Holbeck College

What SMART goals are missing

Published 15 May 2024. Written by Chris Worfolk.

Woman jumping in a city

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It is a great way to set goals. But I think it could be better. Here is why.

R stands for relevant. But in my experience, we often tend to skip over this. Relevant means there is a clear motivation for us to achieve the goal. Understanding why a goal is important is critical because when things get tough, we're going to start questioning why we're doing it, and if there isn't a powerful reason, we are more likely to give up.

So how can we put some more power back into the R?

Energising goals

We can set goals that are not just meaningful, but energising and nurturing as well. We can ask ourselves "Does this goal energise me? Am I excited to pursue it?" If the answer to that question is no, that may be a clue that we need to keep working on the relevance.

Sometimes we need to change the goal. But often, we just need to dig a little deeper. Let's say you have a course to finish. Maybe your goal is to complete the course and you say to yourself "It is relevant to me because I want to improve my coaching skills".

That makes it relevant, but is it energising? By digging down further we can often capture both. "I want to finish the course because it will make me a better coach, which will allow me to be more helpful to my clients, and I will get to see the delight on their faces when they succeed." Now our goal is both relevant and energising.

Using our strengths

Relevant can also mean relevant to us as individuals with our unique skill sets. Traditional psychology often focuses on weaknesses. But positive psychology teaches us that if we play to our strengths, we feel more energised and often get better results.

Let's say you run a small business and want to improve your skills. Do you learn accounting so you can better understand the books? Do you learn social media marketing so you can try viral advertising? Do you improve your technical skills so you have to outsource fewer technical tasks?

The answer probably lies in what your strengths are. What is relevant is not just what your business needs, but also what you would be good at. If you have a head for numbers, you're going to be more motivated to learn accounting. If you are a tech wizard, what else could you learn that will help you? Playing to these strengths could set you apart from the competition.


SMART is a great framework for setting goals. But if you're using SMART, make sure you pay attention to the R. The most relevant goals are ones that energise us to complete the task because of meaningful reasons and playing to our strengths.