Specific goals are goals that have clear and well-defined objectives.
Research shows that being specific about your goals makes you three times more likely to complete those goals. It’s an even higher indicator of success than intrinsic motivation.
To make your goals more specific, write down what it will look like when you reach your goal. You can write down features like:
- What the goal looks like when it’s achieved
- When it will be achieved
- Where you will achieve it
- How you will get there
- Why you want to achieve that goal
Similarly, in the study cited above, the research participants were asked to write:
“During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”
Specific Goals and the SMART Framework
Being specific is central to the SMART Goals framework. It is the first of five key points you need to articulate to flesh out your goal. The five points in the SMART acronym are: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Why is it Important that Goals be Specific?
Goals need to be specific to help us to start seeing what the path will be like to get there.
Too often, our goal is a general statement like “get more motivated”, “stay resilient”, and “strive for excellence”.
When we write down the specifics of our goals, we can go beyond a generalized statement about our desires. Instead, we will be able to note down tangible things that will show what success will look like.
Specific Goals Examples
1. Apply for 5 Jobs within 10 Days
Goal: “I will apply for 5 jobs within 20 days.”
Why it is specific: This goal adds specific details like how many jobs you will apply for and the timeframe in which it will be achieved. To be more specific, state exactly what those 5 jobs are. For example, you could say “I will apply for a job at Costco on Wednesday at 4 pm, Target on Friday at 4 pm, Walmart on Sunday at 4 pm, Safeway on Tuesday at 4 pm, and Trader Joe’s on the following Thursday at 4 pm.”
|Specific||I will apply for 5 jobs within 10 days. I will apply for a job at Costco on Wednesday at 4 pm, Target on Friday at 4 pm, Walmart on Sunday at 4 pm, Safeway on Tuesday at 4 pm, and Trader Joe’s on the following Thursday at 4 pm.|
|Measurable||At 4 pm on each day stated above, I will be able to check off whether or not I have submitted an application.|
|Achievable||I have a resume put together so I know I can take it in. All I need to do is put together cover letters and find the correct email address to send the application.|
|Relevant||Getting a job will help me pay my bills and get me through my university degree.|
|Time-Bound||I will complete this goal within 10 days. The final deadline is Thursday at 4 pm next week.|
2. Achieve a Grade of 80% or Above in my Exam
Goal: “I will aim to achieve a Grade of 80% or above in my Psychology exam that I will sit on the 25th of May.”
Why it is specific: The goal states exactly what grade you want in exactly which exam. To be more specific, you could explain how you will study to ensure you achieve the goal.
|Specific||I aim to achieve a Grade of 80% or above in my psychology exam that I will sit on the 25th of May. To achieve this goal, I will use flashcards to memorize important points for the exam every day between 5.30 pm and 6 pm.|
|Measurable||The measurement for success is 80% in the exam.|
|Achievable||I earned 77% in my previous psychology exam. I am close to 80% and this push of extra effort will help me get there.|
|Relevant||Achieving 80% will help me keep my GPA up so I can best position myself to graduate and get a job in the field of psychology.|
|Time-Bound||My goal needs to be met by the 25th of May when I will sit my exam.|
3. Run the City Marathon in July in Under 5 and a Half Hours
Goal: “I will run the city marathon taking place in July in under 5 and a half hours.”
Why it is specific: This goal states what marathon you will run, the date you will run it, and the target time to beat. To be more specific, you could explain how you will train to ensure you meet the goal.
|Specific||I will run the city marathon taking place in July in under 5 and a half hours. To achieve this goal, I will do a 15km run every Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunda afternoon.|
|Measurable||The measurement for success is completing the marathon in under 5 and a half hours.|
|Achievable||I ran my last marathon in 5 hours and 45 minutes. This is an incremental step up.|
|Relevant||Running the marathon in under 5 and a half hours is a culmination of 18 months of fitness training.|
|Time-Bound||The city marathon will take place on July 15.|
4. Complete a 15-Slide Presentation on Goal-Setting Strategies
Goal: “I will complete a 15-Slide presentation on goal-setting strategies for my team at work on the 15th of this month.”
Why it is specific: The goal states how many slides the presentation will be, what it will be about, and when it will be presented.
|Specific||I will complete a 15-Slide presentation on goal-setting strategies for my team at work on the 15th of this month. The strategies discussed in the presentation are the SMART goals framework and the SWOT analysis framework.|
|Measurable||Measures of success include: having the presentation 15 slides long, delivering the presentation according to my boss’s requirements, and being able to answer all questions after the presentation.|
|Achievable||I have good public speaking skills so I can do this.|
|Relevant||The presentation will help me demonstrate my skills in my job and may help me obtain a promotion.|
|Time-Bound||The presentation will be given on the 15th of this month.|
5. Memorize 50 Language Flashcards in 7 Days
Goal: “I will memorize 50 language flashcards in 7 days. The words on the flashcards will be the top 50 verbs in the Spanish language.”
Why it is specific: The goal states how many flashcards to memorize and what the words will be on the flashcards.
|Specific||I will memorize 50 language flashcards in 7 days. The words on the flashcards will be the top 50 verbs in the Spanish language.|
|Measurable||I can get a friend to test me at the end of the 7 days to measure my score out of 50.|
|Achievable||This comes to less than 10 new words a day which I think is achievable.|
|Relevant||Learning these verbs is necessary to pass my Spanish exams.|
|Time-Bound||The goal will conclude in 7 days.|
6. Grow my Business to earn $10,000 per Month by December
Goal: “I will grow my business so I earn $10,000 per month by December this year.”
Why it is specific: I have found a specific monetary goal and a specific date. However, I could be more specific by stating exactly how I will get there.
|Specific||I will grow my business so I earn $10,000 per month by December this year. I will do this by working later in the afternoons so I can take on 5 more clients per month.|
|Measurable||I can measure this by looking at my income in the month of December.|
|Achievable||Because I have added more hours to my work week I think I can achieve this.|
|Relevant||Making more money can help me and my family live more comfortably.|
|Time-Bound||The goal will be met by 31 December.|
7. Write 700 Words per Day on my Memoir
Goal: “I will write 700 words per day on my memoir for 100 days to get it to 70,000 words long for the first draft.”
Why it is specific:
|Specific||I have specifically stated an exact number of words to write per day.|
|Measurable||I can use a work counter on Google Docs to measure my word count.|
|Achievable||700 words usually take me 1 hour to write and I’ll free up an hour between 8 pm and 9 pm to write these words daily.|
|Relevant||I want my memoir completed by the end of the year and this will help me reach that broader goal.|
|Time-Bound||The goal will be met exactly 100 days from now.|
8. Read One Book per Month for 12 Months
Goal: “I will read one book per month for 12 months.”
Why it is specific: I have given an exact number of books to read. To be more specific, I could name which book I will read each month.
|Specific||I will read one book per month for 12 months. The first seven books will be the books from the Harry Potter series, in order, followed by the three Lord of the Rings books, then The Hobbit, and in the final month I will read the first book in the Hunger Games series.|
|Measurable||I can assess my progress at the end of each month.|
|Achievable||I will need to read on average 15 pages per day. I could read these in 20 minutes every night before bed, which is achievable.|
|Relevant||Reading these books will help me improve my reading skills which has been a long-term goal of mine.|
|Time-Bound||The goal will be completed in exactly 12 months from now.|
9. Do 30 Pushups Per Day for 30 Days
Goal: “I will do 30 pushups per day for 30 days.”
Why it is specific: I’ve noted exactly what I will do and for how long. I could be more specific about when I’d do them each day.
|Specific||I will do 30 pushups per day for 30 days. I will do the pushups at 8 am straight after drinking my morning smoothie.|
|Measurable||I can measure my success each day as well as at the end of the 30 days.|
|Achievable||I have the time to do this and the core strength that I can get started.|
|Relevant||This will help me develop more strength which will meet my exercise goal.|
|Time-Bound||The goal will be met in exactly 30 days from now.|
10. Save $5000 in 8 Months
Goal: “I will save $5000 in 8 months.”
Why it is specific: It has an exact amount of money and exact timeframe. I can break this down to $625 per month which can be achieved if I save 20% of my monthly income.
|Specific||I will save $5000 in 8 months by saving 20% of my monthly income every month.|
|Measurable||I can track progress monthly (in dollar amounts) as well as at the end of the 8-month period.|
|Achievable||This requires me to save 20% of my income. After looking at my expenses, I believe I can do this.|
|Relevant||Saving this money will help me pay my college bills.|
|Time-Bound||The time limit is 8 months.|
11. Paint my Bedroom Walls Baby Blue within 12 Hours
Goal: “I will paint my bedroom walls baby blue within 12 hours.”
Why it is specific: This goal states exactly what I will do, the color I will use, which room, and the timeframe.
|Specific||I will paint my bedroom walls baby blue within 12 hours.|
|Measurable||I can track progress hour by hour by looking at how far around the room I have gotten.|
|Achievable||I have the paint, roller, and brushes, and have already cleared the room to get started.|
|Relevant||Painting the room needs to be done before I have a child.|
|Time-Bound||The goal will be met by the end of the day.|
12. Walk 10,000 Steps per Day
Goal: “I will walk 10,000 steps per day for the next 30 days.”
Why it is specific: It says how many steps I will walk so I can measure success. I should also state how I’ll do this.
|Specific||I will walk 10,000 steps per day for the next 30 days. To achieve that goal, I will add a 1-hour walk from work to home instead of catching the bus.|
|Measurable||I will use a steps counter to count the number of steps I do.|
|Achievable||If I walk home from work each day I should reach this.|
|Relevant||This will help improve my overall fitness which is a goal my doctor set me.|
|Time-Bound||The goal will be assessed at exactly 30 days from today.|
13. Wake up at 5 am Monday to Friday
Goal: “I will wake up at 5 am Monday to Friday for the entire month of January.”
Why it is specific: I have an exact time and days that I need to wake up for.
|Specific||I will wake up at 5 am Monday to Friday for the entire month of January.|
|Measurable||I can measure this with a yes/no check each morning.|
|Achievable||I have an alarm clock which will help me achieve this.|
|Relevant||Waking up early will give me more time to study which I need to do.|
|Time-Bound||The goal will end and be assessed as success or failure on January 31st.|
14. I will Write 3 Blog Posts per Week for 12 Weeks
Goal: “I will write 3 blog posts per week for 12 weeks to grow my blog traffic.”
Why it is specific: I have said exactly how many blog posts I will write. I could improve on this by creating a content calendar so I know exactly what I will write each week.
|Specific||I will write 3 blog posts per week for 12 weeks to grow my blog traffic. I will write a blog post on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday and each blog post will be 1500 words long.|
|Measurable||I can measure success on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday by looking at work count and seeing if I’ve pressed the ‘publish’ button.|
|Achievable||I have set aside time on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday afternoons to achieve this goal.|
|Relevant||I need to do this to grow my blog.|
|Time-Bound||This goal will be completed in 12 weeks (36 blog posts).|
15. I will Hike 7 Mountains by the end of the Summer
Goal: “I will hike seven mountains by the end of the summer by hiking one mountain each Saturday.”
Why it is specific: I have stated how many mountains I will hike and what days I will do it, as long as when it will be completed. However, I could name the hikes to add more specifics.
|Specific||I will hike seven mountains by the end of the summer by hiking one mountain each Saturday.|
|Measurable||I can tick these mountains off one by one.|
|Achievable||I have the base fitness and all the hiking gear I need. I can also drive to the base of each mountain in my four-wheel drive.|
|Relevant||This meets my new year resolution to enjoy my summer!|
|Time-Bound||The goal will be met on Saturday in 7 weeks.|
Research shows that specific goals will make you 3x more likely to achieve your goals. Specific goals are also the central feature of the SMART Goals framework. In fact, the following metrics (measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) simply add more specifics to your SMART goal!
 Milne, S., Orbell, S., and Sheeran, P. (2002). Combining Motivational and Volitional Interventions to Promote Exercise Participation: Protection Motivation Theory and Implementation Intentions, British Journal of Health Psychology, 7(2): 163–184. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1348/135910702169420
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.