A – Attainable.
Sounds obvious (and it is), but the science tells us how important this is. Goals that are so lofty they seem out of reach tend to demotivate us. Who’s going to work hard for something that they believe is impossible to attain? Not me. But if you have a target that’s clear and feels difficult but attainable, that has proven to provide the most motivation.

This is also a good time to talk about milestones. Many goals do seem, if not unattainable, at least too lofty to imagine at the start. But by breaking any goal down into smaller steps which are attainable, measurable and clear (specific), you’ll find that your motivation goes up, not down.

R – Realistic.
This is maybe the trickiest of the 5 elements, because realistic is not code for “think small”. Obviously, if you’re 5’10”, setting a goal to secure an NBA contract is a stretch, but within reason most goals are achievable provided they involve something that you are passionate about, you are committed to “stay the course” as long as necessary, and you are willing to take consistent action (translation: work at it) until you get there.

In my opinion, where the concept of being realistic is more important is in your daily actions and the deadlines you set to achieve them. Be aggressive, because the research tells us it’s more motivating and rewarding to achieve a challenging goal, but don’t set yourself up for continual disappointment of always missing your deadlines. That’s no fun, and misses the important opportunity to reward yourself along the way.

T – Time Sensitive.
Ah, my favorite! Each element of the SMART acronym is important, but this is the “biggy”. Failure to set a deadline for each action item on the path to your goal will virtually insure you let things start to slip. Many people identify their goal and decide what they must do to achieve it, but don’t set deadlines to help insure they are always moving forward toward the goal.

Using a timeline gives you a means to measure your progress, it helps keep you moving forward every single day, and will maximize your performance. Make your goal, and more importantly your milestones, time sensitive by setting deadlines and do whatever you have to do (within reason) to meet those timelines. Frankly, few people will care if you reach your goal, and certainly only you lose the benefit of achieving it.

So do yourself a favor and set deadlines to your goal, and use my tips to keep that timeline in front of yourself all the time.

Summary of key points:

  1. A complete goal has 5 key components: It is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Sensitive (SMART)
  2. Each of these elements should be present in your goal to give you the best chance to achieve it
  3. Failure to set a deadline for a goal (Time Sensitive) is essential, and frequently overlooked or not followed

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