Owning It: SMART Goal-Setting for Real Success

It’s said that a goal without a plan is just a wish.

Also, that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

SMART goals were originally a corporate, project management tool that have found popularity in mainstream goal-setting.  Each letter in the word SMART stands for a characteristic that an effective goal should possess.  These characteristics are as follows:


In my previous post, I mentioned how some people set poor goals for themselves.  With 2019 newly upon us, I’ve had the opportunity to view many people’s New Year’s resolutions—that is, their goals for the year—on social media.

Because I follow a lot of writers, many of the poor goals I’ve seen have been writing-related.  The two most common ones were to either get an agent or get a publishing deal in 2019, but other bad examples include a goal to,

  • Win a writing contest
  • Win a writing award
  • Get into a writing mentorship program
  • Get on a bestseller list
  • Increase book sales

Non-writing examples of bad SMART goals include things like:

  • Getting a job (or a new job)
  • Getting a girlfriend/boyfriend/romantic partner
  • Making new friends

The ineffectiveness of these goals has nothing to do with the person’s perceived skill or deservingness in attaining them.

The writer who resolves to get an agent may be a fantastic writer and storyteller whose novels would delight the world.   Someone wanting to find a romantic partner may be the kindest, most fun, most engaging person around.

This satisfies the A and the R of the SMART goals criteria. Meanwhile, New Year’s resolutions by nature are time-bound.  So too are these goals specific.

Rather, the problem relates to the M criterion.  How do you truly measure progress in something whose outcome you can’t control?

You can’t, which is an implicit deficiency with the SMART goals criteria itself.

Do it yourself

Years ago, I attended a public salon on goal-setting presented by Vancouver psychologist Dr. Randy Paterson.  He discussed SMART goals during this lecture, but he listed the five characteristics a bit differently:

M—my own

The M criterion is a small but powerful change.  Goals that are your own depend solely upon your efforts and actions, which is the only thing anyone has any control over in this world.

That fantastic writer has no control whatsoever over whether they actually land an agent.

They can do all the work to make it a possibility—write an excellent book; research appropriate agents who represent the type of book they’ve written; write a strong query letter; follow the submission guidelines; query many agents; go to pitch sessions at conferences; enter online pitch contests.

But whether any agent actually says yes is the choice of the agent alone.

Same with the romance-seeker: they can create an online dating profile; ask their friends to set them up with other singles; put themselves in situations where they are constantly meeting new people; pay extra attention to their appearance.  But they have no control over whether they’ll feel an attraction to anyone or whether anyone will feel attracted to them.

Setting goals that you have no control over opens yourself up to being needlessly disappointed where really you should be anything but.  If you put in the work to favour a desired outcome and that outcome doesn’t happen, this is hardly through any fault of your own.

Luck just wasn’t on your side.

The work itself should be a source of pride and give you a sense of accomplishment.

The work itself should be your goal, rather than whatever dreams you have hovering in the background.

Only through devotion to what you yourself can make or break are you pursuing a truly smart SMART goal.


Incidentally, measurement (specified in the conventional SMART goal criteria) is still a valuable part of goal-setting.  Recognizing this importance is what led me to do quarterly assessments of my New Year’s resolutions last year.

Tracking your progress is essential for keeping you aware of what’s working well and what isn’t.  It lets you know in which areas you should stay the course and which require a course adjustment.

It makes your goals smarter—literally.  According to sources, adding an -ER to your SMART goals means they are also Evaluated and Reviewed, although to me, these two actions mean the same thing.

A better addition, in my opinion, is Evaluated and Revised, which leaves room to make amendments as circumstances change.

Or perhaps Evaluated and Rewarded, at regular intervals, to help keep you excited about your progress.

Anything that will give you the greatest chance of succeeding overall.

Do you use the SMART goal system?  Do you revise and/or reward your goals-in-progress?

(Image source #1 and #2)

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