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

Deconstructing happiness and unhappiness has been the focal point of my interest for quite some time now. In my investigation of happy and successful people, one pattern popped up over and over.

I observed that happy and successful people seem to meet their expectations.  If they set a goal for themselves, they either accomplish that goal or even exceed their expected goals.

This results in them experiencing security because they internalise that they can conquer any problem that is heading their way.  Their belief in their own abilities to face problems and reach goals gets stronger.  Self-Efficacy is the name for this phenomenon.

Unhappy people, on the other side, seem to fail in meeting their expectations chronically.  They set out goals and dreams for themselves, but they constantly do not hit them.

This lowers their self-efficacy.  They believe less and less in themselves.  In consequence, they try less and less because why try if you know it is not going work anyway.

This, of course, is a mental fallacy—a wrong conclusion.  After enough failures, we eventually start to question our very ability.  We start to believe that having big dreams is just not for us.  That we are not smart enough, strong enough, creative enough.  We start to think we do not have the necessary resources to make our dreams a reality, while in reality, we are simply not resourceful enough.

So what is the difference between people who hit their goals?  Who makes their dreams come true?

Are goal getters just carved from a different material?  Is success, maybe, not for everybody?

The liberating answer to those questions is a simple no.  Goalsetting is a skill.  A learnable skill.

In this article, I am going to show you, one model that I have come across, that is really simple and will help you to transform your dreams into attackable goals.  So what is Smart Goal Setting?

What Is The SMART Goal Setting?

SMART is a goal-setting acronym that I first stumbled over when I was working in a psychiatric facility.  In Germany psychiatric, it is one of the first models that is taught to people with mood disorders.

I believe, however, that everybody should know about SMART Goal Setting, and that we should not wait until people are in pain before we help them.

The SMART model has its roots in the clinical psychology branch.  It was developed to help patients with their goal setting execution.  George T. Doran developed it.  It is a super easy model that, to this day, has helped millions of people.

I was always a dreamer.  I had super high goals and dreams that, honestly, were not going anywhere.  Consequently, I was living in a constant state of failure.  At one point I hit ground zero: I got temporarily kicked out of university.  The realisation that my dream of becoming a world-class psychologist was not going to happen anymore scared me straight, and I took a step back and critically evaluated why I was failing. One thing popped up: my dreams were just that: dreams.

I knew nothing about goal setting.  My entire quest of making my dreams come true was based on sheer motivation and was as unspecific as it could be.

The SMART model has helped me to transform my dreams into attackable, achievable projects.  Instead of vague resolutions, my goals became projects with measurable milestones.

So What Does Smart Goal Setting Stand For?

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Smart Goal Setting: Specific

Your goals should be as precise as possible.  Formulate what you want to accomplish.  The clearer your goal, the more likely that you will achieve it.  If your goal is to make more money, that is awesome, how much exactly do you want to make?  When you formulate a goal answer, the “W “question to specify as much as possible.  Clarity is power.

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

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is it located?
  • What resources do I need to achieve this goal?
  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?
  • What are the possible alternative ways of achieving the same goal?

Smart Goal Setting: Measurable

Your goals should be measurable.  If you measure something, you can track your progress, and that motivates you.  If you meet your deadlines, you feel good about yourself, and you develop the habit of executing.

For example, let us say you want to learn Spanish.  Learning Spanish is a horrible goal because it is super hard to measure.  A better goal, for example, would be to learn at least 10 minutes of Spanish every second day.

If your goals are not measurable, you will live in a constant state of failure.  Having measurable milestones like 10 minutes Spanish every day is much more realistic, and you have a reason to celebrate a little bit every day, and you gain more and more momentum.

Smart Goal Setting: Achievable

You should focus on setting achievable goals.  They need to be realistic and attainable.  Be honest and real with yourself.  If your goal is to become a professional singer, but you cannot even hit one tone at your local karaoke bar even if your life would depend on it, then that is probably not a good goal to have.

Does that mean you should not shoot for the stars?

No!  There are tons of examples of people who made the impossible happen.

But, if you constantly set out goals for yourself that are too difficult, or unrealistic, you lower your own self-efficacy, which means your own belief in your abilities.  SMART Goal Setting is about mindset as well, and if you want to accomplish extraordinary goals, you need to be extra specific and break them down into smaller goals.  After all, the world needs dreamers.

Questions you can ask yourself?

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • How achievable is the goal, based on your natural abilities, financial factors, and so on?
  • What 3 things can I do today to become closer to this goal?
  • What 3 things can I do this week to become closer to this goal?
  • How can I break this goal into tiny milestones?

Smart Goal Setting: Relevant

This step is about to make sure that your goal is important to you.  Make sure that your goal is aligned with other goals of you.  Also, make sure that it is within your own control, whether you achieve your goals or not.  Here are some questions you should ask yourself when forming a relevant goal.

When you form a goal, and you need to ask yourself why you really want to achieve this goal?  What is the reward that you are hoping for?

Do you want to become a doctor because you want to help people, or do you want to be a doctor to be validated by others?

Often, our goals and dreams are really misrepresentations of what we truly want to be, and if you want to be successful, not because you want to be the best version of you, but because you want to be somebody finally, then this might be a wrong goal for you to have.

I believe that we always should start with the end in mind without “why” because often we take bizarre routes to our true needs.  Becoming a doctor is a hard thing to do; it involves years and years of studying.  If our goal is to be somebody, then this route might not even work at all.  Often, we do things because we have a misconception that achieving this goal will give us a reward in the form of emotion.  The naive belief that once we are somebody, we will be lovable.  But this, of course, is not how our mind works.  By starting with the why, we can save years and years of working in the wrong direction, and it will enable us to do what we really want to do.

  • Is this goal what you really want to do?
  • Is it wise to attack your goal now?
  • Is it within your own control to achieve this goal?
  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?

Smart Goal Setting: Time-Bound

Every goal needs to be time-limited.  This can in the form of deadlines.  Do you set a goal for yourself?  Great, when do you want to achieve it?  What do you have to do each day to make this happen?

Creating realistic deadlines is very important.  Again you want to protect your own self-efficacy.  Every time you set a deadline and you fail to meet your expected result, you lower your own belief in your abilities, and you weaken your mindset.  Having realistic expectations is very important because of that very reason.  Happiness, in my opinion, has much to do with meeting or even exceeding our expectations.

Some questions that can help you form a time-bound goal.

  • When?
  • What do I want to achieve 3 years from now?
  • What do I want to achieve 1 year from now?
  • What do I want to achieve within 3 months from now?
  • What do I want to achieve this week?
  • What do I have to do today?
  • What do I have to do to achieve my goal in half the time?

Bonus: Smart Goals Setting + Habits

One thing that I think SMART Goal Setting misses out on is to emphasise the importance of habits.

Habits are behaviours that you do each and every day.  The rituals and behavioural patterns we have determine, ultimately, what kind of results we are getting.

SMART Goal Setting is great to tackle goals, but it completely misses out on attacking the root of a problem.

Imagine one of your goals is to lose 40 pounds.  SMART Goal Setting is perfect for achieving this goal and helping you to conquer this milestone.  But what happens after you reach that goal?

For most people, they slack off then and regain the pounds.  Why is that so?

In my opinion, because they do a bad job of implementing the necessary habits to change their behaviour long term.

Another example would be the problem of having a messy room.  SMART Goal Setting would be perfect for creating a plan to clean up this room.  But after some while, it will get messy again because you do not attack the habits that are responsible for you having a messy room.  This can be, for example, that you tend to throw your jacket on the chair after a long day in the office instead of putting it in your wardrobe.

Creating new habits is a necessity if you want to change your life for the long term.

This is why I believe the SMART Goal Setting strategy needs to be expanded.

Here are some questions that will help you to have long-lasting success.

  • What small thing, if continuously done, will have a big positive impact on my life?
  • What habits are necessary to reach my goal?
  • What habits are undermining my success?
  • What behaviour do I need to stop asap to reach my goal?

Call to Action

Here is some homework for you. It's your turn now!

Grab a piece of paper, or create a new Evernote:

  1. Write down 1 goal you have struggled with in the past. Now, use the SMART model and formulate the goal again, but using the SMART Goal Setting model.
  2. Answer the questions in the article for yourself.
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