Idea tree, including the words goals, strategy, ideas, business, plan, marketing, team, and more.

Five systems for goal setting

You’re probably familiar with the ubiquitous SMART system of goal setting. But sometimes SMART goals aren’t that smart. You might do better with HARD, PACT, or CLEAR goals. Or you might just want to use the GBB model for your goals. Now that I’ve acronymed you half to death, let’s get into what all this alphabet soup means for you and your goals.

SMART goals

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. For example, if you want to lose weight, setting a goal of “lose weight” isn’t specific. Setting a goal of “lose 25 lbs.” is. It’s also measurable, because you have a benchmark by which to measure your progress. 

Whether it’s attainable is up for grabs, depending on how long you want to take to lose the weight. Losing 25 lbs. in a week is not attainable or realistic. Losing 25 lbs. in six months is both. Putting the six months timeframe on your weight loss goal makes it time bound. So you now have a SMART goal of losing 25 lbs. in six months.

HARD goals

HARD goals are Heartfelt, Animated, Required, and Difficult. (They’re actually AHDR goals, but who remembers an acronym like that?) Let’s use the example of wanting to start a new career.


The goal has to be animated. If you want to begin a new career, you’d think about where you want your career to be, and describe exactly what kind of work you’re doing, who you’re working with, and what your days look like. What do those answers look like one, three, and five years from now? 


The goal has to be heartfelt. Describe at least three reasons why you want this goal — these can be internal, personal, or external reasons. What reasons do you have for wanting to begin a new career? What’s your “why”?


The goal has to be difficult to make you stretch to achieve it. What are the 3-5 most important skills you’ll need to develop to achieve this goal? How will you develop those skills? In the example of a new career, what hard and soft skills do you need to have for the new path you’re embarking on?


Finally, the goal has to be required. What requirements do you need to have fulfilled by the end of the next six months to keep on track toward achieving this goal? What about by the end of the next 90 days? The next 30 days? What can you do today?

PACT goals

PACT goals are Purposeful, Actionable, Continuous, and Trackable. We’ll take a look at a salesperson’s goals for the quarter with this method.

Purposeful goals are meaningful to your long-term objectives in life, not just right now. So you’d want to focus not on selling $5,000 worth of widgets, but on who you become or what you achieve along the way to selling the widgets.

Actionable goals based on efforts you control. In sales, you can’t make somebody buy your widgets. You can’t make them talk to you on the phone. You can’t even make them answer the phone. All you can control is how many times you pick up the phone and dial. 

A soman talking on the phone in her cubicle

This is where knowing your numbers comes in handy. If you know from past performance that you need to talk to 100 people to sell $5,000 in widgets, and that on average, 1 out of 10 people you call answer their phone and talk to you, you know you need to make 1,000 dials to sell your $5,000 worth of widgets. To look at it another way, every time you dial the phone, you are $5 closer to your goal.

Continuous goals are actions taken toward your goal that are simple and repeatable. It’s all about continuous improvement toward your goal, not making the goal your be-all and end-all situation. 

Trackable goals shouldn’t be confused with SMART goals’ Measurable piece. Take a yes/no approach to your goals. Did you pick up the phone today? Yes? You win the day! You made progress toward your goal. 

(Incidentally, this is the system I use. I love the Trackable aspect, where if I even do one incremental thing towards my goal, I win!)

CLEAR goals

CLEAR goals are Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Approachable, and Refinable. Let’s use an example of starting a new workout regimen.

Collaborative goals mean you need to work with other people. When you start a workout regimen, you need your doctor’s sign-off. You might want to talk to a registered dietician to get the best nutritional boost from your workouts. You could engage the services of a personal trainer.

Limited goals are very specific in their scope. This is a mix of Specific, Attainable, and Time-bound from the SMART goals. So you’d want to set a goal of “Do yoga Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings and go for a one-mile walk on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday,” rather than “Work out Monday through Saturday.”

Emotional goals align your goals with your personal passions. Suppose you have a passion for wildlife and want to spend more time hiking in the mountains near your home. Setting a workout goal to hike for an hour every day would align with that passion.

A couple taking a rest from hiking on the rim of a lake, surrounded by mountains

Approachable goals break your big goals down into baby steps so you can deliver and achieve more. This tactic gives you little wins along the way to your big goal. If you want to be able to deadlift 500 lbs., you’ll want to start much smaller than that and work your way up. 

Refinable goals are set with big objectives in mind, but give you permission to refine and modify your goals as necessary. If you pull a hamstring trying to deadlift 500 lbs., you may have to go for a weightlifting goal that doesn’t involve your legs, like bench pressing 500 lbs. instead.

GBB goals

GBB goals are Good, Better, Best goals. They work well with goals involving numbers. Let’s use an example of writing blog posts. You want to be more consistent in your writing, so you set a goal of writing two blog posts per month.

Your Good goal is a level at which you feel like you’ve accomplished something and moved the needle on your goal. Writing one blog post per month is a reasonable number for your Good goal. 

Your Better goal is your original target: writing two blog posts per month. This is where you feel stretched, and like you’ve really done something well. 

Your Best goal is your stretch goal, one that would make you feel you’d done outstanding work. That might be writing four blog posts per month. 

No matter what your goals, you’ll be better equipped to achieve them if you pick a method of setting goals. Picking a framework for your goals makes it easier to achieve your goals, and to turn into the person you’re going to become who can achieve them.

For further reading, check out Choosing what goals to set, 25 of my favorite thought-provoking quotes about goals, and Make a PACT with your goals





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