What Is Effective Goal-Setting?

Written by Justin Wright

The act of expressing intangible desires and aspirations in the form of concrete, written goals has been shown to increase the likelihood of achieving those goals. By putting pen to paper and writing out the things you want to accomplish, you are drastically increasing your chance of success.

Goals must also be well-defined in such a manner as to allow for measurable and tangible progress. If you cannot measure how close or far you are from completing your goal, how can you determine when you are ready to move on to the next thing?

To step back even further, a goal is anything that you want badly enough to create a plan of action for achieving it. It must be important enough that you are willing to invest substantial time, energy and effort along the way.

WHAT IS THE SMART CRITERIA FOR GOAL-SETTING?

To effectively set goals, we can use the SMART framework as defined by George T. Doran. This system first appeared in a November 1981 issue of Management Review, and was initially created for use by upper management in a series of companies.

The SMART system defines 5 criteria that an effective goal must meet:

(S)pecific – The goal must define a specific area for improvement or progress.

(M)easurable – There must be a way to quantify progress objectively.

(A)chievable – This must be something you believe that you can achieve at this point time. Given currently available resources, this must be something you can work on now.

(R)elevant – Is this goal in line with your higher purpose or vision? Make sure the goals you set are getting you closer to where you ultimately want to be.

(T)ime-bound – There must be a defined timeline for when the goal should be achieved.

Use these criteria to convert some of your aspirations and desires into a more concrete form. Start by being specific; oftentimes, it can be difficult to put into words what exactly you want to accomplish. Vague ideas or feelings do not lend themselves well to being measurable, and it can be difficult to find realistic actions that you can take right now at this specific point in time.

Another big mistake is not giving yourself a strict timeline for accomplishing each task. If a goal is left open-ended, it can be difficult to find regular motivation to work towards that goal. So what can you do if you are having trouble defining what you want to accomplish, or if you are having trouble staying motivated along the way?

LANGUAGE MATTERS

When you are defining your goals, the language you use, and the way you phrase them, matters immensely. Specificity implies that the goal defines one, concrete objective. If you want to lose weight, you must define an exact amount of weight to lose. Is it 5 pounds, 10 pounds?

When you define a goal, it must be attainable as well; not only does attainability depend on resources available, it depends on belief. If you don’t believe in your ability to achieve your goal, what do you think your likelihood of success actually becomes? An overlooked aspect of belief, and specificity, is whether you are using positive or negative language.

It is important to use positive, affirming language when defining your goals. Use powerful phrases like “I will” instead of “I want to” in order to bolster your confidence and increase your likelihood of success. If you allow self-doubt to creep in through ambiguous language when writing your goals down, it will be much more difficult to stay the course when things become difficult. Once the “honeymoon phase” of a new goal or undertaking has passed and you run into your first major roadblock, positively phrasing your goals will be one of many things working in your favor.

GO SET SOME GOALS, AND WORK FOR THEM!

No matter what happens, the phrase, “Your dreams don’t work unless you do,” is cliche but appropriate. Developing discipline, and setting appropriate goals in the first place, is not easy! However, the long-term gains far outweigh the short-term discomfort.

Imagine how much further along you will be in a year if you get one percent closer every single day? Long-term goals require incremental progress in order to accomplish. Don’t be discouraged by the quantity of work left to do, focus instead on the daily steps necessary for success.

Write your goals down using the SMART system, cultivate discipline through daily tasks, and reflect back in a year’s time at how far you have come. One of life’s only guarantees is that time will pass by regardless of your actions, so you might as well use that time effectively and get closer to achieving your goals!

We’ve developed a FREE Goal Setting Guide to help you set effective goals. Get yours here!

About the Author

Justin Wright is the Head Coach of Invictus Boston in Boston, MA. As an athlete, he competed at the CrossFit Games on Team Back Bay in 2016 and also played two years in the NPGL as a professional GRID athlete. Now, Justin spends his time coaching and teaching mindset and mental resilience strategies. Feel free to contact Justin with interest and questions – he loves to chat about this stuff!