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SMART Objectives: Good Goals vs. Bad Goals

Break down goal setting into a simple formula that thousands of my students have used to make more money, find better jobs, start businesses and more.

Ramit Sethi

Let’s be honest: people suck at goal setting.

Even when we really want to do something, we have a hard time achieving it.

(Need proof? Just consider that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fail by February.)

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But, it’s not our fault. Nobody teaches us how to really achieve what we set out to do.

Today I’m going to break down goal setting into a simple formula that thousands of my students have used to make more money, find better jobs, start businesses and more.

Let’s talk about a goal many of us have, improving our health.

How many millions of Americans say they want to get fit, then beat themselves up for doing nothing?

Watch how the way we state our goal dramatically changes the likelihood it will really happen:

EXAMPLE #1: HEALTH

  • TERRIBLE GOAL: “I want to get fit.”
  • BAD GOAL: “I want to lose 10lbs.”
  • GOOD GOAL: “I want to eat 3 healthy meals per week and go to the gym 2x/week for 15 minutes.”

 

 

Notice how we’re focusing on the process at first, and starting off conservative: Anyone can eat just 3 healthy meals in a week. And anyone can go to the gym for 15 minutes. Set yourself up to win.

The next step is to make it easy: on your calendar, set 1 hour on Sundays to buy 3 healthy meals and leave them in your fridge, packed and ready to eat. Also set two 1-hour slots for the gym (leaving time for travel).

Here’s how this looks for other big goals:

EXAMPLE #2: FINANCES

  • TERRIBLE GOAL: “I need to get better with money.”
  • BAD GOAL: “I want to save $1,000 this year.”
  • GOOD GOAL: “I want to have $40 per paycheck automatically transferred to my vacation savings fund for 1 year.”

 

 

EXAMPLE #3: SOCIAL SKILLS

  • TERRIBLE GOAL: “I want to have better social skills.”
  • BAD GOAL: “I want to work on my storytelling so I’m not so awkward at parties.”
  • GOOD GOAL: “I want to take the improv class in my city every Monday night for 6 weeks.”

 

 

There’s a simple formula for transforming big goals into actionable steps…

The answer is SMART Objectives

When we have a broad goal like “get healthy,” the failure comes in not knowing where to start. What do we do this month, this week, TODAY, to make that happen?
If we can’t answer that simply, how are we supposed to act on it?

 

 

We need to create a SMART Objective. SMART Objectives are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-oriented

 

So how do you convert a goal like “get fit” into a SMART objective?

I created this checklist to use every time you have a new goal.

Checklist for writing a SMART Objective

Specific: Just like Example #1 above, start with the process at first. Decide on a specific action step you can take.

  • ✔ What will you achieve?
  • ✔ What does it look like? (What do you see in your mind when you picture yourself working towards your goal?)
  • ✔ What is the action step?

Measurable: How will you know if you’ve reached your goal or not? There are different levels of “healthy” or “financially sound.” Avoid words that may have vague meanings like, “learn” or “feel” since you can’t measure them. Instead, use action verbs like “run,” “save,” or “write.” Then, turn those words into quantifiable benchmarks.

You need to be able to answer the question, “Did I get it done? If not, how much further do I have to go?”

  • ✔ How will you know when it is done?
  • ✔ What are some objective benchmarks you can hit along the way?
  • ✔ Would someone else be able to tell that it’s complete?
  • ✔ Is it quantifiable?

Attainable: My mentor BJ Fogg talks a lot about Tiny Habits — little things that start us on the path to success. The best way to achieve a goal is not to rely on motivation, but instead make it ridiculously easy for your future self to do the right thing. Instead of committing to running 5 days a week, start with one day and move up from there.

  • ✔ Are there available resources to achieve the objective?
  • ✔ Do you need a gym membership, a new bank account, new clothes?
  • ✔ Am I set up to do this even when I don’t have “motivation”?
  • ✔ Are there any time or money constraints that need to be considered? Am I being too ambitious to start out? (Remember you can always be more aggressive with your goal later on.)

Relevant: Ask yourself, in the scheme of all the things you want to try, do you really care about this? When I went to my cousin’s wedding in India a few years ago, I saw one of my friends order his food in fluent Hindi, and I thought, “Hmmmm…I should take Hindi lessons.” But when I got back to NYC, I put it on my to-do list, only to skip over it for MONTHS. The truth is, I really didn’t care enough to try and learn Hindi. It wasn’t important enough. When I acknowledged I wasn’t going to do it and crossed it off my list, it freed me up to focus on doing the things that I really wanted to do.

  • ✔ Why am I doing this?
  • ✔ Is this a priority for me?
  • ✔ Will it compete with other goals in my life?

Time-oriented: Give yourself a deadline to reassess your goal. And put it on the calendar! I like to re-evaluate my goals every 3-months to make sure they are still Attainable and Relevant.

  • ✔ Is there a deadline?
  • ✔ Did I put it on the calendar?
  • ✔ Will I know in 3 months if I’m on the right track?

Goal teardown: Are these objectives SMART?

A few years ago I asked some of my students to share their goals for the week.

Here’s what they came up with:

 

 

At first glance, these seem like good goals, but using the SMART formula, we find they fall short.

 

 

Look at the difference when they applied the SMART system:

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see how being specific, being realistic, and using systems can help you actually achieve your goals.

I put together a fee guide on how to achieve any goal you set and I want to share it with you now.

If you’re ready to stop making excuses, break out of that rut, and make a major change in your life, this free guide is for you.

 

 

Take a look at what’s inside:

  • How to wake up productive and get more done by noon than most people do all day (covered in Part 2)
  • “If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d ____.” I’ll teach you how to keep accomplishing goals even when you “don’t feel like it” (covered in Part 3)
  • Ever spent a busy day filled with distractions — answering emails and putting out fires — and walked away feeling like you finished nothing? I’ll show you how to stay laser-focused on tasks and eliminate distractions (covered in Part 6)

This guide includes HD videos, downloadable worksheets, lessons from the world’s leading experts on behavioral change, and much, much more.

So check it out. Try out the techniques. And enjoy the results you get for the rest of your life.
Remember — building even one new habit around your fitness, your business, or your relationships could change everything. This guide shows you how to build those habits and much more.

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