How to Set Goals You Will Actually Achieve

We all have been there – we set a new goal and work towards it for a week, a month or, rarely, even longer, but eventually we give up because we do not see results. The SMART way of setting a goal may help you. In this case, SMART is an acronym and stands for

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Setting a goal involves a desire to change. It can be a big goal or a small goal, losing 30 kilos or 5 kilos, run 5km or a marathon, writing a thesis or a novel, whatever the change, you need to plan accordingly. How often do we hear someone say “I want to lose weight”, “I want to be fitter”, “I want to be healthier”, “I want to feel more attractive”, “I want to be stronger” etc. These are very common goals, but they are also very vague. How do you know that you have actually achieved it? How do you measure progress? Using the SMART principle, we make a goal more concrete to develop a useful action plan and, hopefully, finally succeed.


A goal should be specific. It should be clear and easy to understand. “To be healthier” is very vague, but to say “I want to quit smoking and start running” would be specific. “To be stronger” could be for example that you want to be able to lift your kids out of the car or pull up your own body weight.


In order to determine your specific goal you should ask yourself some questions. Most importantly:

  • Why?

This involves asking yourself what is your motivation to accomplish this goal, what is the purpose or benefit of accomplishing the goal. When I decided it was time to get back into shape I knew the purpose was to be a healthy mother and an attractive self-confident woman.

  • Who?

For whom are you setting your goal? Who is involved in accomplishing your goal besides you? Do you need support from your husband, children, other family members? Do you want to team up with a friend, do you need a Personal Trainer or a Health Coach?

  • What?

What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to finish your first 5k race? Do you want to fit into your dream skinny jeans? Do you want to be able to do 50 pushups?

  • Where?

Determine the location where you will be pursuing your goal. This might be more than one – depending on your goals this might involve a gym, a boot camp in your neighbourhood, travelling to another town to participate in a race or attend a course. Maybe it is your home and you need to make some extra space?


Make sure your goal is measurable – how else would you track your progress and know that you have achieved what you set out to do? It is worth giving proper thought to the measurement though.

For example, a common goal of losing weight is generally measured on the scales, in terms of how many kilos have been lost. However, this often leads to frustration as one can seem to be stuck on a plateau or even worse, actually gain weight despite one’s best efforts to lose weight. This can often be attributed to muscle gain, and since the same volume of muscle weighs more than fat, the welcome change in body composition is not reflected on the scales – on the contrary!

A better measure of success for “losing weight” could be body measurements such as waist to hip ratio or chest and arm circumference. Another way of measuring this kind of goal could be for example to fit again into one’s wedding dress or fit into one’s dream outfit. I believe a lot of women have a secret pair of jeans or a dress hidden in their closet, hoping that one day it will fit them perfectly. These clothes may be just perfect for measuring your success.

Of course there are other goals than losing weight. If, for example, your goal is to get fitter, you could measure your heart rate at a certain speed or the distance you cover in a certain time on the bicycle or running. Or, if you want to get stronger, you could count how many pushups and pullups you can do. Whatever your goal is, make sure you determine an appropriate way of measuring it.

Generally, being measurable means that your goal needs a number. It is also helpful to have process goals that you can measure.


I believe almost everything is attainable if you really want it. If it is really important to you, you will find a way – otherwise you will find an excuse, a set phrase that can be found on countless pinterest posts.

If you are 100% sure about your goal, you will develop the right mind set, abilities, and financial resources and you will make time for it.

Develop a plan on how you will achieve your goal. Divide the plan into smaller steps, each measurable, and work your way through it. With each step that you accomplish successfully, you build self-confidence and belief.

However, do not be too extreme with setting your number. Neither a very ambitious nor very modest goal will be very motivating. Only you can determine what you are capable of.

If you set yourself an unrealistic goal, you set yourself up for failure. I think unrealistic goals are unfortunately very common. With Photo shopped pictures of models and celebrities, claims such as “lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks” or “get a 6 pack in 15 days” printed bold on magazine covers, and so called “success” stories of actresses and models that snap back to their pre-pregnancy figure within a month after birth, it is no wonder we set ourselves unrealistic goals.

Social media do not help either. They claim to show real people and their real lives, but those photos are often airbrushed, filtered or something else. There are apps that make you slimmer on photos, or make your face smoother. Even the so called “no make-up selfies” are often enhanced and manipulated by apps. And we all know from our own experience how we take a lot of photos until we deem one acceptable and post-worthy, that shows us at the right angle and in the right light.

So whatever your goal is, realise first if you have any unrealistic self-expectations. If you do, talking about it with your sister, brother or best friend may help. We often feel like we are the only ones struggling, however, almost everyone has the same kind of insecurities.

Setting unrealistic goals for ourselves causes much stress, anxiety and unhappiness because we can only fail.

On the other hand, the goal must not be too easy to achieve either, as it is not very motivational. Only you can decide how realistic a goal is, but it may be worth to discuss it with your partner, best friend, mentor, Personal Trainer, nutritionist or doctor/therapist, depending on the kind of goal you want to work towards.


Set yourself a goal that is relevant to you. It should be relevant to you as a person and relevant to the situation you are currently in. If someone else is pressing a goal onto you, you will fail. If you only want to lose weight and get fitter because your doctor tells you to, you will fail. If you only want to start running because your friends want you to participate with them in a 5km race, you will most probably fail.

Choose a goal that is motivating to you by thinking about why you want to achieve it and for whom you want to achieve it (see “Specific” above). If a goal does not fit into your current situation, then choose another one that does.

A goal represents the will to change. Are you really committed to this change? If you are not fully committed, you will find obstacles and difficulties that will prevent you from sticking with your plan.

A good self-check is making a list with all the pros and cons of your chosen goal. For example, the pros for losing 5% body weight might be feeling confident in a bikini and less pain in your knee joint and the cons would be time commitment and effort. If the benefits outweigh the costs you are more likely to stick with your plan.


A goal should be tied to a timeframe. Without a time limit there is no sense of urgency and it is more difficult to motivate yourself. The timeframe has to be realistic though (see point above), not too ambitious and not too far out either. It is also a good idea to have time limits for sub-goals. If for example your goal is to feel comfortable showing off your new bikini by the start of summer holidays, a sub-goal may be to be able to run 3km without stopping after 4 weeks.


I have achieved a few things that I am proud of and most of them are the result of a plan. Some of the plans were changed in the course of the process – and there is nothing wrong with that I think. Goals can change too – they probably should as that is a sign of moving forward in your life. I guess what I am trying to say here is that the SMART way of setting a goal and developing an action plan doesn’t mean that it cannot be changed. Just stick with the SMART principle when you do.


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