January 21, 2016

A Simple Guide to SMART Goal Setting


Discover what makes a goal effective and achievable and how to stay motivated during goal completion with the SMART goal setting framework.



In the previous article, we unpacked two key things. Firstly, the importance of dreaming big. And secondly, how to figure out exactly what your dreams are. Now, it's time to make your dreams a reality. In the next few minutes, you are going to learn how to start transforming your dreams into solid, unshakeable goals. To do this, you are going to learn the exact SMART goal setting framework. A method that has helped people all over the world achieve success. Are you in?

If you read the previous article, by now, you should have a much greater insight into what your dreams and aspirations are. To make those dreams a reality, you need to get serious about setting SMART goals. That is goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Let’s get started!

Difference Between Dreams and Goals

In order to set clear and actionable goals, it's important to first get to grips as to why dreams aren't enough on their own. What is the difference between a dream and a goal? A dream mainly involves the destination (where you want to go). A goal, however, consists of both the journey and the destination (where you want to go and the path to get you there).

As Diana Robinson succinctly explains in her article 'How Dreams Become Goals', "a dream is a goal without legs." Yes, having a dream is great but unless there's something moving it—it's not going anywhere.

In the sense of SMART goal setting, however, it's important to establish a few key elements. These are the: what, when, how and why of getting to that dream. This means stepping away from the dreaming and getting started with the 'doing'. Remember, while dreams are hypothetical, goals are actionable.

SMART Goal Setting

In a previous post, we discussed a super quick and easy, 3-step plan to personal goal setting. If you follow the plan, you can answer all the questions concerning the journey of your goal. That is, the what, why, when, and how.

We learned that SMART goals are those that are specific, measurable, attainable, results-driven, and time-bound. Plus, in addition to SMART goal setting, we shared a few success tips that will help you reach your goal faster. Be warned, however. There's an aspect of goal-setting that often blocks us from giving it a good go for the first time. What is it? It's simply this.

#1 Limitation to Setting Effective Goals

Aiming too high, too fast. As simple as it sounds, it's this very culprit that has thwarted the success of goals time and time over. If you aim too high at first, it can be easy to feel totally confused and overwhelmed. So, let’s go through how to avoid allowing your big, ambitious goals from becoming seemingly intimidating to instead being totally manageable in bite-sized chunks.

As Dawn Barclay writes in her blog, a great way to do this is to 'break down your goals into doable chunks.' For example, if your goal was "to become a doctor" and you gave yourself 6–8 years as a time frame you'll likely be aiming too high, too fast. To set yourself up for success, give your goal a realistic time frame.

Secondly, what's missing from this goal is the specifics — the details. If you’re going to succeed, you need to be specific about what it is that you want and how you're going to get there. Otherwise, more often than not, you will find yourself losing focus and motivation along the way. "How do I stay focused and motivated," you ask? You chunk!

Get "Chunking"

Using the SMART goal setting framework, take your big goal. Then, break that goal down by thinking of several smaller goals that will help you achieve your big goal.

For example, beneath our example goal of: "become a Doctor" you could jot down things like:
  1. "Graduate with a biology degree"
  2. "Get into medical school"
  3. "Graduate from medical school"
  4. "Become a first-year Resident"
Once you've got your chunks, it is then time to go back and follow the plan. Using the SMART goal setting framework, explain the why, when, and how of each of these smaller goals. You can break these goals down as far as you’d like.
  • Why: I want to become a doctor because I want to help save lives
  • When: I want to become a Doctor within the next 10 - 12 years
  • How: I'm going to study hard and maximize my learning opportunities
These chunks, smaller goals, are all part of contributing to the big picture of becoming a doctor. A major perk of breaking goals down is that, when you look back, all of a sudden, reaching your SMART goal seems much more achievable!

Make it Time-Bound

Setting goals are all well and good, but if you don’t know when you’re going to do it by, there’s a good chance procrastination will strike. To avoid falling into this trap, give your goals a time frame. Using the example above, the time frames could be:
  • "Get an A in biology THIS semester"
  • "Spend at least 25 hours studying for the MCAT by the end of the month"
  • "Organize an opportunity to shadow doctors in specialties of interest by the end of the year"

Daily Goal Setting Motivation

In addition to breaking goals down into achievable chunks to boost your motivation, try the several other strategies below to help keep you on track towards goal completion.
  • Create a vision board. Find photos, magazine clips, and quotes that inspire and keep you motivated towards achieving your big goal.
  • Read books. Buy or check out from your local library personal development books or autobiographies depicting the lives of others who have achieved great success.
  • Get an accountability partner. Choose a close friend or loved one who will hold you accountable for reaching your goals. Call them, or better yet, get them to call you to check in on your progress. Show them your study results, ask them to help you study for a big test, train for an event, or get them to help you contact someone who can give you the help you need.

The Takeaway

Having a dream and a goal are two different things. Whatever your dream is, transform it into a real goal using the SMART goal setting framework we've shared with you here. Remember: a SMART goal is one that talks through the specific details of both the journey and the destination.
There’s no point in knowing where you’re going if you don’t know how to get there.

Break into Chunks

Secondly, make sure to craft your goals carefully. There’s nothing worse than intimidating goals missing the achievable specifics. When it comes to looking at those big, lofty, long-term goals, you’ll be better served by breaking them down into manageable chunks. Milestones, to help keep you pumped up all the way to the finish line – whatever that may be.


See alsoPersonal Goal Setting: A Simple 3 Step Guide.

Keep Inspired and Motivated

Finally, create a personalized vision board, read inspirational books, and ask someone to hold you accountable in order to stay motivated and focused on reaching your goals. The sooner you take all of these onboard and make them happen, the sooner you’ll be well on your way to kick-starting the bright future of your dreams!