SMARTER Goals: How to Make Your Goals Achievable

I think it’s important to note that just writing down your goals is not enough, because some people will have a dream, chunk it down into specific goals, and even write them down – and yet still not achieve them. The reason this happens is that they didn’t know how to set, and work with, their goals properly. For your goals to be effective they will want to adhere to the following seven S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goal achieving principles. If your goals adhere to these simple principles, you will definitely achieve them. If they don’t, chances are you won’t get there.

S = Specific and measurable
M = ‘Me’ focused – controllable by myself
A = Achievable
R = Reviewed regularly
T = Timed
E = Ecological – consider ‘whole’ self
R = Reasons and Reward

Some people don’t set goals at all; others set them, but don’t write them down; still others write them down, but don’t know how to work with them effectively. These S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goal setting principles provide an easy and practical method of defining precisely what you want, a checking system to make sure your goals are achievable and in line with your current beliefs and values, and a mechanism for ensuring you follow through with them. As we go through them one at a time, check the goals you’ve written to ensure they meet the criteria – if they don’t, then alter them so they do.

S = Specific and measurable
Ensure your goals are specific and measurable. What precisely do you want? Rather than writing “I want to get better at tennis”, or “I want to lose weight”, or “I want to play well in the game this weekend”, identify the specific level you want to attain. Some examples might be: “To be a trim and toned 75kg”; “To reduce my golf handicap by 3 strokes”; “To achieve 70% of my first services in court”; “To earn $80,000 this financial year”.

M = ‘Me’ focused – controllable by myself
Your goals want to be controllable by yourself. Goals such as “I want to marry X”, or “I want my son to be a concert pianist”, or even “I’m going to win the golf tournament”, are not under your control. X might not want to marry you, your son may not want to become a concert pianist, and winning is a result of how well you, and your opponents, play, on the day.

More controllable goals would be: “I’m going to ask X out on a date” (you can control your asking – not their going); or “I’m going to provide my son with the opportunities and encouragement to become a concert pianist”; or “I’m going to hit 79 or better today”, (which if everyone else plays about to their handicap, will see me win the tournament).
It’s important to recognise that you can’t control winning – but you can control your level of effort, your enthusiasm, your concentration, and your attitude. So some people suggest that rather than focusing on the outcome, (winning), you direct all your attention to the process, (the means by which you will win). While I agree on the importance of paying attention to the process, I do think it’s also important to still want to win, and to aim to win. I think both are equally important, because athletes, managers, or salespeople who just focus on the ‘process’ alone in their goal setting, lose the necessary hunger, the edge that makes a champion performer. This edge comes from the desire to win. So you want to win, yet you also want to focus on the means by which you will win – the skills and techniques that you employ to hit straight down the fairway, or make a sale, or resolve a conflict, or coach a team, or whatever.

A = Achievable
A is for achievable. Make your goals achievable from where you are now. For instance, if you’re currently playing B grade tennis, it’s not very realistic to set a goal to win the U.S. Open this year – you’d just be setting yourself up for a failure. However, if you’re a hot young teenage tennis player with a lot of motivation and the desire to reach the top, then setting such a goal for say six or seven years time, might very well be achievable – provided you’re willing to put in the effort. Assess your current abilities and set a goal enough beyond yourself to challenge you and make you want to work toward it, but not something way beyond your current ability, or too easy, or you’ll just get discouraged, or bored. As a general rule if you can’t ‘see’ yourself achieving a goal, then you probably won’t, so aim for something a bit smaller, then when you reach that, shoot for the bigger one.

R = Reviewed regularly
It’s important to remember to regularly review your goals. Build a positive expectation of success by regularly thinking about your goals, and imagining what it will be like to achieve them. Whatever it is that you’re aiming for, write it on a sheet of paper – make up a colourful poster, and even include photos and drawings if you want – and put it on the ceiling above your bed, or on the back of the toilet door, or on the fridge door, or on your briefcase, or in your wallet, or in all these places. The more you start thinking of yourself as already having the goal, or already the way you want to be, the faster you will make it happen.

Look at your list of written goals at least once every day. Preferably, spend five minutes first thing in the morning, and last thing at night to briefly think about them. This both sets the tone for your whole day by giving you a strong sense of direction right from the moment you wake up, and allows your unconscious resources to provide you with inspiration and ideas as you sleep. I also recommend writing your goals on small palm cards, (about the size of a business card), and carrying them with you throughout the day. Then if you get stuck in traffic, or in a queue at the bank, rather than feeling angry and frustrated, you can use the time productively to think about and imagine achieving them! There are no ‘idle’ thoughts – every thought plants the seed of a step on the way to achieving what you want in your life. Cultivate a constructive obsession for your goals; think about them; dream about them; want them.

T = Timed
T stands for setting a specific time or target date by which you will achieve the goal. If you don’t do this it’s too easy to just keep putting it off to ‘one day’. Goals have been called ‘dreams with a deadline’, so set a timeline for your achieving each of your goals. Some examples of specific, timed goals might be: “To swim an Olympic qualifying time in the 100m freestyle at the national titles next month”; “To buy a new house by the end of the year”; “To attain my brown belt by the end of the year”; or “To win a major golf tournament within five years”.

E = Ecological – consider your ‘whole’ self
Personal ecology is a concept that recognises that you are a complex organism, made up of different ‘parts’. If these parts of yourself get into conflict, then you’re not going to function optimally. Ecology means being responsible to your whole self, when you set and work toward your goals. This means consider the other things that are important in your life, or that you have responsibility for. For example, relationships, work, family, study, and relaxation. Denying a part of yourself to achieve a goal will only lead to self sabotage, as the part of you that is denied manifests periods of lethargy or unmotivation; excessive nervousness in important competitions; lapses in concentration at crucial moments, or recurrent injuries.

This is one reason why some people don’t achieve a particular goal – there is a part of them that doesn’t really want it to happen, and so it sabotages their performance. For instance, you might set yourself a goal to represent your country in your sport, then as you put more and more time into training, and are away from home more and more frequently, that part of you that needs and values the emotional support of a relationship feels denied, and ‘out of the blue’ you suddenly get sick, or injure yourself, just before an important selection trial, and miss out on selection. Or after playing really well all season, you have a form slump and put in a pathetic performance – just when the selectors are watching! This type of thing happens so often in sport, it’s no accident! It’s a result of pushing yourself, rather than working with yourself in achieving goals. This is why it’s so important when setting your goals to really listen to yourself – to pay attention to your feelings.

E also stands for empower yourself by giving yourself permission to achieve your goals, and know that you’re worthy of them. Sometimes, on the verge of success, people sabotage their performance because their self concept is not large enough to accept success. Enlarge your self concept by continually affirming to yourself that you are worthy of success and high achievement – you are worthy of being called a champion in your chosen sport, or career.

R = Reasons and Reward
The final key in the SMARTER process of goal achieving is to have powerful reasons for achieving a goal, and to reward yourself when you achieve a goal, or a significant milestone along the way to a goal. It’s a very useful exercise to consider why you want to achieve a particular goal – what are your personal reasons underlying your desire for it? Having powerful reasons for achieving a goal can make a world of difference in your ability to achieve it – especially when the going gets tough.

At the Aikido Dojo that I attend there is a quietly spoken, petite woman who is about fifty years old. This woman is also a second Dan black belt, and is an incredible inspiration for us all, because she took up Aikido in her forties, and maintained the discipline, courage and determination through injuries and setbacks, to attain not only a black belt, but her second Dan black belt – which could be likened to the difference between a Bachelor’s degree and a Masters! When asked why she took up Aikido, and why she maintains her training, her reply was simple, yet very powerful: “I wanted to feel dangerous”, she said! Here we have a small, middle aged woman who at first glance would be a pushover to even a teenage mugger – yet who in reality is a very dangerous woman indeed!

Finally, do reward yourself when you achieve a goal, or a significant milestone along the way to a goal. Even for small goals, give yourself a reward. If you give up cigarettes for a month, or even a week – be proud of the accomplishment. If you eat healthily, and limit your alcohol intake, then tell yourself you’ve done well today. See how many DFDs (Drug Free Days) you can put together in a row. Recognise that things like alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, and other so called ‘recreational’ drugs dull your senses, and blunt the keen edge needed to perform at your best. They’re for losers. Champions may not all be teetotallers, but I’ve rarely seen one that smokes, drinks to excess, or is addicted to coffee or marijuana. They also eat healthy food – recognising that their body is a superbly tuned engine, and their health is their greatest asset.

Do something special, just for yourself, when you achieve a major goal; celebrate your successes, because this will build the motivation and confidence to go for the next goal, and the next. The more you set up a positive feedback loop, the more your system will want to continue to set goals, and achieve them. If you don’t reward yourself, you won’t build the positive goal setting habits that are a part of every champion’s behaviour.

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed “Sportsmind – An Athlete’s Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training” and “Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings”; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph’s College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email :
website :



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