“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” (Napoleon Hill/Inspirational, 2014)

Do you write down your goals? You probably have ideas rolling around in your mind about what you want to accomplish now, soon, next year, and over your lifetime, but have you actually written them down? World-renowned speaker and best-selling author Brian Tracy notes that only 3 percent of adults have written goals and plans, but “this 3 percent earn more than all of the other 97 percent put together” (Tracy, 2010, p 65, emphasis his).

Tracy’s explanation for why the simple act of setting goals will get you the life you want is that if you have a clear goal and a plan to achieve it, you have a track to run on every day instead of being side-tracked by distractions and diversions.

In this post we’ll explore ways to make your goals more powerful, including setting SMART goals and staying on track with long-term focus.

Setting SMART goals

A tried-but-true means of accelerating the power of your goals is to make SMART ones. This mnemonic urges you to set goals which are:

S — Specific (or Significant)
M — Measurable (or Meaningful)
A — Attainable (or Action-oriented)
R — Relevant (or Rewarding)
T — Time-bound (or Trackable) (MindTools, 2015)

As an example here, if one of your health/fitness goals is “to become really fit”, that’s great, but it isn’t stated very powerfully and in fact, is not even written in such a way that you will know when you have succeeded! However, if you decide that taking up running is going to make you fit and that fitness is a relevant goal because your new partner loves doing all sorts of sports adventures, you might rewrite the goal as: “To run the half-marathon in the next community-sponsored race on (date) in under two hours.” That goal is specific, measurable, probably attainable (as many run a half-marathon in under two hours), relevant to your life, and also includes a deadline, at which time you assess whether you succeeded or have not succeeded yet.

Training for and running a half-marathon is probably a shorter-term focus. Here are some tips for maintaining course when the goals will take longer to realise.

Staying on track with long-term focus

As you get in the habit of regularly setting and reviewing your goals, you will come to notice what works and what does not. You may also discover that “keeping on keeping on” is different for a shorter-term goal than staying focused for longer-term ones. A few broad guidelines can help.

1. State your goals positively; they are more motivating that way than achieving the avoidance of something. You may fear, for example, that you will fail a course, but stated as a goal, it might be to pass your XYZ course with a 90 percent average.

2. Keep your operational goals small and recognise progress. The low-level goals (toward the bottom of the funnel) need to be achievable and also, you need to see them as achievable. If they are too large, it is dispiriting to keep going a long time without seeing progress you can measure. Also, smaller goals give you more chance to reward yourself, which in turn gives you more motivation to keep going with them. In general, research shows that it is easier to stay motivated if you see your goals as an opportunity to learn something new rather than as a means of doing something. Keeping a brief journal may help to recognise progress, and there are burgeoning numbers of “apps” for smartphones and other devices which help you keep track of progress.

3. Set performance goals, not outcome goals. You want to have goals over which you have as much control as possible, as again, it is highly discouraging to set an outcome over which you have no control. A netballer, for example, would be better to have a personal goal to score 60 percent (or whatever percentage) of the time she gets the ball and is in the “strike zone” rather than setting a goal to beat another team by a certain number of points.

4. Set realistic goals and do not be afraid to modify them. You may set a goal as a beginner in a field which, say, an expert in that field would be reluctant to set; your inexperience or ignorance may not allow you to know just how difficult the obstacles are that you will face. Many people have goals set for them by employers, parents, teachers, and others; these may be unrealistic and more, inappropriate or irrelevant to what you really want. Without your desire to achieve a goal — any goal — it becomes hugely difficult. If you have set a goal too low and achieve it too easily, you can always set the next one higher!

5. Stay on course. Some people start working on a goal only to veer off to another goal. Instead, jot down ideas for new goals and “park” them until you finish working on the goal you are engaging. And a crucial strategy…

6. Make time for long-term goals. Most people know the difference between “urgent” and “important”, but not everyone respects it in how they manage their time. Here we note that long-term goals — always important but not always urgent — are often vulnerable to interruption by “urgent-but-not-important” tasks. To ensure that you have continuing regular time to advance the long-term goals, you may need to pay attention to scheduling issues (scheduling non-interruptible time, for example) or to reducing bad habits you have, such as excessive television watching or aimless surfing on the Web.

7. Continually ask: “What is my contribution to my world and my work? What (work) results might I achieve that people will pay me for? What goals, therefore, will help me achieve those results? (Tracy, 2015; Mind Tools, 2015)


  • Mind Tools. (2015). Personal goal setting: planning to live your life your way. MindTools.com. Retrieved on 30 December, 2015, from: hyperlink.
  • Tracy, B. (2010). No excuses! The power of self-discipline. New York: MJF Books.
  • Tracy, B. (2015). Interview with Estrada College.