SMART Goals – The Secret to Achievable & Realistic Goals

For effective goal setting, follow the acronym SMART to stay on track:
S – Specific: Did you use the 5 Ws to create a specific goal?
M – Measurable: How will you measure your progress? 
A – Achievable: Is this goal within my capabilities?  
R – Realistic: Are my current resources and time sufficient to reach my goal? 
T – Timely: Is there a deadline to my goal?  

Why Goals?

I once was a student whose grades were ranging from C’s to D’s. I would have done almost anything to get out of this uncomfortable situation. If I set a goal like “I want to get straight A’s” without any call to action or plan, I’d probably have given up halfway. A lot of the time, we lose sight of our goal. Perhaps it was more challenging than we thought and we lost our motivation, or we feel as if there is no longer a purpose to our goal. Setting goals is an incredibly powerful tool that motivates you to focus on the things that really matter and gives you a sense of direction. Without goals, it would be like driving down a dark road with no headlights, not knowing where you’ll end up.  

So, knowing what I know now, how would I advise the past me in curating the perfect, achievable goal? 


The solution in creating realistic and achievable goals is in the acronym itself – SMART, a term coined by Peter Drucker.  

S – Specific

Ask yourself the five Ws to determine if your goal is specific:  

Who is part of this goal?
What do I aim to achieve?
Why is this goal important to me?
Where is this goal going to take place?
When is this goal going to be accomplished?

An unspecific, general goal would be the one I mentioned above: “I want to get straight A’s”. To make it more specific, I would say “I want to achieve straight A’s by the end of December by studying in the library five times a week in order to be considered for the Dean’s List.” 

M – Measurable  

Measuring your progress can determine if you are on track in achieving your goal and contributes to continuous motivation which is important to pursuing your goals. Ask yourself: 

– How many times a week will I work on this goal? 
– What does progress look like?

To make my goal measurable, I should add: “I will study each course’s material for two hours a week and attend every class.  I will have made progress once I attend each lecture, read all the readings, and understood all the material this week.” 

A – Achievable  

In order to be consistently motivated to reach your goal, your goal must be achievable – it must be challenging enough but still within your capabilities. If you’re not sure if your goals are achievable, ask yourself: 

– Is this goal at the right level of difficulty for me? If not, what can I do to achieve this goal? 
– What resources do I need to reach this goal? 

R – Realistic

Having a realistic goal means that you will be able to achieve it given your current resources and time. A goal that is realistic means that you believe you will be able to achieve it with your action plan. To determine if your goal is realistic, ask yourself: 

– Is this goal within reach given my time and resources? 
– Am I able to commit to this goal? 

It would be quite unrealistic for me to commit to studying for ten hours everyday and I’d give up pretty quickly. Instead, if I commit to studying for two hours each day, I’ll feel like I have the capabilities to reach my goal which adds to my sense of motivation.

T – Timely  

To feel consistently motivated to reach your goal, a sense of urgency plays a critical role. Your goal must be time-constrained – there must be a start and end date. Ask yourself: 

– Do I have a deadline?

For example, starting tomorrow, I will study for two hours everyday until December 13. 

To put it all together using the SMART goal formula, I would have the following goal: “On September 5, I will start studying for two hours, five times a week in order to be considered for the Dean’s List. By the end of the semester (which is December 13), I know I will have reached my goal if I understand all of my course material and receive A’s on my tests and assignments.” 

For more information on SMART goals visit:  
Corporate Finance Institute – SMART goals

Author: Cathy Xie 
Editor: Zac Lo 
Researcher: Anosha Subramaniam