Self motivation - how to set goals


We all have our own unique goals in life, both professionally and personally. Whether it’s to get a promotion, buy a house, or learn a new language, we all have a general idea of what we’d like to achieve. But these goals can often seem like a far off, intangible dream that we hope will come to fruition one day. Even if we’re working towards them, we may feel as though we are getting closer, when in reality, we’re working the wrong way.

The SMART technique is a method commonly used by successful business people to keep their careers and businesses on track. While it is most commonly used in business, the SMART technique can be applied to any goal, and will make sure we stay on track and do the right kind of work, giving us the best chance of bringing our dreams to reality. So, what is the SMART technique?


The problem with having goals is that what we envision the world to be like is not necessarily how everyone else envisions it. Oftentimes people think they have set out a goal for themselves, but in reality, it is not specific enough for them to really work towards. It’s easy to fall into the trap of working hard in the hopes of getting a promotion, but have you set your eye on a specific position? If so, working hard in your current role isn’t enough to get the job. You need to look at the specific skills it will require, and learn or strengthen those skills. Specificity is key to ensuring you don’t work hard on the wrong kind of work, so make sure your goals are crystal clear.


Once you have set yourself a specific goal, you need some way to measure your progress. If you want to learn a new language, it’s great to sit down with a book or an app and start learning new words and phrases, but how will you measure the quality of your development? Taking a qualifying exam is one option, as is gradually building up your skills so you can watch a foreign film without subtitles. Having a method to measure your success also helps you avoid stagnating, which will make you feel like you’re putting in the work and not seeing the rewards.


While it’s great to dream big, you need to ensure that the goals you set are realistic. If not, you could waste a lot of time working towards something that was unattainable from the outset, no matter how much enthusiasm or vigour you approach it with. Not only will this leave you feeling disheartened at the end of the journey, but you’ll have wasted time you could have otherwise spent working towards a similar, but more-realistic, goal.

The best way to ensure that your goals are attainable is to break them down into smaller goals. Identify the skills needed for a promotion, and approach them one by one, rather than all at once. Start off by seeing how far you can run, and how much farther you need to be able to go before you can finish a marathon. Breaking a goal down into smaller goals will help you separate the attainable from the unrealistic, and will make you much more likely to achieve them.


When it comes to setting smaller goals, you need to make sure that they are relevant. This is the difference between working hard and working well. So if you are hoping for a promotion, don’t just work harder at what you already do. Look ahead and see what the people in that position are doing. Better yet, start reading up and becoming regularly involved with your area of interest, so you can identify any emerging skills that may not be needed yet, but will be in high-demand in five years’ time. Alternatively, if you are training for a marathon, while you need to increase your running distance, you also need to look at things like diet, footwear, and sleep.


Possibly the most important step is to make sure your goals are time-bound. If not, it’s very easy for them to fall by the wayside without us feeling as if they have. The reason putting a time-frame on your goals is helpful is that it makes you accountable. If you don’t hit the target, it’s not the end of the world, but you will have to ask yourself why not. Do you have legitimate reasons? Did you underestimate the difficulty of it? If so, it’s time to re-evaluate and commit yourself to a more realistic time frame.

The SMART technique is a simple way of keeping you on track and personally accountable for achieving your goals, whatever they may be. So if there is something you really want to achieve, break out a pen and paper, and set out your goals according to the criteria above. You don’t need to tell anyone else, just make sure you’re being completely true to yourself, as you’re the only one who truly stands to gain or lose from them. 

David Clarke