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How to set SMART goals

6 steps to achieve SMART goals – with examples

The value of setting goals in life cannot be overstated. 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. But are all goals created equal? The outcomes you’re achieving (or not achieving) ultimately point to the quality of the objectives you’re setting for yourself – and if you’re not using SMART goals, you could be holding yourself back.

Sometimes we fall short of our goals, and that’s okay. Everyone fails from time to time – it’s part of the journey to building the extraordinary life you deserve. But 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.

When your goals remain unfulfilled, they probably aren’t  SMART goals examples – strategic targets that are clear, attainable and backed by a plan for accomplishing them. Unlike their counterparts – goals that are vague, overambitious or unplanned – SMART goal setting puts you on point for getting what you want in life. 

smart goals

What are the five SMART goals?

The SMART acronym outlines a strategy for reaching any objective. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and anchored within a Time Frame.

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 just not give it your all? When you employ the SMART goals acronym to map out what you want, there’s nothing wrong with re-setting your goals as long as you have clarity on why you didn’t meet them.

how to set smart goals

Why are SMART goals important?

Research shows that in addition to the 98% of entrepreneurs who never achieve their goals, 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% in their second year and 60% in their fifth year. Even in the tenth year of business, a whopping 70% of small companies close their doors.

There are many reasons businesses fail, from neglecting the importance of constant innovation to resisting the growth mindset necessary to push through hard times. The bottom line is that these companies failed to reach their goals, likely due to problems with the goals themselves. Failed businesses didn’t create SMART goals that would have facilitated success. 

What are struggling business owners doing wrong, and how can we learn from their mistakes? Did they 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. 

Because of their effectiveness, SMART goals are commonly used in business, but you can also use them in your personal life, from creating fulfilling relationships to mastering a new skill. No matter which area of your life you want to improve, this strategy saves you the wasted time of not knowing precisely what you want or how to get it. SMART goals can help you “ladder up” to the bigger goals you set when you identify your purpose. Being purposeful and living with intention is what SMART goals are all about.

smart goals examples

How to achieve SMART goals

Now that we’ve defined what SMART goals are, let’s look at a few tips for achieving them.

Start small

Instead of tackling your most urgent or loftiest goal (like making a fortune or finding a life partner), pick something small to start with, like learning to become more organized or learning to cook. Chunk down your goals into smaller, actionable items and prioritize which actions you’ll take next. This will help you create a Massive Action Plan that leads to success. 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.

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 and realistic within a time frame?

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

Don’t let fear hold you back

If you’re not making the progress you’d like, take a look at what’s holding you back. Are you hesitant because your goal or approach is unreasonable, or are you reticent because of a deep-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.

Embrace the mind-body connection

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.

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.

Learn from your mistakes

Common SMART goal mistakes

If you’re wondering, “What are the five SMART goals?” you’re likely new to this concept. It’s easy for beginners to make mistakes like these:

  • Being too vague

This is the most common example of a SMART goal mistake. How can you know if you’re being too vague? Look out for phrases like “get better at,” “improve” and “help.” While improvement is the ultimate goal, you need to be more specific about what you’re improving or helping. And always include measurable benchmarks or “key performance indicators,” as they’re called in business. 

  • Setting irrelevant goals

The sole answer to “Why are SMART goals important?” is that they help you achieve your dreams. If you’re setting goals that don’t inspire you, you’ll never reach them, even if they follow the SMART formula. As Tony says, “People are not lazy. They just have impotent goals – that is, goals that do not inspire them.” If this sounds like you, it’s time to reexamine your blueprint and reset your goals.

  • Setting unattainable goals

Growth is addictive. It causes us to have bigger and bigger dreams – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just remember to break those big dreams down into achievable chunks. At the same time, you can also set goals that are too attainable. SMART goals are all about finding the balance between “too difficult” and “too easy” so that you’re able to grow without getting discouraged.

why are smart goals important

SMART goals examples

Use the following SMART goals examples for inspiration in goal setting for your career, personal skills and health.

Example goal one: Career

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.

  • Specific: It clearly states how many clients need to be won and how much they need to spend.
  • Measurable: The goal states the legwork needed to get there – generating leads by meeting with 20 new prospects per month.
  • Attainable: Let’s say the company was already winning two to three clients per month. This makes the goal within reach.
  • Realistic: For all the reasons above, this goal is well within the realm of possibility.
  • Time frame: It’s clearly stated what needs to be done each month and how long this goal has to be achieved.

Example goal two: Skill building

Master the song “Havana” on the piano within one month by practicing for one hour, three days a week.

  • Specific: This goal specifies a song to learn as well as the practice time needed to get there.
  • Measurable: You can measure your benchmarks (practice time) as well as whether or not you’ve achieved the overall goal.
  • Attainable: This goal is attainable for a beginner piano player; as you learn, set more difficult goals.
  • Realistic: Make the effort to create time to practice, and this goal is realistic.
  • Time frame: Test yourself in one month to see if you’ve mastered the song.

Example goal three: Health

Lose two pounds per week for the next eight weeks. Do this by walking for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and limiting calories to 1,200 per day.

  • Specific: There are both weekly and daily goals here, making this SMART goal very specific.
  • Measurable: There are three numbers in this goal that are measurable.
  • Attainable: Rather than aiming for an overall “goal weight,” setting increments to keep your goal attainable is definitely SMART.
  • Realistic: It’s important to think long-term when it comes to lasting weight loss. Two pounds per week is a realistic goal.
  • Time frame: Weigh yourself each week to see if you’ve hit your goal.


SMART goal setting FAQS

1. Why use SMART goals?

Creating an extraordinary life doesn’t happen instantly. Our deepest dreams can take years to achieve – or even a lifetime. SMART goals set measurable criteria so that you can see the progress you’re making. They give you attainable benchmarks, allowing you to celebrate your successes along the way and stay inspired to keep going.

2. How do I set goals that really matter? 

Put the SMART goals acronym into action. SMART goal setting starts with choosing the right objectives. Jay Abraham says that making more money is not a goal – it’s a wish or a dream. And 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 use the SMART goals acronym to address these areas of your life.

3. 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 sometimes 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 goals in the SMART goal format, you will be able to get back on track.

4. 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 “failure” can change to “opportunity.”

5. What’s the average time frame for SMART goals?

While SMART goals can be tracked over any time frame, one year is the most common. This gives you plenty of time to put a self-improvement plan in place and make adjustments if one part of the plan doesn’t work. If you’re the impatient type, you’re going to have to dig a little deeper and find patience.

Whether you’re setting professional SMART goals or personal goals, steady progress over time is your ideal outcome. As Jay Abraham 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.

6. 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.

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. Get the support you need by attending 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.

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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