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The 5 elements to a “SMART” goal

Are you setting yourself up for success... or failure?

In the words of Tony Robbins, “Progress equals happiness.” We need to feel like we’re working toward a goal to ultimately feel fulfilled and joyful in life. Sometimes we fall short of our goals, and that’s OK. Everyone fails from time to time; it’s part of the journey to building the magnificent life you desire. However, if you find yourself consistently not reaching or giving up on your goals, it’s time to find a new way to set your intentions. 

In business, 98% of entrepreneurs never achieve their goals. What are they doing wrong? Did each fail to grasp a key business principle, or were they not in the right mindset? As noted businessman and marketing guru Jay Abraham has observed, there is power in thinking differently. It’s time to use SMART goals to change your mindset. 

We can set goals in every part of our lives, from work to creating fulfilling relationships to mastering a new hobby. But if those goals aren’t designed deliberately, they can be harder to achieve. Being purposeful and living with intention is what SMART goal setting is all about.

The process of setting and achieving SMART goals is relatively simple. First, identify your purpose. What is it you really want to achieve? Whether it’s starting a business, writing a book or losing weight, really focus on that one thing so your energy can flow in that direction. Your goals need to be compelling and they need to take you to the place you want to be. Then, to create and maintain the momentum that will drive you to follow through with achieving your goals, you must get SMART. With SMART goal setting, you can change your life. Whether you are setting business goals or personal goals, the change you are seeking starts here. Let’s begin by asking, “What are SMART goals?”

What are SMART goals?

The SMART acronym (which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic goals that are anchored within a Time Frame) is commonly used in business, but you can also use it in your personal life. SMART goals are smaller intentions that help you “ladder up” to the big goal you set when you identify your purpose. Creating smaller steps on your way to massive results will help you focus your energy. This level of clarity puts power behind your goals, giving you the opportunity to measure your progress at frequent intervals and take new actions.

Wondering how to get started with SMART goal setting? Let’s say your goal is to make more money in the next year. In order to stick with your goal and achieve it, consider it with the SMART goals lens.

The five elements of SMART goals

1. SMART goals are specific

Saying you “want to earn more” is too vague. Instead, pick a number for how much money you want to earn. Do you want to start making $150,000 per year, $500,000 or even $1 million? Do you want to increase your business profits by 20%? Set a clear number to track your progress against. Having a specific goal is helpful in two ways: You can better visualize your outcome – imagine all those zeroes in your bank account – and you will know without a doubt when you’ve achieved it.

2. SMART goals are measurable

SMART goal setting involves tracking your progress. If your goal isn’t measurable, you can’t objectively say you’ve achieved it. In our example, the specific goal is already measurable: You can check the numbers as the year goes on to see if you’ve reached $150,000. You can also make other goals measurable. For example, instead of “learn how to play golf,” your measurable goal might be “reduce my handicap from 25 to 20.” This allows you to see your development. How are you matching up to your goal? Are you on track to succeed?

3. SMART goals are achievable

Setting an achievable goal means choosing an objective that, while it requires you to push yourself, is also attainable. If you pick a goal that you know is outrageous – say you’re currently earning $30,000 and want to earn $5 million next year – you’re most likely going to come up short of your goal. When you create a goal that’s too lofty, it can seem impossible, and you may eventually give up. Use SMART goal setting to ensure you can achieve tangible progress and avoid setting yourself up for failure with out-of-reach goals.

4. SMART goals are realistic

Extraordinary goals get extraordinary results, so you want to be bold. However, for effective SMART goal setting, you also want to ensure that your goal is realistic. Realistic goals are those that you are willing and able to work toward that can be achieved by improving your current habits. As business guru Jay Abraham reminds us, “You’ve got to know what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to do it and what your skill sets are.” Your goals aren’t meaningful if they aren’t based in your reality right now. Whether you’re setting business goals or setting personal ones, Abrahams’ words ring true.

What is it you will need to do to reach your monetary goals? Whether you need to make more sales, get promoted to management or take the lead on a big client, make sure your goal is something you will have the time and energy for. While setbacks can be a catalyst for change and re-energize you, if your goal is not realistic, you will find it difficult to get back on track.

5. SMART goals are set in a time frame

The final principle in the SMART goals definition is setting a clear time frame in which you can achieve your goal. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to accomplish your goal. Do you think you can start earning your desired salary in six months, one year or two years? Having a clear time frame is essential for checking your progress along the way to reaching your goal. If you don’t reach your goal within the time frame, then it’s time to reassess: Was your goal achievable and realistic? Was your time frame too short? Or did you simply not give it your all? With SMART goal setting, there’s nothing wrong with re-setting your goals as long as you have clarity on why you didn’t meet them.

How to write SMART goals

Now that you understand what SMART goals are, let’s look at how to write SMART goals step by step.

Step 1: Write it down

According to a study conducted at the Dominican University in California, those who write down their goals are 42% more likely to achieve them. Whether you write your SMART goals in a journal, enter them into an app or type them into a Word document, make sure they are documented. Then run through the checklist of ensuring your goals are following the SMART outline: Are you phrasing the goal to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic within a time frame? Chunk down your goals into smaller, actionable items and then prioritize which actions you’ll take next. This will help you create a Massive Action Plan that leads to success.

Step 2: Check in regularly

How long will it take you to reach your SMART goals? How do you know if you’re falling off track? Regular check-ins allow you to evaluate your progress and course-correct when necessary. If you’re not bee-lining toward your goal, you need to know exactly when you made that left turn. Check in early and often to catch any changes in your progress, which will give you a chance to transform the setback into a success

Step 3: Celebrate every win

When you celebrate wins – even the small ones – your brain gets a boost of dopamine and you get re-energized. If you’re working on professional SMART goals, celebrate small wins with your team. Personal successes? Celebrate with your friends or family. After you’ve celebrated, get right back on track so you can work toward celebrating the next win.

Next steps to achieving your SMART goals

Now that you have a working definition of what are SMART goals and know how they work, go ahead and strategize around your SMART goal-setting process. Instead of tackling your most urgent or loftiest goal (like making a fortune or finding a life partner), pick something small to start, like learning to become more organized or learning to cook. Go back through the five components of setting SMART goals and write down your responses to each piece.

Next, take a break, then come back to your list when you’ve had some time to think it over. Ask yourself, “Do I have any hesitations about my SMART goals or the five-part approach I’ve outlined?” If the answer is “yes” on either count, ask yourself what is causing your hesitation. Are you hesitant because your goal or approach is unreasonable, or are you reticent because of a deeper-seated fear of failure? Finding the source of your hesitation is absolutely critical, since overcoming our fears is pivotal to goal mastery as well as personal and professional development.

The good news is that hunger for a goal actually frees you from your fear of failure, even if the goal seems intimidating. Rather than being bound by your insecurities, you can embrace mind-body practices to master your emotions and achieve your peak state. In this way, SMART goal setting is part and parcel to self-discovery and, in turn, to achieving outcomes you never thought possible.

A SMART goal example

Now that you know how to write SMART goals, use the following example for inspiration to set your own successful goals: 


Win five new clients who spend at least $2,000 per month for the next six months.

To achieve this number, meet with 20 new prospects per month and send out 15 new proposals per month.

Why it’s specific:

It clearly states how many clients need to be won and how much they need to spend.

Why it’s measurable:

The goal not only has specificity, but it also states the legwork needed to get there – going out to meat with 20 new prospects per month.

Why it’s attainable:

Let’s say the company was already winning two to three clients per month. This makes the goal within reach.

Why it’s realistic:

For all the reasons above, this goal is well within the realm of possibility.

Why it has a time frame:

It’s clearly stated what needs to be done each month and how long this goal has to be achieved.

SMART goal setting FAQs

How do I set goals that really matter?

First, you need to set the right goals. As Jay Abraham says, making more money is not a goal – it’s a wish or a dream. As we learned in the “S” of the SMART goals format, setting specific goals is key. Don’t just say, “I want to make more money.” Know why you want to make more money and how you’re going to get there.

To set SMART goals that will change your life when you achieve them, you need to focus on what is currently not working in your life. Is your disconnected relationship causing you distress? Is your unhealthy lifestyle zapping your energy so you can’t enjoy life? Once you know what’s not working, you can focus on SMART goal setting to address these areas of your life.

What happens if I get off track?

Setting SMART goals is not about perfection – it’s about progress. You’re going to fail to follow through, you’re going to pursue goals that end up being off-base and some days you’re going to fall flat on your face. That’s when it’s vital to go back to the beginning of the SMART goal setting process and make tweaks to improve the system. As Tony Robbins reminds us, “Remember you’re always managing two businesses: the business you’re in, and the business you’re becoming.” Balancing these two realities can be challenging, but when you engage in the fundamentals of setting business goals in the SMART goal format, you will be able to get back on track.

Why am I not accomplishing my SMART goals?

If you’re not accomplishing personal or professional SMART goals, you’ve probably done one of two things: chosen the wrong goals or failed to do each step of the SMART goal setting process. There’s also a third possibility: You were meant to not achieve the goal because something better was waiting. When you view life as happening for you instead of to you, the meaning of your “failure” can change to opportunity.

What’s the average timeframe for a SMART goal?

While SMART goals can be tracked over any time frame, one year is the most common. This gives you plenty of time to put the self-improvement plan in place and make adjustments should one part of the plan not work. If you’re the impatient type, you’re going to have to dig a little deeper and find the patience. Whether you’re setting professional SMART goals or personal goals, steady progress over time is your ideal outcome. As Jay Abraham sagely observes, “Get your business to work harder for you or you’re going to work harder for it.” Remember, SMART goals are focused on achieving real results, and your ultimate achievement will be when your business is more efficient and demands less of you.

Is it best to do the SMART goal setting process alone?

One of the keys to achieving any goal is surrounding yourself with like-minded, supportive people. Get your friends, family members and colleagues on board with your SMART goals. If you really want to accelerate your growth, work with mentors or hire a Results Coach who can help you on your quest.

When you’re setting SMART goals, you’re on the path to success. Sometimes, though, you might need a little help along the way. Attend Unleash the Power Within, a powerful event that teaches you how to connect with your ultimate purpose and develop an actionable plan to reach your goals. SMART goals are just the beginning – you can change your life one step at a time. It starts now, with pen and paper, reflection and the SMART goal setting format. It’s time for you to begin.


Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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