May 11, 2014

Smart goal setting

SMART goals

A lot of people set goals, but never reach them, and then give themselves a hard time about it, when often the biggest issue is not them being lazy or uncommitted, but about them not setting their goals in a useful way – a way that makes their goals crystal clear, realistic and includes a plan for getting there. With a carefully laid plan, there’s not much we can’t do – and that’s where “SMART” goalsetting comes in.

You might have seen the “SMART” method for goal setting before, and noticed that different people use different words for the ‘R’, and even some of the other letters. Sometimes the ‘R’ is for ‘relevant’, and other times it’s ‘realistic’, but given that the ‘A’ is usually “achievable”, that’s a bit redundant. So in my “SMART” I like to use ‘responsible’. 

But let’s start at the start. Doing something with intention can make things much more rewarding, but goal setting doesn’t have to be about smashing targets and making physical changes. Useful intentional goals can include things like “This session I will bring my attention to my breathing whenever I am doing a “push” motion” or “Today I will offer a mental rebuttal to any negative self-criticisms I make”. 
These are also behavioural goals, they’re focussed on something you can do, rather than the outcome. If my goal is to be able to do ten pushups by the end of July, that’s a fine goal to have. But a behavioural goal like “I will practice my pushups 3 times a week until July” not only is more likely to lead to what you want, but you’ll get a feeling of satisfaction right through each step of the journey because you’re focussed on the part you have the most control over.

Personally, I like to set myself “smart” behavioural goals. The “smart” part helps to make sure I’ve set the goal in a useful way – I check off my goal against each part of the “smart” filter – and sets me up with the best chance of success. The best set goals match all five of the “smart” criteria:



Is the goal specific? Does it describe exactly what I want to do? Can I make it more specific? For example can I make the goal more specific by thinking about whether I wanted to run further or faster? 

Example of a non-specific goal: I want to be better at running

Example of a specific goal: I want to be able to run 10km without stopping


Is the goal measurable? That is, is there a way to tell whether I have completed my goal? How will I tell? It can be as simple as whether or not you did or didn’t do the task you set yourself, or a bit more abstract like giving a rating out of ten to your level of extertion.

Example of a non-measurable goal: I want to spend more time with my friends

Example of a measurable goal: I will attend 3 social events this week


Is it a realistic goal? Is the goal possible for me, with the strengths and limitations and limitations of my physical body, lifestyle, current health status, current proficiency and other responsibilities? Do I need to alter or scale the goal back a bit or give it a longer timeframe?

Example of a non-achievable goal: I want to be able to deadlift 400kg by Saturday (but right now I can only lift 70kg)

Example of an achievable goal: I want to be able to deadlift 80kg by December. (Even better, a behavioural goal would be, I will deadlift twice a week wherever possible, increasing my weights by 2.5kg each time, where possible)


Is this a responsible goal for me? Will it affect my health, social life, relationships, work, study or safety in a negative way? Will working on this goal be harmful to myself or other people? Do I need to make any changes to make it a more responsible goal?

Example of an irresponsible goal: I will train 7 days a week and never take a rest day

Example of a responsible goal: I will only exercise when I feel that my body is well enough to


Is there a timeframe for my goal? Having it attached to a timeframe of some sort makes it more measurable and specific, and helps with planning. The timeframe can be short or long, eg “this training session” or “by July 1st”.

Example of a non-time-based goal: I will join a group fitness class

Example of a time-based goal: I will join a group fitness class by Wednesday


The whole purpose of the “smart” format of goal setting is to help you to make a proper plan to achieve your goals. When you know exactly how far you want to be able to run, in how much time, and by what date, it is far easier to put together a proper running plan than when you just know that you generally want to be better at it.

Here are some examples of non-smart goals:

I want to be a faster runner

I will have a lot of savings by December

Here are some examples of smart goals:

I will go for a run twice a week, where possible, every week until April.

I will have $400 savings by December (again, this will most likely need to be broken down into smart behavioural goals to actually be achievable)


With that said, it’s not necessary to have a clear goal for everything. It is totally okay to just enjoy running and do it when you feel like it. This is where we return to intention, which will be the topic of my next post. But if you do have a goal that you would like to achieve, I hope the “SMART” formula will help you to clarify it further and put together a behavioural plan for yourself so that you have your very best chance of meeting it.

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