Making SMART Choices

How to clearly define your goals.

We all have goals.  We all set out to accomplish great things. As Tony Robbins said “Setting goals is the first step towards turning the invisible into the visible.”  Goals are the backbone of success. Follow through on the right goals and you’ll be well on your way to a new and improved self.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy.  Most people set goals and look toward great accomplishment, only to fizzle out, falling short months later. How does that happen? How do certain goals help you succeed, while others lead you nowhere?

 One reason: most people set goals that are TOO VAGUE.

Goals that are too vague leave you spinning in circles.  When goals are vague, there is no way to know exactly what you should be doing.  Let me give you an example of a vague goal:

I want to lose weight.

That sentence even looks vague.  There is no direction from that goal. There is no urgency.  There is nothing at stake. Nothing to inspire towards. A goal like this will leave you unmotivated and discouraged.

How can you rewrite this goal, bringing some life to the pursuit, and redirect yourself toward a path of success?  All you have to do is ask one question…is this a SMART goal?

A SMART goal will lead you down a clear path and hold you accountable for the actions that will bring you closer to achievement.  A SMART goal has these five attributes:

  1. Specificity
  2. Measurable
  3. Actionable
  4. Risky
  5. Timely

Let’s break down each section of a SMART goal further and revise our goal along the way.

1. Specificity

Being specific is important.  The more specific the goal, the more likely we are to stay focused and engaged on the task.  Let’s look at our goal:

I want to lose weight…

How can we make that more specific?  Start to think who, what, where, when, and why. Who is this goal going to serve, what will that person be doing in order to accomplish the goal, where will they have to go to perform said action, when will this individual be performing this action, and why is any of this even important?  A more specific goal would look a little like this:

I will go to the gym 3 days a week in order to lose weight…

Once we define who will be doing what action and where/when they will be performing that action, we can start to define the metrics.

2. Measurable

Include criteria that you can measure your progress against.  When will you know if you reached your goal? You need something you can chart and assess.  Let’s look at our example. How can we improve it even more? A better goal may look like this:

I will go to the gym 3 days a week in order to lose 20 lbs…

Now that we have an actual number to strive towards, we can clearly assess our progress over time.

3. Actionable

Goals are essentially about what you plan on doing.  It is key to clarify exactly what you are going to be doing in order to accomplish your goal.  Focus on using verbs when describing the action.

Let’s look at our example.  How can we make it actionable?  Ask yourself: what will we be doing at the gym? A more actionable goal may look something like this:

I will strength train at the gym 3 days a week in order to lose 20 lbs…

Now that we know exactly what we will be doing and what the end result should be, we can hold ourselves more accountable.

4. Risky

Your goal has to have something at stake.  There has to be a sense of urgency behind your intentions.  There is a direct relationship between the stakes at hand and the ability to perform over time.

Your goal has to be relatively difficult to achieve.  The stakes should not be impossible, but on the flip side, should not be so easy to achieve that we become bored by the task.  One tell tale sign your goal is worth the risk:

You feel uncertain or have doubt.  

Uncertainty and doubt are acceptable feelings to experience. When we don’t see the route, or we’re unsure about our ability to reach the goal, then we’re narrowing in on a goal achieving. 

5. Timely

Your goals have to have a deadline or frequency.  Deadlines trigger attention and drive action. Establish a goal destination or amount of time you need to accomplish a task.  This will give you a clear understanding of what incremental progress is needed. Let’s take a final look at our example and add a time key to complete our goal:

I will strength train at the gym 3 days a week in order to lose 20 lbs by January.

Establishing a timely goal will develop some urgency in your actions.  Without a specified duration, you will likely become unmotivated and fall short of your goal.

Bringing it all together.

When comparing the two goals:

I want to lose weight…. 


I will strength train at the gym 3 days a week in order to lose 20 lbs by January.

Just by reading them both, which one leaves your with a clear and concise message that inspires you? 

It isn’t even close.  The more clear your message, the more likely you are to follow through with it.  When developing your goals, make sure you are creating SMART goals!