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5 Setting SMART goals

Having selected a goal that you are keen to achieve, it is time to make sure it doesn’t just remain a pipe-dream. How do you check that it is realistic and achievable? Well, you need to think very carefully about exactly what it is you hope to achieve and how you phrase it – vague goals often have vague results! There is another technique to help you do this.

SMART is a popular mnemonic (you know what this means by now!) for shaping goals so that they are really achievable. You may have come across this term at work, as it is often used in business too. There are some slight variations on what the letters can stand for, but here they will stand for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Time limited

Now look at each of these in turn, to make sure you know exactly what they mean in this context.


You need to be very clear and precise about what you are setting out to do. Have a few attempts at expressing exactly what your goal is. Check that it can be interpreted in only one way.


How will you know if you have achieved your goal? You have to be able to measure it – in other words, assess whether or not you have achieved it.

So, try to make sure your goal is phrased in a way that allows you to monitor progress toward your goal. Sometimes this is straightforward; you can ‘measure’ achievement directly. For example, you can easily tell whether or not you have achieved a qualification – you have the badge or certificate!

Sometimes though, it is not so straightforward. How can you measure, for example as Charity would need to, developments in your communication skills? The best approach is to break them down into small stages, such as:

  1. maintain eye contact when speaking with people
  2. stop blushing when people notice me
  3. contribute to group conversations.


You are more likely to achieve your goal if you have people on your side. Do you remember Karen’s description of her learning community last week? As she recognised, most successful changes involve the support of others in some way.

If one of your goals is to study – even part-time – you may need to discuss this with family and friends to get them on your side. If you are working, you may need to persuade your manager that it is a good idea too.


Be realistic. Achieving new goals may well mean moving outside of your comfort zone. Don’t try to push yourself too far too quickly – be honest about your current qualities, knowledge and skills. You also need to think a little about how much support you have available to you and any problems you are likely to encounter along the way. (There is a tool to help you do this too, which you can use to help you draw up an action plan next week.)

Time limited

You need to set target dates for each of your steps and for your final long-term goal. As well as making it measurable, setting yourself a time frame for achieving your goal helps you concentrate. If you say, for example, ‘By the end of the year I will have …’ or ‘In three years’ time, I will be …’, it may prompt you to set things in motion.

Making goals SMART often seems a logical thing to do, but in practice it can be quite tricky. The next activity gives you an opportunity to think about how to do it.

Activity 3 Recognising SMART goals

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes for this activity.

Below are two goals that may be great goals, but are not very SMART. What is missing? How might you rewrite them more SMARTly?

  1. I want to get my life in balance.
  2. I want to be working with people more by the time I am 40.

Go through the SMART criteria and jot down a few ideas. You may decide that you need to break these down into several shorter goals (or steps) to make them SMART.


There are many possible answers to this question. If yours are different from the suggestions below, that’s fine. The main thing you should have done is to have made the goals more specific. If you were able to address some of the other aspects of SMART, that’s even better!

Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. The person looking for more balance in his/her life might have written something like:

By the end of the summer, I will have:

  • mapped how much time I am spending each week on work, family, friends, the gym and my photography
  • encouraged my partner to do the same
  • discussed what we have each found out
  • agreed what, if anything, we would like to change
  • drawn up a plan of how we can help each other out more.
  1. The person looking for a career with people might have written:

By the end of the year, I will have talked to a youth worker and a social worker to find out:

  • whether or not either of those would be the right job for me (and/or get some other ideas)
  • what qualifications and experience I would need to do them
  • what sources of funding might be available for training.