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Angela M. Odom

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Goal Setting the SMART way

2019 goals May 19, 2019


SMART is an acronym that you can use to guide your goal setting.

Its criteria are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker's Management by Objectives concept. The first known use of the term occurs in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. Since then, Professor Robert S. Rubin (Saint Louis University) wrote about SMART in an article for The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. He stated that SMART has come to mean different things to different people, as shown below.

 To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, each one should be:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

Professor Rubin also notes that the definition of the SMART acronym may need updating to reflect the importance of efficacy and feedback. However, some authors have expanded it to include extra focus areas; SMARTER, for example, includes Evaluated and Reviewed.

How to use SMART

1.  Specific

When working through your goal, consider the five "W's"; who, what, where, when and why. 

  • Who is involved?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where do I want to accomplish it?
  • When (time frame)? Which requirements and constraints exist?
  • Why do I want to accomplish this goal (purpose/benefits)?

Example: After my most recent primary care appointment, I should really lost about 20 lbs, lower my blood pressure, and strengthen my core.  I want to do this to look better in and out of my clothes and feel better about myself.  This was the first health report that really scared me. I don't want to have to take prescribed medicine in the near future.  The constraints are that I don't like to cook at home, therefore I eat out 3 or 4 times a week and don't take the time to go to the grocery store. 

2.  Measurable

It's important to have measurable goals, so that you can track your progress and stay motivated. Assessing progress helps you to stay focused, meet your deadlines, and feel the excitement of getting closer to achieving your goal.

A measurable goal should address questions such as:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?

Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of mini-goals. Set target dates along the way. How will you know when you have accomplished your goal?

Example: Lose 21 lbs. over the next 7 months (and keep it off) = monthly goal of  3 lbs. Since my blood pressure was high (linked to stress and emotional eating), walk at 2 miles at least 3 days/week and ensure that eat at home at least 3 times within a week. This will allow me to plan my meals and intentionally eat healthier meals. 

3. Attainable

Your goal also needs to be realistic and achievable to be successful. In other words, it should stretch your abilities but still remain possible. When you set an attainable goal, you may be able to identify previously overlooked opportunities or resources that can bring you closer to it.

An attainable goal will usually answer questions such as:

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints, such as financial factors?

Develop attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach goals. Look for previously overlooked opportunities to achieve your goal.

Example: Join a workout group or take a cooking class. Plan meals ahead to avoid eating on the run. Bonus — this can be an opportunity to meet like minded people and eliminate the stress of eating alone.

4. Realistic

This step is about ensuring that your goal matters to you, and that it also aligns with other goals. We all need support and assistance in achieving our goals, but it's important to retain control over them. So, make sure that your plans drive everyone forward, but that you're still responsible for achieving your own goal.

A realistic goal can answer "yes" to these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Does this match our other efforts/needs?
  • Am I the right person to reach this goal?
  • Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?

Your goal should have the right amount of challenge. Have you accomplished something similar in the past? You must believe that you can truly accomplish it.

Example: I watched my mother health decline at an early age and I want to live a healthier lifestyle as I age. I want to live a life free from excessive prescribed medicines. I know that eating more whole foods and moving my beautiful body regularly will lead to lower body weight and better life. 

5. Timely

Every goal needs a target date, so that you have a deadline to focus on and something to work toward. This part of the SMART goal criteria helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over your longer-term goals.

A time-bound goal will usually answer these questions:

  • When?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do today?

Anchor your goal to a specific time frame (it helps to create focus and sense of urgency).

Example: In seven months, I will have my follow-up apt. with the doctor and want to be 21 lbs. lighter, have lower blood pressure, and new habits in place. I have mini-goals with small rewards (massage, manicure) in place.

Benefits and Drawbacks

SMART is an effective tool that provides the clarity, focus and motivation you need to achieve your goals. It can also improve your ability to reach them by encouraging you to define your objectives and set a completion date. SMART goals are also easy to use by anyone, anywhere, without the need for specialist tools or training.

Various interpretations of SMART have meant that it can lose its effectiveness or be misunderstood. Some people believe that SMART doesn't work well for long-term goals because it lacks flexibility, while others suggest that it might stifle creativity. 

When creating your SMART goals, consider who might support your goals and who might sabotage your goals. Sometimes the people who are close to us can inadvertently sabotage us, such as the spouse who brings home dessert while the other one is trying to diet. And, you may find support in expected places, like a colleague who is also balancing work and going to school at night.

Also, remember that it takes a few months for your new habits to become part of your lifestyle. If you are having trouble in the beginning making these habits part of your lifestyle, tell yourself to stick it out. Many people fizzle out around the six week mark, so if you find yourself losing motivation, set mini goals with small rewards to keep yourself on track.

Lastly, plan for stumbling blocks or setbacks. Just because you get off track or lose focus doesn’t mean you give up. Infuse into your goal-setting plan a process or means of getting back on track. What is your contingency plan?

Having a rigid “all or nothing” plan is a recipe for failure. Planning ahead for these stumbling blocks is the key to success. Part of the planning involves thinking about what might get you off track and planning ahead for these events. Doing so, will only increase your ability to achieve your goals. 

What's Next?

Carve out time to write your SMART goal. Pull out your calendar and schedule a date with yourself to invest in YOU!


I'm rooting for you



Angela M. Odom is a leadership coach and an author of BRONCO STRONG: A Memoir of the Last Deployed Personnel Services Battalion and a contributor to Camouflaged Sisters: Leadership Through The Eyes of Senior Military Women Leaders

ONLINE: ANGELA M. ODOM I Instagram I Facebook I LinkedIn I Twitter I You Tube



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