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SMART Goal Setting 101: The Definitive Guide to Goal Achievement

May 9th, 2009 5:27 PM by Lehel Szucs

SMART Goal Setting 101: The Definitive Guide to Goal Achievement
Goal setting is the single most important life skill that unfortunately over 97% of people never learn how to do properly. Goal setting affects every single area of your life, whether it be financial, physical, personal development, relationships, or even spiritual in nature. According to Brian Tracy’s book Goals, “Less than 3% of adults have clear written goals with plans on how to achieve them.” Not surprisingly, it’s those top 3% that earn most of the money, or who are the best athletes in the world, or achieve optimal health and happiness in their lives, while the greater majority of people spend their days griping, complaining and blaming about those top three-percenters.
A lot of work and research went into this article with the GOAL of making it the most definitive article on SMART goal setting on the internet. It’s by no means a short read, but the value in reading and integrating all the techniques outlined in this article can change your life forever.
Why do I Need to Set Goals?
The working definition of goal setting that I use is the art and science of getting from where you are right now, to where you want to be in the future. Goals are important for life success because without them, you lack control over your own life and instead, you hand that control of your own life over to other external events and people to do as they please with it. Realize the fact that no one will value or take more responsibility over your own life other than YOU. The end result of giving away the control over your own life is that you end up living an unfulfilled life—always wondering what could have been, but never taking the responsibility to ground those dreams into reality.
Don’t let the Waitress Choose for you From the Menu of Life
Here’s an example to contemplate. When you go to a restaurant, you are provided with a menu and when the waiter or waitress comes by, you give them your choices, based on the dishes that sound the most appealing to you. Most people don’t ask the waiter or the waitress to choose for them, especially those who are picky about the  foods they eat because there is a very real possibility that the waitress might bring a dish that the person doesn’t like at all. The same holds true with respect to goal setting. If you ask the universe to bring you anything from the menu of life, then chances are very real that the universe will give you something that you don’t like. A great majority of people do just that and when they start complaining and blaming the universe for bringing them a “bad dish,” the universe calmly shows them what’s written on their order—“Anything.” So they got exactly that! You see, it’s our responsibility to ourselves that we choose the very best things that we love from that menu of life. Our power in goal setting is that it empowers us to decide what we want for our own lives, rather than making it a gamble whether or not we get something that we want.
Goal Setting is the Pursuit of Happiness
The pleasure-pain principle was coined by Sigmund Freud as a simple way to define all human motivation. The pleasure-pain principle simply states that we as human beings are motivated towards those things that give us pleasure and we avoid those things that cause us pain. Over 1,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle also wrote that everything a person does was for the sole purpose of achieving happiness of some kind.
There are two ways of achieving happiness. We can roll the dice and hope that happiness somehow finds us, or we can find out what identifiable outcome really makes us happy and then plan the straightest, most direct path towards our goal. In that sense, goal setting allows us to manage the finite time we have in our lives to a much greater degree by allowing us to achieve our goals faster and sooner than we ever thought possible.
What is a SMART Goal?
A SMART Goal is a convenient acronym for the set of criteria that a goal MUST have in order for it to be realized by the goal achiever. There are numerous variations on the SMART acronym, however, the best interpretation of this acronym that I’ve discovered is the following:
A goal must be Specific: You must be very clear about what exactly you want to accomplish.
A goal must be Measurable: You must have a quantifiable way of tracking your progress from start to finish.
A goal must be Achievable: Your goals must challenging, but realistic for yourself.
A goal must be Relevant: Your goal must be in harmony with your core values and your life purpose.
A goal must be Timely: Your goal must have deadlines and sub deadlines attached to it.
Make Your Goals Specific
Success Coach Jack Canfield states in his book, The Success Principles that, “Vague goals produce vague results.” In order for you to achieve a goal, you must be very clear about what exactly you want to put your effort into. A great way of doing this is by asking yourself the six questions: Who, What, Where, Why, When, How.
Who is involved with this goal, or who do I need to recruit in order to realize this goal?
What exactly do I want to accomplish? What is the objective?
Where will this goal take place? Where do I need to be?
Why do I want to invest my time and energy into this goal?
When will this goal take place?
How will I accomplish this goal?
Make Your Goals Measurable
It’s crucial for goal achievement that you are able to track your progress towards your goal. That’s why all goals need some form of objective measuring system so that you can stay on track and become motivated when you enjoy the sweet taste of quantifiable progress.
Make Your Goals Achievable
Setting big goals for ourselves is great, but setting unrealistic goals for ourselves will only serve to break us down. A good goal is one that challenges us, but also is one that is not so unrealistic that we have virtually no chance of accomplishing it. Becoming a millionaire is a very achievable goal, but becoming a millionaire by next week, with no startup money is, not impossible, but highly unrealistic. When considering whether or not your goal is achievable or not, create a scale for yourself from one to ten—one being not challenging at all and ten being the most challenging. Then decide where on that scale your particular goal falls. A good and challenging goal should always fall between a six to an eight on that scale.
Make Your Goals Relevant
It’s a good idea, before you even set goals to really sit down and define your core values and your life purpose because it’s these tools which ultimately decide how and what goals you choose for your life. Goals, in and of themselves, do not provide any happiness. It’s when we achieve goals that are in harmony with our life purpose that gives those goals the power to make us happy. Most SMART goal practitioners use REALISTIC rather than RELEVANT for the “R” in SMART, but I think this is too redundant to Achievable and any well-engineered goal needs to have RELEVANCY as part of its criteria. For example, I can go and rob a bank and be successful at it because I planned it out using all the other set of criteria for a SMART goal, but after successfully robbing that bank, I would not be very fulfilled because that goal was not in harmony with my purpose in life, which is to help people—not harm people. Relevancy therefore becomes the moral and ethical check when engineering your goal.
Make Your Goals Timely
Sales professionals know best that the greatest motivating force to close a deal is to create a sense of urgency within their lead. That means creating deadlines because deadlines create a sense of urgency to get things done. Without setting deadlines for your goals, you have no real compelling reason or motivation to start working on them in the first place. The word “Someday,” needs to be removed from your goal setting vocabulary and replaced by a precise year, month, day, and even hour. By setting a deadline, your subconscious mind begins to work on that goal, night and day, to bring you closer to achievement.
Set Goals Before the New Year
Before the new year arrives, and preferably before the holiday season begins, take a weekend retreat by all by yourself so you have a chance to think clearly without any external distractions to interrupt your thoughts. Take a vacation and go away to a special place. Get away from all your duties, responsibilities and obligations and use this time to honor yourself and set goals for your upcoming year. Take a close look at all the aspects of your life and determine which aspects of your life you would like to set goals for. I won’t tell you what areas of your life to set goals for and I won’t tell you how many goals you should set for your new year because inevitably some goals require more dedication and energy than others. All I can tell you is that you should come up with a list of goals for your upcoming year that you can reasonably expect to complete during the next 12 months.
Write Your Goals Down on Paper
Your goals will remain a fantasy until you write them down on paper. The mere act of writing down a goal is very powerful focusing tool because it takes your dream and grounds it into reality by turning it into a physical object that you can hold and carry with you. Studies have shown that people with clear, written goals achieve far more than those people who do not write their goals down. Personally, I’m a big advocate of writing my goals down on paper by hand rather than with a computer because my own unique handwriting personalizes my goal and brands it as my own, which serves to further emotionalize it and fuels my desire to achieve that SMART goal.
Personalize Your Goals
When crafting your goal statement, always use the word “I” in the sentence because it brands it as your own. Branding a goal as your own adds to the emotional fuel that drives you to achieve your goal. Think about it this way: Would you put more effort into washing your own new car, or would you put more effort into washing someone else’s new car? Personalization in goal setting is a crucial aspect of creating the hunger to achieve it.
State Your Goals with Emotion as if You Have Already Achieved Them
In addition to merely writing your goals down on paper, you need to know the format to properly word your goals. This has to do with how your subconscious mind processes that goal and it can have a huge impact on whether or not you actually achieve it. Your subconscious mind can only work in the present tense. It has no grasp of the future. If you tell yourself that you wish, hope, or want something, then you end up always wishing, hoping and wanting something, but rarely ever do you get it because things worded in the future do not activate the powers of the subconscious mind. It merely puts it off for later.
However, when you word your goals in the present tense as if you have already achieved them, it causes a level of cognitive dissonance in your subconscious mind, which is a just a fancy way of saying that your mind perceives a difference between what is real and what is not and it will actively work to harmonize the difference by making your goal a reality. You see, your subconscious mind does not like conflicting information and when you repeat your goal over and over again in the present tense as if you have already achieve that particular goal and charge it with the power of emotion, then your subconscious mind begins to use it’s vast computing powers to develop strategies and creative ways for you to achieve that goal. So instead of stating a goal as, “I want to lose five pounds,” your goal should be worded, “I feel great and healthy having lost five pounds.” Notice in this example that the words “I FEEL great and healthy” are used. These are emotional descriptors that should accompany your goal because they charge your emotions and it’s your emotions that fuel your desire to complete that goal.
Create a List of Key Benefits for Your Goal
Even if you decide to pursue a SMART goal, you still might have to sell that goal to yourself in order for you to see the true benefits that the particular goal brings to your life. This is because you might already be subconsciously considering how difficult your goal might be or the amount of pain you will have to endure in your life in order to realize it and this can negatively impact your desire to pursue such a goal. By creating a list of benefits that the accomplishment of your goal will bring to your life, you give your mind a compelling reason to pursue that goal. It’s no different than a sales professional, firing off key benefits of their product or service to get your emotionally excited to purchase it from them. Each benefit you list for your goal should evoke a lot of positive emotion from you. If your goal is to reach a certain financial goal, then list the benefits of having a lifestyle with that amount of income would bring you. Perhaps the amount of money is secondary to the fact that it would allow you to have your dream home on the beach. If losing weight is your goal, then picture the benefits of having a healthier, more beautiful body. Perhaps one of your key benefits is being able to slip into those jeans you wore in college, or being the center of attention at the next social event.
An easy way to do make your list of key benefits is to create a bullet list of all the key benefits that you can experience once you have completed your goal. Write your goal at the top of a piece of paper and then create the key benefits list underneath that goal. This becomes your “sales sheet” that will help emotionalize your goal—it makes you excited to achieve it because you can grasp the tangible benefits to your life when it has been accomplished. This fuels the motivation and the drive to achieve what you believe.
Worry, Doubt and Fear are Goal Setting Processes in Reverse
When you doubt yourself or if you fear something, then you activate your goal setting and goal achieving processes to work against you. This is because worry, doubt and fear elicit the same powerful techniques of visualization that you use to create positive goals for yourself, but they work in reverse to produce the very fear that you are visualizing. Just as emotion fuels your desire to achieve your positive goals, your level of fear or doubt or negative attitude also works to bring that fear into your reality sooner than you ever thought possible. If you’ve ever met a negative person who seems to attract the worst luck into their lives, then you have already witnessed the dark side of the goal setting equation. That’s why it’s so important to replace fear and negative limiting beliefs with complete positive mental attitude (PMA).
Eliminate doubt, worry and fear from your mind by using self-hypnosis techniques of repeating positive and emotionally powerful auto-suggestions to yourself every day. Do this by writing several short scripts on index cards and carry them around with you everywhere you go. An example of an auto-suggestion script for a weight loss goal might read, “Today I feel energetic and beautiful at a trim 150 lbs.” This self-hypnosis is designed to slowly reprogram your subconscious mind so that it removes those doubts from your mind and replaces them with these nurturing and positive auto-suggestions.
Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance
Behind every great goal is a great plan. Even if that plan is not entirely apparent in the beginning, you still need to figure out a path to take that will serve as the bridge to cover the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. Without planning, you are doomed to wander about throughout your life, taking whatever path comes your way, hoping that one of them will take you in the direction that you want. The reality is that most people live their lives as “wandering generalities,” never choosing a direct path towards their dreams and instead allowing fate to choose their paths for them.
Any plan is better than no plan at all. A good way to begin is by reverse engineering your goal. Break it down into the ridiculous, as Bob Proctor would say. Use a large sheet of paper and create a mind map of that goal. Mind maps are an excellent way of accessing the creative functions of your brain and it allows you to brainstorm in the natural way that your brain works. Break down your goals into smaller and smaller actions, until you are left with bite-sized, “next actions,” that you can digest one piece at a time. Then it just becomes a matter of doing those next actions one by one to achieve a great goal.
There are some additional side benefits when you create a detailed plan for your SMART goal. By planning your SMART goal, you program that goal even deeper into your subconscious mind. A detailed plan will also help convince you that your goal is in fact achievable as long as you stick to the “road map.” Lastly, by creating a detailed plan, you begin to activate the law of attraction to work for you. This basically means that you become more aware about all the things and all the people that you need to make your goal a success and you begin to attract those resources into your life in order for you to realize your dream.
Ready, Fire, Aim—The Power of Action
We’ve all heard the saying, “Ready, Aim, Fire,” pertaining to a line of shooters aiming at a target. In goal setting, we modify this to say, “Ready, Fire, Aim.” This is because in goal setting, most people aim for the target and they keep aiming at the target, but never seem to fire. They get so caught up with the planning aspect of goal setting that they forget that all the planning in the world is worthless unless they get up off their butt and start moving forward by taking action on their goal. The same hold true with respect to shooting a gun. The longer you aim the rifle at the target, the more your sight picture will be distorted, resulting in a poor shot. In goal setting, experts have realized that one of the quickest ways to hit a target, is to fire, check and see how far off you are, recalibrate and fire again. If you keep firing and readjusting your aim, eventually you are going to hit the target.
When the path to your goal is unclear it’s very easy to have fear grab hold of you and the natural tendency is to justify that fear by doing more planning. So when fear has you in it’s grips, planning actually becomes counterproductive because it becomes a self-validating excuse not to take that initial first step into the unknown.
When you take action, you move yourself forward and you begin to activate the magnetic forces of attraction that bring you closer to your goal. If you wait for the mythical “perfect moment” to take action, then you’ll be waiting forever because that “perfect moment” will never arrive. There’s no such thing as a perfect moment and it’s a matter of choosing a direction to move and taking that first step forward. It’s important to realize that your first couple of steps might not be in the right direction, but that’s all a part of the SMART goal achievement process. Realize early on if your direction is the right one and if it’s not then readjust your navigation and continue moving forward.
Focus on One Challenging Goal at a Time
Achieving goals that are challenging requires a lot of mental energy. Instead of spreading yourself thin by focusing on several goals at once, invest your mental focus on one goal, the most important goal that you have on your list that will produce the greatest positive impact on your life, then dedicate 100% of your focus and energy towards the completion of that goal. This one goal becomes your major goal—your all consuming goal that should occupy your attention every day for the next 12 months, or until you complete it.  The problem that many goal setters have, especially entrepreneurs and athletes is that they set goals for themselves and either lose focus on that goal or set too many goals for themselves and never accomplish any of them. This is in fact the number one reason that I’ve seen why entrepreneurs fail. They have a good idea and the set their goal, but when they don’t see any money coming in immediately, they conclude that their business model is a failure and they switch to something else instead of sticking with it and giving their business a chance to build momentum. Total complete dedication and focus is necessary for a major goal, so learn how to prioritize your list of goals and give each goal the focus and the commitment that it deserves.
Burn the Boat Once Your Reach Shore
There is a story about a great general who had to launch an attack against a powerful adversary across the ocean who had an army that was much larger than his own force. The general’s troops were in poor morale for they knew they were going against incredible odds and they feared death. After the troops landed on shore, the general gave the order to have all the ships burned to the ground. The troops thought that the general had gone insane for now there was no means of escape. The general then told his troops, “Now we have no means of retreat. No way of escape. No way of running away. Our only option if we are to go back home is to overtake the enemy.” They did just that.
When you commit yourself to a goal, there cannot be any half-assed efforts on achieving it. It has to be all or nothing. When you commit yourself to a goal, you have to realize that you are committing to all the pain or hardships that you must endure in order to make your dream come true. A large part of goal setting is not just what you want, but more importantly, it involves what you must give up in your life in order to get it. Most people are unwilling to give up the things in their life to get what they want and therefore they never achieve anything meaningful or significant in their lives.
A good way to visualize your 100% commitment to your goal is by imagining yourself burning your boat once you have landed on shore, just like the story. By burning your boat, you put yourself in a forward-moving mindset where giving up or running away is simply not an option.
Create a List of all the People who can Help You Reach Your Goal
It’s important to realize that goal achievement is never a one person deal. No matter what your goal is, you need a winning team of allies by your side. Think about it. A top athlete might train harder than all the other athletes out there, but they still need a coach or several coaches to help them make the best use of that hard work and determination. The road towards achieving a challenging goal is rough and inevitably, there will be times where you feel particularly low, perhaps even on the verge of giving up. It’ s then that your list of allies becomes so crucial because you need their help to pick you up when you are down and keep you moving forward. Make sure you are very careful in who you recruit on your list because inevitably, there will be people out there who are out to sabotage you or take what you have earned for yourself. Select only the people that you trust onto your team.
Visualize, Emotionalize and Materialize
When you visualize yourself achieving and benefiting from a goal that’s been completed, you instantly become happier. Visualization is a powerful tool to evoke positive emotions from you and when you emotionalize your goal, you create the desire to materialize it into your life.
One of the best tools to aid in your visualization process is to create a vision board. Simply cut out pictures from a magazine that resonate with the goal that you want to achieve and paste them onto a poster board and place that board somewhere that you can view it several times a day. You can also cut out pictures and post them all over your home and office so that your constantly immersed in positive visualization for your goal.
In Conclusion
Ultimate success, happiness and bliss in life all revolves around your ability to achieve your goals. You have an unlimited potential to make true any dream that you have for yourself and now I’ve given you the tools and the processes to help you achieve those goals faster than ever before. If you use the techniques outlined in this article, I guarantee you that you will rise above the ranks and leave a lasting legacy that will be remembered forever.
Posted in:General
Posted by Lehel Szucs on May 9th, 2009 5:27 PM



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