What are smart goals?

Updated: Mar 19, 2019

Smart goals are goals which are set by, or for, an individual and follow the mnemonic SMART. They are goals, or objectives, which by following the SMART acronym enable the individual to have an increased chance of successfully accomplishing the outcome compared to goals which are less defined. What does SMART stand for?


  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Timely and/or Tangible


So, now you know what smart goals are, how can you use them to help you? Let’s look at each part of the mnemonic. Some would argue that goals which aren’t well defined are merely dreams. Turn your dreams into achievable goals by using the SMART process.



Specific – A clear, defined and unambiguous goal

A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal.

For a goal to be specific consider six questions:

  • Who: Who is involved?

  • What: What do I want to accomplish?

  • Where: Identify a location.

  • When: Establish a time frame.

  • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

  • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

An example of a general might be, "I want to retire early”. But a specific goal would be “I want to retire happily at 50, with enough money to live comfortably thereafter and travel the world with my husband”


If you can answer these questions or a good proportion of them, your goal is specific. If you can’t, you are likely to find that your goal is too generic. If you can’t define what it is then how will you know what you need to do first in order to achieve it? Similarly, how will you know when you have been successful in achieving it?


Making a goal specific enables you to plan what your first and next steps will be, what you need to do and by when.


Measurable – give specific criteria which enables you to measure progress and success

In order to be a SMART goal, and therefore have a better chance of success, it needs to be measurable. By having measurable criteria you will be able to determine whether you are on track to reach your goal and allow you to check your progress along the way. This gives you a chance to make adjustments if required.


Ask yourself:

  • How much/How many?

  • How do I know if I have reached my goal?

  • What is my indicator of progress?

In our example to retire early, we might add the following measurements. I want to have $XX savings at my disposal by the age of 45. I will aim to save £XX a month between now and then.


Achievable – is it attainable, challenging but not impossible?

A SMART goal must be achievable and attainable. This isn’t to say it shouldn’t be challenging. In fact, by making goals challenging you help induce motivation and desire. If a goal is too easy is it really a goal? By considering how to achieve it, and overcoming the obstacles in your way you can plan ways to realise your goal.


Consider the following

  • Do I have the resources and capability to achieve this goal? If not what can I do to gain them?

  • What might stand in my way and how might I overcome these obstacles?

  • How have others been successful in similar goals?

Realistic – is it feasible, desirable and realistic?

Ask yourself whether the goal can be achieved realistically within the available time and with the given the available resources.

If you are looking to retire at 50 but have no pension, savings and still have a mortgage at 49 the goal is not realistic. You might redefine the specifics of your goal in order to make it achievable.

Ask yourself:

  • If the goal is realistic and within reach

  • Are you able to commit to what the goal requires of you?


Timely – define a target time-frame for completion

The goal must be time-specific to be SMART. It should have a start and end date in order to provide motivation and urgency.

  • Give the goal a deadline

And/or...

Tangible - T can also be tangible.

A goal is tangible when you can experience it with one of the senses - taste, touch, smell, sight or hearing. When your goal is tangible you have a better chance of making it specific and measurable and thus attainable.

  • How will achieving your goal make you feel?



As you start planning your specific goal you might find that you break it down into smaller goals. If this is the case make sure each smaller goal also follows the SMART mnemonic.

Our example of retiring early may feel like a dream rather than a goal. However, by breaking it down into smaller goals, all of which follow the SMART process, the dream becomes far more achievable.


An example of smaller goals might be, to seek promotions in order to climb the career ladder. Learning new skills in order to warrant better pay. Saving well in order to pay off mortgages. Putting energy into family and partnerships in order to have a better chance of a happy retirement with loved ones. Looking after health and well-being along the way. All of these can again be broken down into smaller goals, with the overarching goal of a long, healthy, wealthy and happy retirement taken at an early age.


Following the SMART acronym doesn’t guarantee success but along with desire, motivation and grit, it puts you at a greater advantage of achieving your goals.

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