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How to Create Effective Goals

By Edited Apr 26, 2016 1 0
Credit: Via Flickr: Jeff Blackler "Treadmill"

Creating goals can be both effective and inspiring when done properly. However, most people are casual goal setters and most commonly around New Years. The resolutions are made and eventually forgotten, leading to de-motivation and a hit on the self-esteem. 

Creating effective goals is not difficult; it just requires a little more thought and planning. I will show you the SMART acronym to get you on the right track and down the road of success. 


Effective goals must be specific. To measure specificity, try answering the five W's: 

Who: who is involved in performing/accomplishing the goal
What: what does the end look like? What is being accomplished?
Where: where will this take place?
When: when will this take place? Is it a one time thing or ongoing?
Why: is there a reason, purpose or benefit to accomplishing this?

Narrowing your goals down to being as specific as possible will increase your chances of success, and will help gauge whether or not you are on the right track. 


Being measurable has an objective component. It tells you whether or not something has been accomplished or to what degree progress has been made. Having a goal of "save money" is difficult to measure. You could argue that saving a penny is technically "saving money", but this is not helpful. Putting a measurable aspect to it, such as "save $1,000" adds objectiveness. Now, not only can you determine if it was met, but so could anyone else that is helping you in your progress. 

Learning to set appropriate goals and achieving them will lead to a great boost in self-esteem and happiness


There is nothing more de-motivating than setting goals that are not attainable. You are setting yourself up for failure right from the beginning, which will hinder your ability to set goals in the future. Being attainable means you have the knowledge, skills and abilities to make them happen. It may require financial or other specific resources. Sifting through these type of requirements to ensure you are setting yourself up to succeed is important. 

Goals should be challenging, but within reason. One that is too difficult is not attainable and will not be achieved. One that is too easy might be achieved, but leaves a lot of potential on the table. Finding that right balance of attainability (somewhere closer to difficult, but not too difficult) is how you can get the most out of your goals. 


Rewards can be a great motivator. They give us something to strive towards with a benefit in the end. The actual or perceived reward that awaits you at the end of accomplishing your goal will play a major role in your level of motivation, and thus chances of success. For example, if I was offered $20 and given six months to dunk a basketball (I'm only 5'9"), I would pass on the offer and not accept the challenge. If I was offered a reward of $1 million and given six months, I would do everything in my power to set and accomplish that goal. What changed? The reward!

Rewards are usually not monetary. They can be internal, such as a desired feeling of accomplishment or a boost in self-esteem (if I can lose 20 lbs. I will feel better in my swimsuit). Or they can be external (if I finish this report by Thursday my boss will give me Friday off). 

Ultimately, the reward has to be great enough to motivate the individual to accomplish the goal. If the end benefit is minimal or not applicable to the individual, their likelihood of success is much lower.


There has to be an ending point when setting a goal. Leaving the time frame open ended takes away any sense of urgency and any attempt at bench marking progress. If my goal is to save $1,000 I need an ending point - by when? Saving money in a one month period is much different than in a year. It is important to pick a timeline that is feasible but also stretching. If saving $1,000 in a week would be too difficult, make the timeline longer. If saving that amount in one year would be too simple, shorten the amount of time. 

A timeline also allows for bench marking, or tracking progress. If I'm trying to save that $1,000 in six months time, I know that I should be saving around $150 each month. If on month three I have only saved $200, I am behind and need to reevaluate my efforts. Conversely, if on month three I have saved $900, I need to consider upping my goal or decide to accomplish it early. Progress should be checked frequently when attempting to accomplish goals. This allows adequate time to adjust and reevaluate if necessary.

Putting it all Together

These are the five components that every effective goal should have: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reward, Time. If any of these lack the chances of success is much lower. Here is what a complete goal with all five components might look like:

Goal: Lose weight by improving diet and exercise, 50 lbs. in twelve months. 

The goal is moderately specific - lose weight and by means of diet and exercise. Not bad. It is easily measurable - 50 lbs is objective. It is likely attainable, but that would depend on the individual persons ability and access to a gym. Does it have a reward? If this individual was told by their doctor to lose 50 lbs or they are likely to suffer a heart attack, that is probably a very high reward. It could also be to feel better, look more physically appealing, etc. The level of reward will depend on the individual. The time frame is there - six months. It might help to make the time frame a bit more specific, say to lose the weight by December 30th. 

Consider the example goal above with this one: Lose weight. See how different these goals are? And yet, the latter is one of the most common new years resolutions. No wonder people sign up for gym memberships in January and quit going in February!

Give it a try! Think of some goals you already have or make some new one, and put them to the SMART test. How do they look? Do they pass? 



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