Beyond SMART Goal-Setting: 7 Areas to Explore with Your Clients for Better Goals!

Coach and Client Goal-Setting at Desk in Office

The SMART goal-setting criteria are great—and a helpful reminder. But they don't cover everything to consider when creating great goals!

So, when setting great goals, here are 7 things you should also consider:

1) Is the goal stated in the POSITIVE?

We know that we get what we focus on. So when we say I want to stop biting my fingernails our brain has to first build a picture of what we DON'T want—in order not to do it.  And if we say I want to stop biting my fingernails a lot, then we just keep on thinking about bitten fingernails, keeping those neural pathways fresh and active.

Instead we might want to say I have healthy fingernails. Then every time we say our goal, we picture unbitten, healthy fingernails—the outcome we want AND we don't keep thinking about the action/habit we're trying to break.

In Summary: Make sure your clients' goals are working towards a positive outcome, rather than focusing on what they don't want.

2) Have you explored the WHY?

When our clients understand their "Why?", it's the key to them staying the course when things get tough. Because it reminds them of the reasons they are working towards their goal.

What are your clients' expected goal outcomes? What will 'come out' if they achieve this goal?

In Summary: Clearly understanding WHY clients want their goals makes people more excited to work on their goals. It also gives extra motivation to push through challenges and persevere when things gets tough.

3) What are ALL the BENEFITS of the goal?

This is much broader than outcomes. It could include how clients will feel, and multiple positive impacts on their work, personal, family or social life and more!

So drill down and ask your clients to list as many benefits as they can think of from achieving their goal.

Example: a client who wanted to get fitter and his goal was to cycle to work. Not only did it take the same amount of time as driving, he also got the following wider benefits:
Win 1) Saving money - gas and parking/bus fare AND gym membership!
Win 2) Getting fitter & losing excess weight
Win 3) Better for the environment (this was important to him)
Win 4) Cycling through the park left him feeling calm and connected to nature
Win 5) Feeling strong and confident
Win 6) Meeting other people who also cycle to work!

In Summary: When our clients know the broader "benefits" of their goals, it helps them feel more connected and committed to their goals.

4) What is the PAIN of NOT ACHIEVING their goal?

As humans, we're usually more motivated by avoiding pain rather than seeking pleasure. So what is the pain to your client of NOT completing a particular goal?

In particular, it can be really interesting to explore how a client would feel if they don't achieve their goal. Another great question to ask is: What will you NOT get to be/do or have if you don't achieve your goal?

In Summary: Helping your client get clear on the pain of NOT achieving their goal can also be a helpful reminder and powerful action motivator.

5) Is the goal stated in the PRESENT TENSE?

Although it can sometimes sound a bit weird, setting goals in the present tense helps our brains assume we will be successful!

In Summary: When we use the present tense we imagine our goal already achieved, creating positive imagery and making our goals a "done deal".

Eg. On September 30 I have healthy fingernails.

6) Is the goal in line with their VALUES?

The more a goal aligns with our inner or core values, the EASIER it is to achieve.

A fun exercise to help with commitment to a goal (and check for potential obstacles):

  • If you've already done values work with your clients, simply pull out the list of their top 10 values and ask them to give a score out of 10 as to how much their goal aligns with each Top 10 Value.
  • If you have an 7/8 or more, great. The goal and that value are aligned.
  • If the score is a 6 or more, it will be helpful to explore how your client's goal does NOT align with the value, how your client feels about that, and what they're willing to do about it!

Please note that while we can achieve goals that don't align with our values it's harder to do, more stressful and less satisfying.

In Summary: A goal that aligns with our top values is easier to achieve, more enjoyable—and more satisfying!

7) Finally, how will your clients FEEL once this goal is complete?

Whether we are aware of it or not, our feelings drive us. They are a big part of why we do what we do, motivating us at a more sub-conscious level.

If your client doesn't feel great about their goal, they're not going to feel great about taking action to make it happen.

So help your client get clear on the feelings their goal brings up.

Sometimes exploring "feelings" causes wonderful modifications to the goal eg. when a client is so inspired they bring in the timescale as people get inspired, or change the goal measure for something more meaningful to them.

And sometimes they realise there is some loss or grieving to do, for example as they let go of a past way of being or move to a new city and leave friends behind.

A few times I have done this with clients and they have decided it is not the right goal, and after exploring further we've modified the goal or dropped it completely!

In Summary: Once you know what completing a goal will make your client feel you can help them take action to either enhance the goal, or build in actions to take care of things that might get in the way.

Bonus Tip: Is the goal fun or exciting?

We all know that when we're having fun we lose all sense of time, that when we're excited, everything seems much easier. So help your client find out what excites them about their goal.

Find ways to make it fun, and setting and achieving that goal will be so much easier!

I measure my success based on how much fun I'm having. Gabby Bernstein

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Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools, resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Coach and Client Goal-Setting at Desk in Office by Zivica Kerkez via Shutterstock

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