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Five Ways to Set Clear and Effective Goals

Five Ways to Set Clear and Effective Goals

Kevin William Grant
May 24, 2024

SMART is a mnemonic acronym that can be applied to goals in a way that makes it easier to tackle and dates back to a November 1981 publication in an issue of "Management Review", penned by George T. Doran, which addressed SMART goal setting when referring to business management's objectives. SMART goals are goals that are specific, meaningful, achievable, relevant and time-bound. 

SMARTER goal setting takes these two steps further, forcing you to evaluate and readjust your approach. This added sense of measurement and readjustment is critical to the achievement of anything in life. All too often, we tend to set our goals, but not put any measurement to them. When we don't measure and track something, it becomes far more manageable for the mind to trick us into either putting things off or thinking that we've come further along than we have. 

As you look at the acronym for SMARTER goals, it's clear to see that there are seven steps since there are seven letters in the word.

“S” is for Specific

The first step in setting SMARTER goals is to be specific – very specific. The more specific you are about your goals, the better and more able you’ll be to accomplish them no matter what method you use. This means that you don’t just say you want to make more money or lose more weight; you have to say precisely how much money you want to make or how much weight you want to lose. You have to put a real and exact figure on it. Make it measurable.

Why is this so important? Well, in goal setting, to make it visceral to the mind and clearer, you have to be able to quantify that goal. Without specifics, there's no real target, just some obscure direction. When the goal is vague, it allows the psychology of your mind to override your goals. You succumb to things like emotion-numbing activities, to easily avoid doing something that wasn't that concrete in the first place.

Specifics are the fuel in the engine of your goals. You have to provide details if you're going to achieve anything at all. When you write out your goals, be as specific as possible. Moreover, never be afraid to be too specific.

“M” is for Meaningful

The second step in setting SMARTER goals is to set goals that are meaningful enough to you that you’ll get out there and do whatever it takes to achieve them. This is the “why” in goal setting that I discussed in a prior post. When your goals have a deep enough meaning to you, you’ll do whatever it takes to achieve them. This doesn’t have to do with vanity or superficial reasons, but more profound and life-altering reasons why you want to achieve something.

People don't want more money because they want more paper with deceased notables on them. No, they want more money because of what that money will bring them: time, freedom, family, security, and contribution. You have to attribute a strong enough meaning to your goals, beyond being just specific about them. So, next to your specific goal, write out what that goal means to you, and make sure that it's something important.

“A” is for Achievable

The third step in setting SMARTER goals is to set achievable goals. Now, there's certainly a school of thought out there that says that you can accomplish whatever you want, whenever you want it. However, when you're setting goals, especially when they're short-term goals (i.e., within one year), make sure that they're achievable. This doesn't mean that you can't shoot for the stars in your long-term plans, such as five years down the road or even ten years down the road. It just means that you have to pick goals that you can achieve in the short term.

For example, if you’ve never made more than $100,000 in a year, don’t say that you’re going to be a billionaire in the span of one year. Set goals that you can actually achieve so that you build on your momentum. Your short-term goals should be something within your reach, but not so easily attainable that they won’t take much work or effort on your part. This will also help you to build that all-important momentum. Once you achieve your year-long goals, you can broaden those into much greater hopes and dreams down the road.

“R” is for Relevant

The fourth step in setting SMARTER goals is to set goals that are relevant to your life. The goals should be in line with and in harmony with what you actually want out of life; they should match up with your core values. If your core values are contradicting your goals, then you’ll find yourself merely getting frustrated and giving up.

When you set relevant goals, you have to dig deep down inside and truly understand what you want out of life. If one of your core values is freedom, then setting goals that have you bound to a desk. Most of the year won't help you to live a fulfilled life. Remember, your goals shouldn't be designed with the notion of succeeding to be happy, but rather, with happily succeeding. Set goals that are relevant and in line with what you truly want out of life.

“T” is for Time-Bound

The fifth step in setting SMARTER goals is to ensure that they're time-bound goals. You have to set an exact date when you plan to achieve these goals. Focus on goals that are in 3-month intervals. If you plan to achieve a 50-pound weight loss in one year, then break that down into 3-month intervals. That's 12.5 pounds every three months.

When your goals are time-bound, they’re measurable, and you should hold yourself accountable by measuring those goals on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. How close are you to achieving your goals? How much further did you get from achieving your goals? Without making your goals time-bound and measurable, you won’t be able to see your progress.

 “E” is for Evaluate

The sixth step in setting goals using the SMARTER method is to ensure that your goals are evaluated. By evaluating your goals every single day, you'll be much more likely to achieve them. Why is that? Well, long-term goals (and also goals that are three months or six months out), can easily be ignored if they aren't evaluated every single day.

Set up a system for evaluating your goals, and you make the evaluation of your goals habitual. Don't ignore this critical step. Your mind has an ingenious way of allowing you to ignore your goals by pushing you into emotion-numbing behaviors when those goals aren't carefully evaluated.

 “R” is for Readjust

The final step in setting goals with the SMARTER method is to re-adjust your approach. If, for example, you find yourself pursuing a goal but continuously hitting a brick wall, readjust your process and techniques. For example, when a plane has a goal of flying from LAX to MIA, it has to continually evaluate its progress and readjust its approach to ensure that it reaches its target. The plane regularly evaluates and readjusts until it arrives in MIA. It would be best if you were doing the same for your goals.

Readjust doesn't mean that you have to throw your goals out and start all over. What it means is that you have to try different approaches until you find yourself getting closer and closer to your goals. That's why constant daily evaluation is so critical. If you don't evaluate, you can't measure your progress.


This exercise will walk you through the process of setting effective goals.

Effective goals have similar characteristics, and this acronym can help you remember them:

  • S = Specific
  • M = Measurable
  • A = Attainable
  • R = Realistic
  • T = Timely
  • E = Evaluate
  • R = Readjust

The following guidelines will help you set healthy and SMARTER recovery goals.

Be realistic: You will only hurt yourself if you set unattainable goals. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Establish goals that stretch you but are realistically within reach of that stretch.

  • Unrealistic goal: I will land my dream job by the end of the week.
  • Realistic goal: I will find at least part-time employment in the next six weeks.

Be specific: Goal setters often make the mistake of creating vague goals, which don’t provide enough guidance for the steps necessary to reach the goal.

  • Non-specific goal: Get a job.
  • Specific goal: Obtain employment at a minimum of 30 hours per week and $15 per hour.

Break it down into steps: Once you have a specific, realistic goal, break it down into steps that you’ll complete to reach it. Even if you’ve narrowed your goal’s focus, you’ll need to come up with concrete smaller goals that make up the larger objective. Let’s say your main goal is to secure employment at a minimum of 30 hours per week and $15 per hour. The following steps could be the smaller steps that lead to it:

  • Update my resume in the next week.
  • Search for jobs online for one hour each day.
  • Submit at least two job applications per day after the resume is complete.

Set measurements: How will you know if you’ve met your goal? Some goals are easier to measure than others. If your goal is employment, a full-time job could be the measure of success.

It can be more challenging to set a measurement for a relationship goal, but it is still possible. For example, if you hope to restore a broken relationship, a measure of goal success could be sending an apology letter or setting up a meeting with that person.

Set time limits: Don't leave your goals open-ended because this tends to create a "someday" mode that rarely results in goal attainment. Goals work better with deadlines to spur us into action.

  • Limitless goal: Obtain employment at a minimum of 30 hours/week and $15/hour.
  • Timely goal: Obtain employment at a minimum of 30 hours/week and $15/hour within the next six weeks.

Forgive and learn: Know that, as you plan your goals, you may have a few setbacks along the way. However, experiencing speed bumps doesn't mean you've failed; it merely means you're human. If you don't reach a goal in the time parameters you set, forgive yourself, accept the reality of the situation, and give yourself room to grow and learn from the process. Do not excuse or rationalize away poor choices. It doesn't mean you accept imperfection; accept that you won't reach every goal you set in the way you originally planned.

Be flexible: If you’re unable to meet a goal, or it becomes clear the goal is no longer viable, change it. These are your goals, and it is essential to own them while you learn and evolve. Part of the recovery process is developing new healthy habits, and your goals may need to change as you do. Not all circumstances are in your control, so be prepared to revise timelines, update specifics, or create entirely new goals as needed. Some goals can be put on hold or accomplished differently. It is vital to make new goals, not simply discard the old ones.

Find helpful resources: Resources are available that can help inform your recovery goals. Support groups, family, friends, online resources, and therapists are a few of the resources at your disposal.

Embrace accountability: Don’t run the marathon alone. As you set goals, could you share them with someone you trust? That could be a friend, a member of a support group, a mentor, a sponsor, or a family member. Ask them to hold you accountable for both the small and large steps. Knowing they will be asking about your progress.


Goal Overview

What is your goal (in one sentence)?






What are the benefits of achieving this goal?











What do I want to accomplish?








Why do I want to accomplish this?









What are the requirements?









What are the constraints?









How will I measure my progress?









How will I know when I’ve accomplished my goal?









How can the goal be accomplished?










What logical steps should I take?









Is this a worthwhile goal?










Is this the right time?









Do I have the necessary resources to accomplish this goal?










Is this goal in line with my long-term objectives?









How long will it take to accomplish this goal?









When is the completion of this goal due?









When am I going to work on this goal?