If you asked your colleagues or acquaintances for their definition of goal setting, they’d probably all have similar answers: setting your goals means picking something to which you aspire - be it personal, professional, spiritual, or other - and pursuing it until you’re satisfied.


What most people won’t include in their definition of goal setting are the specific, verifiable, and quantifiable targets that constitute the path to success. Psychologists and behavioral therapists employ a very different definition of goal setting than the layman; they recognize the value of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Here, “S.M.A.R.T.” is acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realist, and Time-targeted goals. A goal that meats all five of these criteria is an attainable goal indeed.


Compare, for example, two mid-level employees who both have aspirations of turning their ho-hum nine-to-five careers into high-powered executive positions. One of these work-a-day drones decides to start small and increase his daily productivity by a modest 20 percent. That will give him something tangible and measurable to show his supervisors at his next performance review. The other decides simply to set the goal of “become a CEO at some point”. He has no real path to his goal. He’s set up to fail.


It’s important to use the S.M.A.R.T. definition of goal setting because it allows you to focus your efforts and not expend energy in blind attempts to simply “do your best.” You need direction. You need measurable. And you need a time-table. After all, it’s pretty hard to “do your best” when you don’t have a way of measuring exactly what your best really is! Personal accountability is something that you can only realize if you hold yourself to a schedule and eliminate the temptation to put things off until tomorrow.


Your definition of goal setting should shift depending on your career, or your aspirations. No two philosophies are ever going to be the same, and that’s ok. What’s true of all goal-setting definitions is that they work best in practice when they’re accompanied by tangible milestones and regular self-assessment. Let yourself enjoy the small victories that accompany each S.M.A.R.T. goal that you meet, and you’ll feel even “SMARTer” for planning your goals properly.