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The Science of Setting and Achieving Smart Goals

If you’ve been in the business world for any length of time, you’ll have heard of the SMART goal setting system. But what does that acronym actually stand for? And more importantly, how can you use it to achieve your own goals?

In this article, we’ll take a look at the science behind SMART goal setting, and explore how you can use it to achieve your own objectives.

Let’s go!

What are SMART goals?

First, let’s have a quick refresher on what SMART goals actually are.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. The concept has been in use since 1981 after it was introduced by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham in a research paper.

Today, the framework is used by organizations and individuals alike to help set achievable goals — not just empty targets, but goals that are backed by a specific plan of action.

Benefits of Setting Smart Goals

There are many benefits to setting smart goals. Perhaps the most obvious is that it can help you achieve what you set out to do. But there are other, more scientific reasons for why setting and achieving smart goals is so important.

For one, setting a goal gives your brain a target to focus on. When you have a specific goal in mind, you are more likely to pay attention to the clues and opportunities that can help you achieve it. Setting a goal also gives you a sense of control over your future.

Finally, achieving a goal gives you a sense of accomplishment and boosts your self-confidence. When you complete a goal, it feels good! This positive feeling can spur you on to set and achieve even more goals.

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Of course, not all goals are created equal. So what makes a goal “smart”? Let’s run through each of the five SMART criteria in turn.

S is for Specific

SMART goals are specific, not vague. When you set a goal, you should be able to answer the question “What do you want to achieve?” Goals that are too vague are difficult to measure and track, which is essential for holding yourself accountable.

M is for Measurable

Your goal should also be measurable; you should be able to track progress and determine whether you’re on track or not. This helps to ensure that you’re making progress towards your objective and avoids the trap of working on goals that are never actually going to be achieved.

A is for Achievable

Ideally, your goal should also be achievable. That is, it should be something that you can actually accomplish given the resources and tools available to you. This doesn’t mean that your goals shouldn’t challenge you — after all, if a goal was easy to achieve, it probably wouldn’t be worth setting in the first place!

R is for Relevant

Your goal should also be relevant to your overall objectives. In other words, it should help you move closer to your long-term goals and fit in with your larger plans.

T is for Time-bound

Finally, all goals should be time-bound so that you have clear deadlines to work towards. This sense of urgency is essential for keeping you motivated and on track.

The Science Behind SMART

The SMART framework isn’t just an empty assertion — in fact, it holds scientific weight.

The origins of SMART can be traced back to George T. Doran’s 1981 paper, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T way to write management goals and objectives.” In it, Doran proposed the guidelines we outlined in the previous section.

Doran’s framework was based on the research of Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, two psychologists who studied goal setting in the 1970s and 1980s. Their work showed that specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than do easy or general ones.

The key, however, is that the goals must be specific and challenging, yet achievable — which is where the “A” in SMART comes in. If a goal is too easy, you won’t push yourself to achieve it. And if it’s too difficult, you’ll become discouraged and may give up altogether.

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This wasn’t the only research on goal setting — in fact, Locke and Latham’s work was just the beginning. In the years since, there have been hundreds of studies on goal setting, all of which support the basic tenets of SMART goals.

  • A Stamford study revealed that tasks with more specific instructions have a 75% higher completion rate.
  • A study by the American Psychological Association found that measuring progress leads to greater chances of success.
  • In terms of making goals realistic, the science is clear. A study by researchers Granot, Stern, and Balcetis showed that more realistic goals increase systolic blood pressure, giving you a boost of motivation to get up and go.

These are just a few examples of the science behind SMART goals. It’s no wonder that so many successful people use this framework to achieve their ambitious objectives!

Setting Your Own SMART Goals

Now that you know the science behind SMART goals, it’s time to start setting some of your own. To get started, answer the following questions:

  • What do you want to achieve?

This is where you need to be specific. What exactly do you want to accomplish? Here’s an example:

“I want to increase my blog’s traffic by 20% in the next three months.”

  • Why do you want to achieve it?

What’s your motivation for pursuing this goal? This is important to consider, as it will keep you motivated even when things get tough. For instance, if your goal is to increase your blog’s traffic, your motivation might be to build your brand or generate more leads.

  • How will you know if you’ve achieved it?

Again, this goes back to being specific. In order to know if you’ve increased your blog’s traffic by 20%, you’ll need to track your traffic numbers over time.

  • What steps do you need to take to achieve it?

This is where you’ll need to get creative. How can you increase your blog’s traffic by 20% in the next three months? Some ideas might include guest posting on other blogs, running social media ads, or reaching out to influencers in your niche.

  • What resources do you need to achieve it?

Do you need any special equipment or training to accomplish your goal? For example, if you’re planning on guest posting, you might need to spend some time researching which blogs accept guest posts.

  • What are the risks and potential roadblocks?

What might prevent you from achieving your goal? For instance, if you’re planning on running social media ads, one roadblock could be a lack of budget.

business plan checklist for setting SMART goals

Answering these questions will give you a solid foundation for setting your SMART goal. Remember, the more specific and challenging your goal is, the better — but it still needs to be achievable.

Pitfalls to Avoid When Setting SMART Goals

By following this guide, setting your goals can be a walk in the part — but as with any endeavor, there are potential potholes lurking along the way. Here are some common mistakes people make when setting goals, and how to avoid them:

1. Being superficially specific.

We’ve all been there — setting a goal that sounds good on paper but is actually quite vague. For example, saying you want to “gain clients” is a great ambition, but it’s not specific enough. How many clients? What kind of clients? Over what period of time?

Instead, get into the nitty-gritty details of what you want to achieve. A specific goal might look something like this: “I will gain five new clients within the next three months by targeting businesses in my local area that are in need of my services.”

2. Not making your goals public.

One of the best ways to achieve your goals is to make them known to others — this way, you’re more likely to be held accountable and stay on track. So don’t keep your goals to yourself; share them with friends, family, or colleagues.

3. Trying to do too much at once.

When you’re setting goals, it can be tempting to go overboard and try to achieve a million different things all at once. But this is usually a recipe for disaster, as you’re likely to end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed out — which isn’t conducive to achieving anything!

Focus on one or two goals at a time. Once you’ve achieved them, you can move on to the next ones on your list.

SMART goals presentation

4. Not setting deadlines.

If there’s no timeline attached to your goals, it’s all too easy to keep putting them off. After all, what’s the rush?

But by setting deadlines, you’re more likely to stay focused and motivated, as you have a specific date in mind that you need to achieve your goal by. So make sure to include deadlines when you’re setting your goals.

5. Not having a plan of action.

It’s not enough to just set your goals — you also need to have a plan of how you’re going to achieve them. This means breaking down your goal into smaller, more manageable steps that you can take on a daily or weekly basis.

For example, if your goal is to increase web traffic by 50%, your action plan might involve things like creating new blog content, guest posting on other websites, or running social media ads.

By following these tips, you can avoid the common mistakes people make when setting goals, and set yourself up for success.

Final Thoughts

Failed New Year’s Resolutions can be discouraging, and business failure can cause you to question your ability to set and achieve goals. However, don’t give in just yet! Use the science-backed tips above to increase your chances of success, and you may find that 2022 is your best business year yet.