“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” – Napoleon Hill

You are here on this planet for the duration. What will you do with the time that is allotted to you? Who will you become? What will you have in your life: which people, things, and experiences? What will your legacy be? When you know the answers to these questions, you will be able to direct your energies, impulses, and activities – your will – with greater clarity toward the achievements that really matter to you. Knowing these answers will help you attract and generate that which will enrich and enliven your days, allowing you to experience ever-greater levels of satisfaction, fulfilment, and joy. Your outer life will align with your inner values, and you will be living in greater wholeness. Does this sound good? It all depends on you being able to set meaningful goals.

Here we explore a a tried-but-true means of accelerating the power of your goals – by making 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.

So now you’ve set your SMART goals… but how do you follow them through?

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 your course, but stated as a goal, it might be to pass your course with a 90 percent average.

2. Keep your operational goals small and recognise progress. Big goals 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. If you are unclear on the difference, be sure to fix that by prioritising what is important NOW. 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?