Last week I wrote about that nagging feeling that it’s impossible to reach your goals. So I thought I’d write about what successful goal setting can look – and feel – like. The first step to creating goals we can reach is to reflect on our goals from last year, both the ones we accomplished and those that we missed. Then, we use that information to create effective, attainable goals for the coming year.

Goals should be catalysts

In my experience, when we start off by setting our goals from a position of strength and invest the time to create them with a clear head, we create better goals. As I said last week, we often create goals as reactions to events instead of as catalysts. When we switch from passive mode (reacting) to active (catalyst), we automatically move to a powerful, positive place. And, in that intentional space, we create goals that resonate differently because we’re claiming the power of intention.

I mentioned that we want to work with clear heads. This means that we take the time to evaluate our past year. We carefully sift through both our positive and negative experiences, holding them up to the light of day so we can analyze and own both the things that went right and the things that went wrong.  When we invest the time to do this exercise faithfully and with positive intention, we can use the insights we uncover to move forward with purpose.

Don’t go into next year with last year’s baggage

When we don’t take the time to examine our failures, we move into the next year carrying baggage from last year. Just so you know, even though they felt like failures, they weren’t total fails. Instead, they were disappointments – expectations that weren’t met. We have to take time to evaluate where we struggled and figure out the source of the struggles.

Was it a lack of confidence, lack of ability, lack of resources, or a lack of support? Was it just the wrong goal or was it the wrong approach at that time? Exploring these questions gives us valuable insights we can apply to our next set of goals. And, it helps us move forward with positive intentions, carrying little or no negative baggage from the previous year.

Own your successes

On the flip side, if we don’t take the time to also identify our successes, we can’t own them fully. We can’t build on them. We can’t pull them apart and see why we succeeded! It’s a shame that we frequently overlook the process of deeply examining our successes and mining them for clues about how to move forward. If you think about it, really digging into our successes allows us to repeat them.

The corollary to this is that when we deeply examine our successes we have the opportunity to own them at a different level. We can turn them into stories that we tell ourselves and others as we explain who we are and what we do. And, when we share our wins in the form of stories, guess what? It doesn’t feel like bragging. It’s just our story. So, those successes can be harnessed and used to keep us moving forward.

SMART goals are effective goals

Now that we’ve mined last year for insights to inform our goal setting for next year, it’s time to look at how to develop effective goals. I do this, and teach my clients to do this, by creating SMART goals. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound.

The concept behind SMART goals posits that goals grounded in specificity and reality are more effective. That when we take the time to apply the SMART technique to our hopes and dreams, we turn them into goals we can act on. We get real and we get specific.

Not such a SMART goal

For example, you want to change careers. You realize that your current job isn’t the right fit. You know it’s time to move on, but you don’t know where to start. You could set a goal like this:

This year I’m going to figure out what work I want to do next.

That’s a legitimate goal. But there are several problems that keep it from being effective. First, it’s vague. What does figure out mean? Are you looking for a new career or just a new job? How will you do this?

Second, the time frame is amorphous. This year is 365 days long. Which of those 365 days are you going to use to do this? How long will it take?

Third, it’s not quantifiable. How will you know that you’ve figured it out?

It is a winner on relevance – you want to find a job that’s a better match for you.


Now let’s apply the SMART technique to your goal. First, we’re going to narrow the time frame down so you can see progress quickly.

In the first 30 days of this year, I will research different careers that I’m interested in by spending 30 minutes a day reading articles, watching videos, and reading job descriptions of jobs that are interesting to me.

Specific:  You are spending 30 minutes a day researching potential jobs.

Measurable:  You can measure both the time frame (30 days) and the amount of time you invest in the goal daily.

Attainable:  You can do everything you’ve listed – and here’s what makes it a stretch – even on the days you don’t really want to do the work.

Relevant:  You want a new career.

Time bound:  You put a 30 day limit on reaching the goal.

The reworked goal gives you an actionable item that moves you closer to your dream. Then, as you invest the time to create multiple goals around your dream, you’ll see you’re developing a plan to reach both the goals and the dream.

Take charge of your future

When you take the time to evaluate your past year; mine the information information you uncover for clues on how to move forward successfully into the new year; own both your disappointments and your successes; take the time to create SMART goals to help you reach your dreams, you are taking charge of your future.

You’re not waiting on someone else to tell you what to do; you’re not waiting for random things to happen to you and magically tell you how to get where you want to go, and you’re not throwing your hands in the air and giving up on your dreams.

Stake your claim to success

Instead, you are powerfully staking your claim to your own success. You are doing the footwork it takes to be ready when opportunity presents itself. Goals do that for you. You can do that for you.