Using SMART goals is a great way to ensure your project gets the best chance at success.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
My track coach in high school taught us to set smart goals as we determined our competition goals for the year, both on the individual level and the team level. A smart goal works at any scale, so it’s definitely worth using in any scenario! It takes some thought to get it right, but that time spent at the beginning brainstorming pays off with success later down the line.
I will cover the steps of setting a smart goal, and provide examples from my track days to show how you can apply it yourself.
The goal must be defined and easy to understand. Leave very little room for conjecture here – you want everything to be laid out on the table. Don’t be vague! In track, I could set my goal as “compete better than I did last year”. This statement tells us nothing. What is the time frame? Do I want a personal best, or to compete better against a better team or individual? What event do I want to get better in? A better goal would be “I want to run two seconds faster in the 400 meter dash at the state championship meet in June this year.”
A very important part of accomplishing a goal is having a way to track progress over time. Otherwise, it may feel like you’re not getting anything done, and you may abandon it. You want to have ways to assess progress over time and to determine when you have reached the goal.
This is fairly simple for runners, as the end result is very defines. From the previous example, if I run two seconds faster in the 400 meter, I know that goal is complete. I also want to set checkpoints along the way. If the state championship meet is two months away, then I should aim to reduce my 400 meter time by half a second every two weeks.
It’s always important to ask yourself: Has this been done by others in a similar position to me? Do I have what I need to succeed? This is probably the most difficult to determine – we want to set goals that will challenge us, but that we know we can complete with enough effort. If my coach has never helped someone run below 50 seconds in the 400 meter and my goal is to run 49 seconds, the goal might not be impossible – but that is one factor to consider. Maybe the workouts are not designed for that kind of speed, so I may need to seek outside help to define a new fitness plan.
At the end of the day, your goal must be realistic to execute and accomplish. If I determine I need a very special diet and fitness program to run 2 seconds faster in the 400m in two months, but that program costs thousands of dollars to put together including my own personal gym and trainer, then that’s not a realistic goal. Additionally, if in past years I have only clipped off half a second each year, how can I expect to perform 4x better this year?
The final consideration for a smart goal is the timeline you want to accomplish it. You must set a deadline. A goal without a start and end date is doomed to fail. You will most likely never feel the urge to work on your goal if you don’t care when it ends.
In my example, the start date for my goal is the beginning of that track season. The end date is two months later in June at the state championship meet. This gives me an exact date my goal must be accomplished by.