Create a SMART Goal

In order to succeed, you must create a goal that is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Without these five elements, success can be very elusive.

Specific refers to choosing something that you can pin down. When we create a vague goal, we set ourselves up for failure because we’re never quite sure when we’ve crossed the finish line. So be sure to create something specific to you. For instance, “Learning how to say no,” rather than “getting better boundaries.” “Take one weekend day every month to myself” rather than “make time for myself.”

Measurable means just that–capable of being measured. People come to me all the time wanting “more”–”more patience,” “more time with kids,” “more happiness.” I always say in response, “as measured by what?” Measurement is crucial because it makes your progress visible. Without it, it’s easy to feel like you haven’t gotten anywhere or to exaggerate in your own mind how far you’ve come. It is possible to create a measurement for anything. I’ve just worked with a client to create a measure for finding a new relationship. He’s going to track the number of conversations with new women per week.

In thinking about measurement, it helps to understand that it can be external–pounds, dollars, days, lower blood pressure, etc.–or internal, a sense of inner ease or peace, greater energy or excitement. The numbers for the first category are obvious. When you’re measuring something internal, you need to put it on a scale, for instance -5 to +5, with -5 being the worst you ever felt and +5 being the best.

Imagine that you want to be able to be more tolerant of your in-laws. First you’d notice what your exasperation number is right now. You might say, -4. You decide that your measure of success will be getting that number to +3, feeling much more calm in your body. That way you’ll know when you can declare success–when you’ve gotten to +3 when around your in-laws.

Achievable means being realistic. Despite what magazine tabloids promise, you’re not going to lose 25 pounds in a week. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying something that’s just not possible. Look at your life and decide what you can reasonably do.

Relevant means something that matters to you. As I wrote in Week 1, if you don’t have a strong feeling reason for doing this thing, it’s too easy to drop it.

Time-bound refers to creating an end point. This gives you something to aim for. Even if this is something you’re planning on doing forever, it helps to put a time boundary around it so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Then when you get to the “end,” you can sign on again.

To try: It’s time for you to make a SMART goal to bring your intention into action. Here’s an example: I will exercise 30 minutes a day for a month.

Ready to get started? Post your intent and find community support and content to help you achieve it!

In this monthlong learning series, M.J. Ryan, author of the best-selling book This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True, will take you through four steps, each lasting one week, to help you figure out what your most important intentions are and give you the tools to make each a reality. Just joining the learning series? Go here to start at the beginning. provides content and community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.


Renya S.
Renya S6 years ago

very helpful!

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B7 years ago

thanks... very helpful

elle v.
elle v7 years ago

Good advice! clearly defined, measurable goals. I recall this from a managment seminar years ago.

Charles Webb
Charles Webb7 years ago

I agree with having specific goals is useful--like, "no more added salt" rather than "I'm going to lower my blood pressure". However even that sets you up for failure. The first time you have something so bland you need salt to tolerate it and you sprinkle on the salt, you have failed. Toss the whole thing, right? I don't like being told when I am to make changes and stick with them. I used to have a problem remembering to take my meds. Then I got one of those "Sun Mon Tue Wed" type med things. I have gotten better, and now hardly ever forget. If I do, I just move on and celebrate my progress. That works much better for me than setting aside a do-or-die day to succeed or fail.

Emma Frandsen
Past Member 7 years ago

I love how clearly this explains it, very helpful

Vural K.
Past Member 8 years ago


queen u.
queen u8 years ago

I was introduced to SMART goals through safety & environment managent systems & i really like it a lot

mary s.
mary s9 years ago

The advice is good. I learned this method while working for YMCA. That method is how we decide what our yearly goals are for ourselves and the kids in our programs.

Mat B.
Mat B9 years ago

This is good advice..I learned about this method in my Psychology of Sports class. Reaching a goal is easier when this method is used.