feedback loop makes us gain momentum the more goals we achieve. We end up becoming the types of people who accomplish their goals through repeatedly doing so.
Working on a goal is a continual process where we might sometimes find ourselves stuck at a certain step of the process. We need to continually monitor our progress and readjust our approach and techniques when we find ourselves getting stuck. That way we fine tune our methods and keep readjusting until we reach our end goal so we’re not stubbornly sticking to the same approach if it’s getting us nowhere.
My Own Thoughts
I hope the SMARTER goal system can be of value to you. I know it’s helped me, because the more specific and detailed I make my goals the more they stay at the top of my mind even when everyday life gets busy.
Asking myself what I want to achieve or learn in the next 3 month to one year period helps me set specific goals to reach my dreams. Having those goals nearby and looking at them regularly has helped me get my prioritize working on my goals even when the chaos of everyday life comes rushing in.
For me, goal setting and habit formation are two topics that are very much linked together. If we want to achieve big things or reach our dream life we have to consistently work on making those dreams a reality. This is where habit formation is so interesting and important. Building a daily morning or evening routine that sets us up for reaching our goals will then in turn set us up for reaching our dreams. I’m going to be writing a post in the future that talks loads more about how to create good habits and how valuable it can be to create a daily habit ritual first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Which goals are you trying to achieve in your life? Leave me a comment or a question down below and let’s talk!