How to set a powerful goal that fits your life

There's a good reason that athletes and other high-achievers set goals that lead them to where they want to go. Setting goals gives you long-term direction and short-term motivation. But for many of us, goal-setting is often an exercise in frustration. We don't know how to choose a goal, or we have too many goals and don't make progress on any, or we set goals, and then we lose track of them or fail at them, and then feel bad.So how do you set a goal that you are confident you'll actually achieve and that you know is going to move you to where to want to be? You write a SMART goal. This is a formula that I learned when I was a manager at Apple, and I used it to set goals for my employees as part of their annual reviews. I've learned it is also very useful outside of the corporate setting for personal goals. 

Write a SMART goal

"SMART" is an acronym. It stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable/actionable, Relevant, Time-bound. The idea here is to write out you goal in a way that includes all of these elements, which means you will have thought through the details of you goal, and will have a destination that is both achievable and relevant for your life.Let's break it down.


Your goal must be clear and well-defined. A vague goal will not motivate you, if you aren't really sure what it means or when you've achieved it. "Spend more time with my kids" is a vague goal. "Pick my kids up after school three days each week" is specific. Make it as easy as you can to understand what you are heading for.


Include precise dates, amounts, and metrics so that you will know exactly what you are aiming for. In the example above, "Pick my kids up after school three days each week" is a measurable goal. If you are picking them up only two days each week, you know you are not meeting the goal.


Different folks who use this framework use different words for A, but these are the two I think you need to pay attention to.Actionable. Do you have control over the outcome? For example, I can say my goal is to grow my email list by 500 people. But I'm not actually manually signing up 500 people to my list next month. But if I set a goal of running five webinars and speaking at three venues with more than 200 people in attendance next month, with the goal of driving signups to my email list, there's a good chance I'll get 500 new people on that list.Attainable. Is it reasonable that you can achieve this goal? For my example above, running five webinars and doing three talks in a month is not achievable for me, given the number of hours that I work per week, and the fact that I'd be launching my speaking career from scratch. I might be able to do that in a year, but not in a month. You don't want to set a goal that is too easy - it is important to stretch yourself - but also don't set goals that will be impossible for you to achieve, because constantly falling short is demoralizing.I'll talk more about how to set an achievable and a stretch goal below.


Your goal should be relevant for your life and the direction you want to go. I think of this as connecting to my why. Why is this goal important to me? Why do I want this? How will my life be different if I can achieve this? This element is really important for helping you actually reach for goals, because sometimes the work of getting from setting the goal to actually achieving it is really not all that much fun. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it just feels like work. And sometimes it will feel like setbacks and frustration. So what keeps you motivated? Your why.Going back to my previous example, my why may not actually be to grow my email list, though that may be a nice side effect. If I was going to set a goal to run webinars and start public speaking, my real why would be because I want to teach as many women as possible about new ways of mindfully managing their time, so that they can feel true freedom and control over their lives. That's my why.


By when will you achieve this goal? This is part of specificity, and it tells you when you should stop and celebrate your success. Because this is something we don't do enough. We just blow right by those goals and are on to the next ones without celebrating what we've accomplished. So stop and celebrate!Also, it gives you a target for when you will evaluate where you are with this goal and decide if you need to shift focus or plan. Because YES, you can change your goals. If you achieved your goal, set a new one! If you fell short, or realized mid-way that it wasn't right, or wasn't really what you wanted, set a new one! Just go back to step one, get specific, and write out a new goal.[convertkit form=5262400]

How to set a right-size goal

As I said above, it is important to set a goal that is not too easy, but is also not so hard that you won't achieve it. How do you do that? This very question launched a very large discussion in a Facebook group I'm in just recently. Someone offered the AIM structure, which was new to me and I loved it so I'm passing it on to you. AIM is also an acronym, because business people apparently love acronyms. The idea here is to actually set THREE measurements for your goal: an absolute minimum (A), ideal (I) and middle (M) point. And yes, I realize these are kind of out of order, but AMI doesn't have the same ring to it.

Absolute minimum

What is the Absolute minimum measurement you could achieve that would make you feel like you had moved in the right direction? This might be the "easy" number, that you think you can achieve without too much effort.


What is the knock it out of the park goal that would make you feel like a total rock star if you achieved it, but would take major effort and would be a big stretch?


This one is somewhere in between your minimum and your ideal, and this is probably your most realistic and attainable goal. You know that if you achieved this, you'd feel great, and you would have worked hard for it, but also it doesn't feel quite so hairy and audacious as the ideal goal.Now that you know how to set you goals, what's next? Here are three golden rules for achieving the goals you've set.

  1. Write it down. Preferably somewhere you will see it often.
  2. Break it down. What are the steps you need to take to achieve this goal? Write them all out, schedule them, and just start.
  3. Find accountability. This will help you so much when you get to that middle part, when it feels like all effort and no fun. Your accountability buddy can help remind you why you are working toward this, celebrate your achievements so far, and even help problem solve when you get stuck.

For more ideas to keep you achieving your goals, check out this episode of the Nurturing Habit podcast, where I talk about the SMART goal framework, and also dive deeper into ways to keep you successfully get to your goals, every time.