Getting Unstuck: How to Set ‘Smart’ Goals

Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in a rut?  It might even seem as though you are living life on autopilot, or working really hard but getting nowhere.  Granted, there could be a number of explanations, but one of the most common causes for feeling ‘stuck’ is a lack of goals.

But not just any loosely defined, pie-in-the-sky ambitions floating around in your head will help you break through.  In order to be meaningful and lead to actions that produce results, you’ll want to ensure your goals are:  a) captured in writing and b) SMART.

Going through life without well-defined goals is akin to getting in your car, fastening your seat belt and adjusting your mirrors, and then driving for four hours with no destination in mind – i.e. you would never do it.  But that’s precisely what living with no end game in mind is like!

If you don’t know where your destination is, how will you ever know when you get there, or more importantly if you’re even heading in the right direction?  The simple answer is, you won’t.

Setting goals in life is like plugging a destination into your car’s GPS.  You will not only know where you’re heading, but can see at any given time where you are, and how much farther you have to go until you reach your objective.

In order to make your goals really meaningful however, you must ensure that they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound).

The following is a quick description of each of the components, including why they matter.

Setting SMART Goals



The first requirement for setting a smart objective is that it should be specific.  Instead of saying something like, “my goal is to lose some weight”, you may instead decide that you want to lose 15 pounds in order to reach your ideal physique.

Answering the “5 W’s” will usually help satisfy this requirement:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is this goal important to me?
  • Who else is involved?
  • Where is it located?
  • Which resources or limits do I need to consider?


The next important aspect of a smart goal is that it must be measurable.  After all, how else will you know if you’ve achieved your goal or not?  In the previous example, the 2nd iteration of the goal was measurable, specifically – 15 pounds to lose.


In addition to being specific and measurable, your goal should be realistic and attainable to be successful.  After all, if you don’t even believe from the start that you can do something, more than likely you are correct.

This isn’t to say it should be easy.  To the contrary, having ‘stretch goals’ can often help you identify previously overlooked opportunities or resources that can bring you closer to your desired outcome.


I think this one’s self-explanatory…is reaching your goal really relevant to you?  Imagine that you are the CFO of a large, multinational firm, and you want to learn a second language to make you more effective at work.

Should you set a goal to become fluent in Swahili?  I don’t know – maybe your biggest customers are in SE Africa?!?

Whether a goal is relevant or not is something only you can determine.


Last but not least, a smart goal needs to be time-bound.  In other words, you should select a date by which you plan to achieve your objective.  Again, similar to the ‘measurable’ requirement, this helps to keep you honest and will create a sense of urgency.

Without a “due date” it’s too easy to keep pushing things off, sometimes indefinitely.  As a former smoker I know this all too well.  Fortunately I was able to quit after many failed attempts.  But when I still smoked I would constantly make up excuses for quitting at some future date.

Staying on Track

Once you’ve established your goals, made sure that they are ‘SMART’, and have captured them in writing, you’re well on your way to achieving them!  But goals are not something you can simply set and forget.

Instead, you’ll want to establish some sort of method for periodically checking in and ensuring that you are still on track.  It could be quarterly, monthly, weekly, or even daily, depending on the due-dates you’ve set for yourself.  By doing so, you will be able to better understand what’s working and what’s not, and course correct as necessary.

Do you have already have well-defined goals for the different aspects of your life (e.g. career, finances, relationships, spirituality, etc.)?  If so, are they SMART?  If no, why not?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, or any specific goals you’re willing to share in the comments below.

Read: Why New Years Resolutions are for Suckers


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