Goal-setting: This time its PERSONAL

Everybody knows you need to be SMART and I am 🙂 … but I still get stuck achieving goals from time-to-time. I set myself the target of running another marathon last year, but then never got off the ground with training… I keep saying I’ll stop drinking Coca-Cola, but after a few weeks, I’m back on it. What’s going wrong?

My PERSONAL acronym outlines some of the better goal-setting habits I’ve come across and attempts to identify the missing elements that will turn your SMART goals into something a little more likely to get done.



Goals set from a negative frame of mind simply don’t work… ..or if they do, they require a huge amount of effort. Consider the following goals:

  • “Stop drinking Coca-Cola”
  • “Lose weight”

In order to even understand these goals my brain has first to compute the positive concept of drinking Coca-Cola or having weight, which is precisely what I want to stop doing by saying “stop” or start losing by saying “lose”. These are examples of negative goals.

If I wanted to be really positive, I might say something like:

  • “Drink only water”
  • “Weight 72kg”

To make positive goals, you need to:

  • Ensure to use only positive grammar (no negations)
  • Ensure that each individual word has positive active power (no “stop” words like in the Coca-Cola example)
  • Avoid sub-assertive language in your goals (e.g. “try” and “maybe”)
  • Be optimistic!



When I set goals, my wife (who is a kinesiology therapist) always asks me “And how do you feel about that?” Feelings should not be overlooked when setting goals. If you want to succeed in getting positive action off the ground and actually succeed in your goals, you have to:

  • Include feelings in the goal-setting process
  • Be sure that you feel good about the goal when actually setting it

To include feelings in the goal-setting process, ask yourself how you will feel when the goal is accomplished… …and don’t forget to make these feelings positive, e.g.

  • Not “I will stop feeling bad about sugar abuse” but “I will feel good about my eating and drinking habits”

..and if you don’t feel good about the goal when you actually set it, that is usually a sign that you need first to work on something else before starting that particular goal (in my case, feeling energetic without the use of sugary drinks).

Tip: One good way to include feelings is to use “I” statements in your goal-setting process



Ah, the SMART classic R!

Relevance is all about making your goals worthy. In the business environment, we imagine that a goal must make sense to the employee, the manager and the company. In PERSONAL goal-setting, relevance is accounted for on 4 levels:

  • Relevant to me = completion of the goal has to have some positive impact for me
  • Relevant to relevant others = completion of the goal has to have some positive impact for others
  • Relevant to my environment = completion of the goals will make my world a better place
  • Relevant to life = completion of the goal will support the universe and everything in it

Now, how do I make sense of my Coca-Cola example? When I can truly understand the relevance of the goal, it will become much easier to achieve!



Another SMART word! You have to make goals specific!

For example, I have set a goal about running the 20km Brussels race this year. I started by saying:

  • “Run the 20km of Brussels this year”

Although I found it realistic and achievable, it was not specific enough to actually enthuse me (more on that later). Running the 20k is too easy. I needed a challenge! To create this personal challenge and make me actually move my arse, I have added a specific measurable element: Time

  • “Run the 20km of Brussels this year in 1h51m or under”

The inclusion of this specific element ensures that I have something really measurable and (more importantly) something I can plan for better.

Tip: To really make your goals specific, I propose to make a kind of work breakdown structure to help understand in-depth what is meant by each part of the goal.



The objective part of a goal might have included the measurable element of SMART but is actually about 2 other important parts of objectivity:

  • When measuring success, the level of objectiveness must be proportional to the goal being set
  • Even if my goal is not about numbers, I must include some observable measurements

An example of objectiveness being proportional: If you weighed 120kgs and wanted to lose weight, you might set the goal of “weighing 100kgs”. When it comes to making a measure, jumping on the bathroom scales might be acceptable. But imagine you were running a race and had made a bet with a friend to complete it in less than 4 hours: Would he accept your word on how long it took or would you get an objective 3rd party to time things?

…and when my goals are not numbers based, I still need to have something to measure objectively afterwards. For example: “I will feel better when running” or “I will be perceived as more smiley” or “My colleagues will consider me to be more polite and empathetic”.



One the problems I have when setting goals is that I just don’t get started! This is usually for one of 3 reasons:

  • Procrastination
  • Completion of the goal is too far ahead in time to feel relevant to me
  • I can’t do anything now

By setting goals that make sense in the “now” you can avoid all sorts of worry and inaction. The simplest way to bring “now” into your goals is to ensure that something can be done immediately today, however small. This “now” action will get you started and give energy to your goal.

As an example, last year my wife and I sat down to complete an exercise from Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Work Week” about our dreams. Both she and I said we wanted to buy our dream house. Although we had no idea what the house would look like and how to go about trading our actual home for something better, we were very careful to identify immediate actions that could be taken (thanks for the advice Tim!). We agreed that she would simply give a call to some estate-agents to get an estimation of the value of our house. This one simple action was completed within the first week and gave birth to the second action: The next week, we found an example of a nice house we liked and noted down the price so that I could have a decent conversation with my bank manager about budgets… …before you now it, we bought our farm and lived happily ever after J

Whatever goals you set, make sure you do something now. For as Goethe says, there is providence in action!



The last of the SMART elements that must nonetheless be retained here: Make sure goals are achievable.

Yes, I can run a marathon. Yes, I can do it in just over 4 hours. I can probably even do it in less than 4 hours. But I will never be a marathon world-record holder! …and if I try, I will only spend a whole lot of energy disappointing myself.

To ensure goals are achievable, ask yourself:

  • What resources do I need to achieve this? Who or what can help me?
  • What am I missing? What don’t I know that might have a negative impact?
  • Do I have enough time to achieve my goal?
  • How am I underestimating the goal or overestimating my own ability?



I had to work hard to find a way to make this last idea fit into “L” and if you have any better suggestions for the words, let me know. …. But the point if simple: My goal has to breathe life into me if I am going to get anywhere! If I am not feeling the El-Magico inside, it’s not worth doing.

Tim Ferriss suggests in “The 4-Hour Work Week” that goals that excite you are far more achievable than goals that don’t excite you. I believe that we all have the natural resources we need to achieve the things we really believe in. If you set a goal and you don’t believe in it (or yourself) you can forget about it. But if you do…… Wow !!!



Good luck with your own goal-setting. If you need more inspiration, check out these links:


Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment…

Follow me on twitter or visit www.infinitelearning.be for more learning and development resources

Published by Dan Steer

For the last 17 years, I have been helping businesses and individuals to achieve their goals through delivery of tailor-made learning and development initiatives. Most of the time, I deliver training, coach individuals, facilitate brainstorming sessions, round-table meetings and workshops. As a consultant, I help my clients to promote and profit from the infinite learning opportunities within and without their own organisation, drawing on my L+D management experience, strategic approach and creativity, As a speaker, I inspire through story, humour and pertinent little bits of theory. I believe that the world would be a better place if people were happily working on their mission with competence and alignment to personal values. As a freelance worker since 2008, I have helped more than 11000 individuals to improve their presentation, communication, commercial, leadership and negotiation skills. I confront people with their own behaviour and convictions, facilitating and giving pertinent feedback and clear ideas on where to continue good work and improve. I seek to satisfy my clients with creative and to-the-point solutions… …and I make music, but no-one pays me much for it yet :-) First single here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0ShlY95X4E

Join the Conversation


  1. As goals are achieved through actions and motivation links decision to action, “personal” goal settings sounds realy good to me !!



  2. Without elaboration, an alternative to SMART: SMARTER GOAL-SETTING (GOALS-IMAGES OF ACHIEVEMENT)


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