How to Set a SMARTEST Goal to Increase Success

by Scott Crabtree

Can a SMARTEST goal help you supercharge your energy and engagement? Let’s just say we hope you’ll want to educate yourself about the answer, because it will help you make significant progress, which is all part of moving toward increased productivity and well-being…but you don’t have to take our word for it!

***Watch the video or continue reading below.***


Many of you are probably familiar with “SMART” goals.

SMART is an acronym. Sometimes letters can mean different things, depending on which organization you’re in, but the way I’ve experienced SMART goals the most is: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

There’s lots of resources out there on SMART goals, so I’m not going to explain SMART goals to you. (Please see another video if you want an explanation of SMART goals.) What I would like to add is how Happy Brain Science encourages you to go from SMART to SMARTEST goals.

What are SMARTEST goals? Well, we add “-EST” for Educational, Significant, and Toward. So let’s walk through each of those in order.

“E” is for “Educational”

Why “E” for “Educational?” Because we want to help you nurture what Carol Dweck at Stanford, for example, calls a growth mindsetthat is, a mindset that is focused on learning and growth.

If you have a SMART goal, you may or may not capture what you’re going to learn in the process. If you have a SMARTEST goal, you’re going to add language about it. For this goal (for example, to make these videos), my goal might be: “Learn as much as possible about making helpful videos as measured by ______,” and then various milestones.

We emphasize “Educational” to nurture a growth mindset so that you’re more resilient to setbacks. You’re focused on what you’re going to learn, rather than what you’re going to prove, by accomplishing the goal.

“S” is for “Significant”

“S” in SMARTEST is for “Significant.” Why should we care? You might be part of the way there with “Relevant” in SMART goalsbut too often, in my experience, organizations get very clear on what the goal is, but far less clear on why we should care.

And it’s the caringit’s the desireit’s the personal meaning in a goal that makes us freely engaged to work hard and achieve that goal. So “S” is for “Significant.” Why should we care? Again, if I use a goal around these videos as an example, it’s not, “Make videos.” It’s, “Make videos that will help people lead better lives, enjoy life more, and perform more at work” that connects me to my mission so that I care about the goal more.

“T” is for “Toward”

And “T” for “Toward.” (T-o-w-a-r-d…I have a bit of a Massachusetts accent on certain words.) “Toward” is simply to make sure that you’re describing what you want, as opposed to what you want to avoid. So again, using my example of a goal around these videos, I would describe, “Making great videos,” as opposed to, “Don’t make mistakes and make videos that suck.”

Why do that? Fascinating research coming out of World Cup penalty kicks. Turns out that some countries are consistently better than others at kicking penalty kicks at the end of a World Cup match.

As two examples, Germany tends not to do as well as the Netherlands*. Well, researchers looked at this and tried to find an explanation for why. And their theory is that in GermanyGerman coachesthey come from a culture that emphasizes not messing up. So if you’re about to go up to the penalty kick line, and we’re at the end of a World Cup match, you might hear from your German coach, “Don’t mess this up. Don’t be a scapegoat for the whole country. You need to get this in or it’s going to be really bad.”

Too often, a German player gets up and feels that tightness and tension and doesn’t do their best kick or their best work.

The Netherlands—that culture and those coachestend to emphasize the positive outcome. If you are a Dutch player, your coach might be telling you, “Think how great it’s going to be when you kick the goal into the net. Think how you can be a national hero by scoring on this penalty kick.”

And you go up with positive visions of how good it can be, and the ball goes right into the corner of the net. So “T” for “Toward.” Describe what you want, not what you want to avoid.

Add “-EST” to Be Your Best

Describing problems and things you want to avoid makes you tight and negative. Describing what you wantand why it means so much, and how you’re going to learn through the processgives you very engaging goals.

So we think SMART goals are great; SMARTEST goals are greater.

Add Education, Significance, and Toward to your goals, and you’ll have really engaging goals at work.

For more tips like this, please subscribe to the Happy Brain Science YouTube channel and/or check out my “serious game”: Choose Happiness @ Work.

Have SMARTEST goals worked for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks for commenting below, connecting through any of our social media channels, or contacting me here.

* Please note that when I recorded this video, I believe I mixed up the countries! Germany has actually done well in penalty kicks. Sorry about that! But the science still stands: studies have found that telling a player “don’t miss” is counter productive.

Scott Crabtree

As the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree empowers individuals and organizations to apply findings from cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology to boost productivity and happiness at work.

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