Provision #496: S.M.A.R.T. GOALS

Laser Provision

New Year’s resolutions often fail to be realized because we do not bother to answer the basic questions that turn dreams into deeds: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? How much? and How often? The process of turning New Year’s resolutions into S.M.A.R.T. goals can avoid that pitfall, making us more successful in life and work. What are S.M.A.R.T. goals and how do they work? Read on to learn the details.

LifeTrek Provision

Last week’s Provision focused on the millions of people who made New Year’s Resolutions a few weeks ago. Perhaps you are among that number. Those resolutions often include self-improvement goals, such as the following:

  1. Spend more time with family and friends.
  2. Improve fitness.
  3. Lose weight.
  4. Stop smoking.
  5. Enjoy life more.
  6. Quit drinking.
  7. Get out of debt.
  8. Learn something new.
  9. Help others.
  10. Get organized.

Such resolutions are good but not sufficient. They are good because they represent a positive intention. That alone can shift the playing field, and many have written about the power of intention. To quote Sonia Choquette, “Your thought creates.  Therefore if you want to create an experience, you must begin by having a clear, focused thought of that experience.”

The reason this works is because an intention represents a decision that shifts our attention. Once we decide to do something, such as to lose weight, we suddenly see the world in a different way. We notice the foods in the house, the foods we order, and the foods in the news like never before. As this noticing continues, it grows in both quantity and quality. Once it reaches a critical mass, changes start to happen for good.

There is, in fact, no way to make a self-directed change without making a decision and setting an intention. Our choices and desires are that important. They manifest themselves whether we want them to or not. Like weeds growing through the cracks in a sidewalk, clear decisions and focused intentions find ways break through even the toughest of barriers. They just need to be “clear” and “focused.”

That’s why those ten common New Year’s resolutions are good but not sufficient: they are vague and diffuse expressions of a heartfelt desire. What does it mean to lose weight? If I lose weight today and gain weight tomorrow, does that satisfy my resolution? Technically, yes. I did, in fact, lose weight. But if I gain more weight than I lose, chances are I will neither feel satisfied with the outcome nor good about myself. Chances are I will throw up my hands in frustration, failure, and fear.

So I encourage you to be clear and focused about your resolutions. I encourage you to get S.M.A.R.T. about your goals. Are you familiar with the acronym for S.M.A.R.T.? It’s quite common in many work settings, but people often fail to take this one home from the office. That’s too bad, because it’s part of the secret to making dreams come true. Clear and focused goals, the kind that create experiences, are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. Without those qualities, goals fail to gain traction.

— Specific. Specific goals define the specific details of what is going to happen. There are no details behind any of those New Year’s resolutions. That’s the problem. They do not paint a clear picture, or any picture, as to what it looks like to lose weight, to stop smoking, to enjoy life more, or to spend more time with family and friends.

S.M.A.R.T. goals don’t make that mistake. They provide enough details to write a good short story. Example: “I want to get rid of all the grain, dairy, and processed-food products in my house and I want to replace them with fresh fruits, vegetables, lean-meat, and wild fish.”

Can’t you just see that goal taking shape? I can see a big garbage can, with a black plastic liner, and a cardboard box in the middle of the kitchen floor. I can see someone going through the pantry, then the refrigerator, and finally the freezer, shelf by shelf. I can see him reading labels, looking at ingredients, and putting perishables into the can (for disposal) and non-perishables into the box (for donation to a food pantry).

In the background, I can hear loud music playing, perhaps with Patti Labelle singing, “I’ve a got a new attitude!” I can then see him visiting several different food stores, comparing quality, sources, pricing, and availability, before purchasing the fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish they need to restock and reload.

Another example: “I want to write in my journal when I first wake up in the morning, before I do anything else. In my journal I want to write down at least one thing that I am looking forward to in my day.”

Can’t you just see that goal taking shape? I can see a bound blank book sitting on a table next to someone’s favorite chair. As they wake up, I can see someone stretching her toes and recollecting her dreams. Once she is more fully awake, I can see her going over to the chair, sitting down, picking up the pen and book, and starting to write. She writes whatever comes to mind, then pauses, takes a few deep breaths, thinks about her day, and writes down her favorite outlook. She closes the book. It’s time to get moving.

When goals are specific enough, they will immediately generate such images and visualizations. As a result, they will also generate movement and action. When goals become targets that beckon, when they spawn clear and specific pictures as to our way in the world, it’s easy to get ourselves into gear.

— Measurable.  Measurable goals define the measures we will use to track what is happening and when the goals are finally achieved. In the case of the above examples, we might check the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer every Sunday to audit the presence of grain, dairy, or processed-food products or again we might put a gold star on a visible calendar whenever we start our day as specified.

Notice the way those measures are worded: they could be used both before and after we achieve the goal. They support both the action and the maintenance stages of change. It’s great to identify measures that can become a permanent part of our routine. That’s why people use pill boxes, for example: at a glance, it’s easy to answer the question, “Did I take my pills today?” We don’t use that measure just while we are learning to take our pills. We use that measure forever, because it assists us to stay on track.

— Achievable.  Achievable goals define the limits of what is going to happen. They take current realities into consideration. They don’t ask someone to run a marathon before they can walk around the block.

There are many factors to consider vis-•-vis the achievability of a goal, both internal and external. These include one’s current situation, financial resources, past achievements, risk tolerance, available time, and social support. For any number of reasons, for example, it may not be feasible to eliminate all grain, dairy, and processed-food products from the house or to start the day with journal writing before doing anything else. Those feasibilities need to be discovered, explored, tested, and respected in the setting of goals. Working within the realm of the possible is critical to setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.

— Relevant.  Relevant goals define the importance of what is going to happen. They take the path of development into consideration. They do ask someone to walk around the block before they run a marathon.

If we fail to see the relevance of our immediate goals to our long-range plans, if we do not understand how meters lead to miles which lead to marathons, we will never give our immediate goals more than half-hearted attention. With a clear line of sight as to how one thing leads to another,  it’s easy to not only get started but also to stay on track.

That’s what I like about marathon training schedules: they give you a steady progression of distances and workouts until race day. Make the plan and work the plan. Follow the schedule and you’ll be ready. Each day is relevant to the next. Apart from personal mastery experiences, there’s nothing that builds confidence like having relevant goals that define the importance of what you are doing.

— Timely.  Timely goals define the timeframe of what is going to happen. All the specific, measurable, achievable, and relevant goals in the world may never happen if we forget to answer the basic question: “When are we going to do this?” “When are we going to clean out that kitchen?” “When are we going to start the morning routine?”

S.M.A.R.T. goals answer all the important questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? How much? and How often? When you answer those questions, New Year’s resolutions will get into high gear. When you answer those questions, you will truly be intelligent as well as successful about your goals.

As an example of how this works, consider the following comments from a reader in response to last week’s Provision:

I love your commentaries and look forward to reading them each week. Last week’s discussion about resolutions was particularly interesting to me since none of the top resolutions included mine: drive less. I had recently watched “An Inconvenient Truth” and decided I could make some changes to reduce my personal carbon footprint.

I had always driven to work since the train option got me back to town later than the hard deadline for picking up my children from their after school program, for which I paid $20 per day. I decided instead to hire a local, responsible, 18-year-old to collect my children after school and pay her $25. The train costs me $7 and I don’t drive, I don’t pay $18 for parking, I am guaranteed 20 minutes of brisk walking to and from the station to the office, and I don’t have to fight Boston traffic with all the stress and uncertainty that entails. All told, my bank account, my psyche, the environment, and my conscience are all better off. The kids didn’t like the aftercare program all that much and are happier at home.

(The key to this is of course the wonderful 18-year-old. How did I find her? For me the the obvious place to start is a conversation with the ladies who run the local library and know everyone in town, their children and their reputations.)

I usually think of change as requiring expense or sacrifice and I am shocked to find that my previous habit of driving was born from a lack of imagination and was a far less sensible solution than the one I have today. Perhaps your readers might be able to look at the cost of their own driving habits and assess if they are also falling into the same trap I was in?

What a marvelous example of turning a New Year’s resolution into a S.M.A.R.T. goal that is now accomplished and becoming routine. I hope that you, too, can light a fire under your goals by making them S.M.A.R.T.

Coaching Inquiries: How S.M.A.R.T. are your resolutions? Are there areas where you would like to tighten them up? What questions do you have in mind? Who could you talk with about your goals to help make them more specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely? When and where could you have such a conversation? How could you make it so?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


Hello and thank you for your weekly Provision. I like the word Provision • not sure why • it just sounds right. I found your site on AvantGo and it sounded worthwhile. I am not disappointed, unlike a lot of websites that offer similar promises. I read the provision on “How to be Happy” It made a lot sense, so much so that I want to share it with a friend. Please point me to the link on your site, even better, how I can search the archive more effectively so I can find it on my own. Again Thanks for being present. (Ed. Note: That was adapted from provision #423 Click. To find something on our site, go to our search engine Click and type in key words or expressions. You can also scroll through the archive Click, looking at the titles.)


I’ve been reading the provisions on the Paleo-based diet, and recently sent for the book you recommended. I have two questions: (1) What is the difference between flax oil, flaxseed oil, and fish oil? Do they all have Omega 3? Can I grind flax seeds instead of using the oil? (Ed. Note: There is no difference between flax and flaxseed oil. They are just different names for the oil that comes from flax seeds. Fish oil comes from the tissues of fatty fish. Both flax and fish oils contain Omega 3 fatty acids, but they are different types (ALA in flax, EPA and DHA in fish). The fatty acids in fish oil have more health benefits than the fatty acids in flax seed oil. To get the full health benefits of flax, it’s best to grind the seeds, as you suggest, adding them to smoothies or salads.)

(2) I have been vegetarian for over 10 years, though I eat some fish and eggs. (used to eat dairy – but have cut way back). How can I make the Paleo diet work without eating beef, chicken, etc.? Thank you very much for your important work. (Ed. Note: I don’t know of a vegetarian version of the Paleo diet. For what’s it’s worth: I was a vegetarian for years. What got me to switch to the Paleo diet was the discovery of local and free-range meats. Eating meat from happy animals resolved my ethical issues.)


Your last Provision is very nice and true. I wish it were a reality for the majority. It should be taught by your parents, teachers and mentors when you are a child but that’s very hit and miss. In truth, we live in a me, me, I, I world that very few really care about unless something negative impacts them directly. It’s a sorry state of being.


To inspire goal setting, your readers might want to watch the 212 movie Click.


I have been to your site many times, reviewing the info. I am currently a dietitian working in a hospital setting counseling outpatients and I love what coaching can do for this work! Thanks for all that you do to teach and share the coaching profession with others.   



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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