SMART Goals – Setting Goals Effectively

Plenty of people talk about goals (and many more don’t), but few understand how the mind actually interprets the goals we give it.

In a nutshell, the mind doesn’t handle vagueness well. Tell it that your goal is to “lose weight” or “get more organised” and your mind will struggle to help you at all. On the other hand, if you build a clear, defined vision of what you want to achieve, your mind will work out ways to help you achieve your goals more easily.

What does SMART Goals stand for?

A helpful way to set goals is to use a system, like SMART. This is an acronym for:

  • Specific (the more vague, the harder it is for the mind to understand)
  • Measurable (quantifying helps to give your mind an idea of where it is and where it needs to be)
  • Achievable (only set goals that you can reach – increasing them gradually over time can keep you thinking realistically)
  • Relevant (figure out why your goal is important)
  • Timely (state times and dates)

For example, contrast “I want to exercise more” with “I am going to run five kilometres in 30 minutes, four times a week on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to increase my overall health and fitness”. With the first the statement, the mind has little to work with; with the second, it can come up more easily with ways for you to achieve what you have stated.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate these five aspects in different ways. Whilst I wouldn’t say that any of these should be skipped, I would argue that a robust system of measurement is likely to help you out the most.

So write your goals down. Flesh them out. Program your mind.

Do SMART Goals work?

I’ve used this goal setting system myself with great success. It has also repeatedly worked for students whom I mentored in a previous job. Here is a comment that one of them made to me after she finished her degree:

“Biggest conclusion from the last 2 years: This goal setting stuff actually works!”
– Michelle

Give it a proper shot.


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