I used to set outrageous, unrealistic goals for myself. Whether it was to lose an arbitrary number of pounds a week or clear my hormonal cystic acne (which I had no personal control over, whatsoever), this kind of goal-setting always failed to help me create the results I wanted, and I felt like shit pretty much all the time.
Once I understood the value of setting SMART goals for myself, that changed.
What is a SMART goal?
Put simply, the SMART criteria are a way of framing your personal goals that is clearly defined and actionable.
Setting goals that adhere to the five SMART characteristics can help us have a better idea of precisely what we’re trying to achieve, as well as actually reach those targets.
What are the five SMART goals criteria?
To create a SMART goal, you want to set an intention that is:
SMART goals examples that are Specific
The S in SMART stands for “specific.” Why make your goals specific? Because if you have a deliberate focus for your goal, you’ll ensure that the goal you’re pursuing is really what you want when you achieve it.
- Non-specific goal: I want to lose weight.
- Specific goal: I want to lose enough weight to fit back into my wedding dress.
- Non-specific goal: I want to get into college.
- Specific goal: I want to get accepted to a college with an accredited business program.
When we aren’t being specific with our goals, they tend to be less focused. This can make us feel like we’re making progress but, as the above examples show, the general and specific goals could be very different in the end.
It’s possible to lose weight and still not be satisfied with where you’re at, or to get into a school, but one that doesn’t offer the kind of program you want.
Being specific in your goal-setting will help you pursue your goals efficiently and with intention.
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SMART goals examples that are Measurable
The M stands for “Measurable,” and this is — I think — the most game-changing letter of the acronym.
When we set measurable goals for ourselves, we quantify how we will be tracking our progress towards those goals. Numbers are cold and harsh. They don’t usually lie. And, because of this, it feels all that much better when you can back up, with numbers, that you’re making progress toward your goal.
- Non-measurable goal: I want to lose weight.
- Measurable goal: I want to lose 10 pounds.
- Non-measurable goal: I want to make more money.
- Measurable goal: I want to earn an additional $5,000.
By incorporating numbers into our goals, we have a foundation on which to track our progress. This gives us a metric to focus on and will help us track if we’re moving in the right direction or not. (And if not, we can adjust our approach so that we start making progress!)
SMART goals examples that are Attainable
The SMART goals A stands for “attainable,” and this criterion can be a bit trickier to work with. Unlike the Specific and Measurable criteria, we have to be able to determine for ourselves if our goals are realistically attainable or not.
This is the criterion I, personally, struggle with the most, because I tend to set my standards for myself quite high. (A bit too high, usually.) If that resonates with you, keep this in mind and set your goals at a realistic, reachable level.
- Unattainable goal: I want to go down three dress sizes in two weeks.
- Attainable goal: I want to go down three dress sizes in the next year.
- Unattainable goal: I want to add 100 pounds to my bench press next week.
- Attainable goal: I want to add 100 pounds to my bench press in the next year.
“But, Kate,” you may be thinking, “it is possible to do those ‘unattainable’ things.” Maybe it is. But it is extremely unlikely that such drastic changes could be achieved in a realistic or healthy way; that’s what makes them unattainable in terms of goal-setting.
Setting a goal means you’re trying to reach a predetermined destination, whether physically, mentally, financially, whatever. You can’t do that if you put yourself in the hospital on the way there.
Keep your goals attainable to keep them realistic and keep your confidence up.
SMART goals examples that are Realistic/Relevant
The R in SMART stands for “realistic” and, in some circles, “relevant.”
I have a personal suspicion that the men who created the SMART acronym in the 1980s added this letter to make the word easy to remember, as it seems to be either redundant or common sense in terms of goal-setting.
Essentially, the R means that you want to make sure your goals are realistic (which also falls under the “attainable” criterion we just covered) and that they’re relevant to your lifestyle, which I think most people would account for automatically. After all, if a goal weren’t relevant to you, you probably wouldn’t care enough to make it a goal, right?
To humor the formula, though, I’ll include some of these examples as well:
- Non-realistic goal: I want to become a millionaire before I graduate college.
- Realistic goal: I want to get a job in a field where it’s possible to become a millionaire.
- Non-relevant goal: I want to reverse my lactose intolerance.
- Relevant goal: I want to find dairy substitutes so I can still enjoy the foods I love.
While I personally think this is the least helpful of the SMART letters, it doesn’t hurt to consider it as you make your goals. At the very least, it’s an extra check to make sure your goals are good ones.
SMART goals examples that are Timely
The T in the acronym stands for “time,” though some people refer to this criterion as “timely,” others “time-based,” etc. The key concept to hone in on here is that your goal should depend on time in some way.
You could incorporate time as a deadline: a set number of days, weeks, or months. Or, maybe you’re seeking to build a habit and time is more about doing something at a specific hour of the day.
Either way, work time into your goal-setting as a way to add some additional structure to your intentions.
- Non-timely goal: I want to lose weight.
- Timely goal: I want to lose weight by next month.
- Non-timely goal: I want to get promoted.
- Timely goal: I want to get promoted within the next 12 months.
Adding an element of time to your personal goals will help you not only avoid procrastinating taking action on them, but it will also help you remember that the challenge to reach your goal won’t last forever, which is invaluable when it comes to maintaining motivation.
What are some examples of SMART goals?
Now that we’ve reviewed what each letter of the SMART goals acronym means, it’s time to combine each of these criteria to create some actionable, realistic goals for yourself!
Here are two complete SMART goals examples, and a quick breakdown of how each one employs all of the methods we’ve discussed above.
Example 1: I want to lose 15 pounds over the next three months.
- Specific: The intention to lose a precise amount of weight
- Measurable: 15 pounds can be measured on a scale
- Attainable: Losing 15 pounds in 90 days is attainable for most mildly overweight adults
- Realistic/Relevant: This amount of weight loss is not unhealthy; this person clearly values health and weight loss
- Timely: Will be attempted over three months, or 90 days
Example 2: I want to increase my small business’s revenue by 5% in 2021.
- Specific: The intention to increase revenue specifically (not just sales)
- Measurable: 5% of the business’s current revenue can be calculated and measured
- Attainable: Growing revenue 5% is attainable for most small businesses through sales and marketing strategies
- Realistic/Relevant: This increase in revenue is realistic for the time period; naturally, the business owner cares about their revenue
- Timely: Will be attempted over the course of a calendar year; in this case, 2021
Now that I’ve shared a bunch of examples with you, you might be wondering, how exactly do I use SMART goals in my daily life? I’ll tell you!
What are some examples of my personal goals?
As it has been for all of us, 2020 has been a hard year for me. It’s been stressful, and my habits have reflected that.
During the earlier part of this year, as gyms, offices, and stores shut down, I gained a considerable amount of weight as I sat at home snacking on hummus and pretzels while watching the Avengers movies with my boyfriend.
Additionally, though I was accepted into an M.F.A. program for Creative Writing, I decided not to go, given the state of the world and the fact that I was being asked to pay roughly $8,000 out of my own pocket.
So, two ways that SMART goals have personally helped me this year is by giving me a structure around which to set my weight loss and creative writing goals.
Here are two goals that I set for myself around July of 2020:
Personal SMART goal #1: Get down to 130 pounds in the next year (July 2020 – July 2021).
During the initial phase of quarantine and shutdowns, I gained roughly 15 pounds. Before quarantine, I typically weighed 133 lbs. I am 5’4”, so I was on the small side, but still well within my healthy BMI range.
At my heaviest in quarantine, I weighed 148 lbs. Now, while I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this number is by NO MEANS excessive or in any way objectively “bad,” it was the first time in my life that my BMI registered me in the officially “overweight” category.
What’s more, and what really mattered to me, was that I felt terrible. I had very little energy, I was getting drunk every day and snacking nonstop because, quite honestly, I was bored, and I was starting to feel really bad about myself.
So, shortly after my birthday in July I decided that I was going to make a conscious effort to get back in shape, and to do it in a way that was sustainable and healthy.
Setting a goal to get down to 130 lbs across the span of a year motivated me to start working out and eating better, without setting myself up for unrealistic results or unhealthy habits. (By the way, as of this writing six months later, I’m about 135 lbs and feeling great.)
I created a SMART goal for myself by setting an intention that was specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
Personal SMART goal #2: Write a novel of 80,000 words by the time I turn 30 years old.
I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but that always seemed like an endeavor better left to the creative geniuses of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.
However, after deciding to forgo grad school this year, I decided I still wanted to challenge myself to grow creatively, so I started writing a novel. I’ve slowly written more and more of it each week over the past six months, and have since reached about 50,000 words.
In July 2021, I will be 30 years old, and that seemed like as good a landmark as any for an aspiring novelist to make her debut, so that is the timeframe I chose to motivate myself with.
Who knows if it’ll be any good. The important thing to me is that I’m doing it, and I’m enjoying the process. And, since I know I set a good, realistic goal using the SMART criteria, I feel good about moving forward with this project.
What are your SMART goals?
You have everything you need to create your own SMART goals: you have the desire, and now the tools, to set them effectively.
So, tell me, what are your SMART goals? Share them in the comments or message them to us on our social media channels.