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The Kennedy SMART Goal: How to Set a Goal and Stick to It

Every year, millions of Americans make new year’s resolutions.  As we all know, most of these crash and burn by February.  That’s because most people don’t really know how to set a goal.

Almost ten years ago, I learned the tried and true method to set a goal.  Every true goal follows what I had called the Kennedy Formula.  That’s because Kennedy will go down in history as setting one of the most famous goals of our time.  Read the following quote in a Boston Brahmin accent:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

In the great Space Race, Kennedy had given America a SMART goal.  It’s a powerful tool  for those who choose to follow it.  For the nation, it meant we beat the Russians to the Moon.

For me, setting SMART goals allowed me to run the Boston Marathon, get into a top 25 business school, and move to New York City.

So, what is a SMART goal?

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Actionable

R – Realistic

T – Time and Source Constrained

Rather than speaking in abstract terms, let’s use Kennedy’s goal of getting to the Moon.

Specific

Kennedy demanded that we get a guy to the Moon and then safely bring him back.  You can practically picture it in your mind.   He didn’t say we were going to shoot a man somewhere into space.  It’s a man, he’s going to the Moon, and he’s coming back safe.

Measurable

In Kennedy’s case, this was a simple “yes” or “no” on whether Neil Armstrong and crew perished in their flight.  For others, it could be a difference in numbers.  For example, before I took the GMAT, I set a goal of getting a 700 or above.  If I got below that, it meant that I had failed.

Actionable

Kennedy called on the nation to “commit itself”.  That means eyes on the prize.  Break the goal down.  Day by day, week by week.  Stick to it.

Realistic

While I’m sure Jack would have loved to go to Mars, we didn’t have the ability to get there during his time.  Getting to the Moon was a challenge, but it was do-able.  It’s about finding that sweet spot.  Aim too high, and you’ll give up on the goal almost immediately.  Aim too low, and it won’t feel like much.

Time and Source Constrained

I truly believe this last bit is where most resolutionists falter.  “I’m going to lose 10 pounds!”  …when?  Next week?  Ten years from now?  When you’re dead?  You have to be specific about when the goal is to be completed.  Kennedy demanded a man be on the Moon by the end of the decade, and we all know what happened in 1969.

And that’s pretty much it.  You now have the tools to go forth and do almost anything.  What will your SMART goal be?

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