Home All Go beyond SMART to SMARTEST Goals (@ScottCrab)

Go beyond SMART to SMARTEST Goals (@ScottCrab)

written by Scott Crabtree 20 August 2015

Scott Crabtree is a passionate teacher of neuroscience, psychology, and the science of happiness. He is empowering organizations to apply findings from cutting-edge brain science to boost productivity and happiness at work. He can be reached through his site Happy Brain Science or on Twitter: @ScottCrab.

See Scott's solo articles and his articles with Chris Wilson.

SMART goals are a staple of most organizations for good reason, but we can do better. SMART goals are

  • Specific (What exactly is the goal?)
  • Measurable (How will we know that we’re making progress? How will we know we’ve reached the goal?)
  • Attainable (Can we get this done?)
  • Relevant (Does it matter?)
  • Time-bound (Does it have one or more due dates?)

In my experience at Intel and a variety of game development companies, people often forget to make goals measurable and time-bound. Judging goals with SMART in mind helps solidify them.

The science of setting and reaching goals tells us that the best goals go beyond SMART. I’m using the acronym SMARTEST goals to add more of what science says helps us reach our goals. The EST stands for

  • Educational (What will you learn working toward this goal?)
  • Significant (Why do you care about this goal?)
  • Toward (Does the goal describe something you want? Don’t make goals about something you want to avoid!)

Explaining EST

Goals should be Educational because the work led by Carol Dweck at Stanford suggests that a growth mindset is critical. A person with a fixed mindset believes that we have talent and that our goals should prove our talent. This can be extremely motivating for many of us! However, when setbacks come, those with a fixed mindset can feel defeated when they are unable to show others how great they are. Then they can give up. Those who hold a growth mindset are focused on what they can learn and how they can grow. Thus, when setbacks come, people with a growth mindset know they can learn even more working toward the goal. They tend to be more resilient as they reach for their goals.

If you’ve watched Simon Sinek’s great TEDx talk about the power of why, then you know why Significant is the second S in SMARTEST. Often we get quite skilled at creating SMART goals that are completely devoid of the emotional motivation that really drives success. Why do you care about hitting this goal? Why will the results matter? Will the work make a significant difference? Get at least a few words about that into the goal.

Finally, goals should move you Toward the state you want. When we make goals about avoiding things we don’t want, research by Heidi Grant Halvorson and others suggests the goals have less pull for us. The T in SMARTEST helps us remember to craft goals that describe a compelling future.

Bringing it all together

Bringing it all together, SMARTEST goals go way beyond SMART goals. Here’s how to form them.

  • State exactly what the goal is. ⇒ Specific
  • Show how you’ll know you’re making progress toward the goal and how you’ll know you’ve reached it. ⇒ Measurable
  • Show how you know you can get it done. ⇒ Attainable
  • Explain why it matters. ⇒ Relevant
  • Provide one or more specific due dates. ⇒ Time-bound
  • Explain what you will learn working toward this goal. ⇒ Educational
  • State why you care about this goal. ⇒ Significant
  • If the goal is about avoiding something, restate it to involve approaching something. ⇒ Toward

A Concrete Example

A concrete example will help bring this acronym to life.

Goal: Write some blog posts.

SMART goal: Publish three blog posts about the science of happiness that don’t suck by 11/10/15.

SMARTEST goal: Learn which topics are most interesting to our tribe and make a significant positive impact on many people’s work lives by writing and publishing by 11/10/15 three blog posts about the science of happiness that will earn at least 10,000 reads each.

Does writing SMARTEST goals take more time and thought? Yes. In fact it takes quite a bit of thought and skill to write SMARTEST goals. That is time well invested! It’s very important to clearly and compellingly defining the future you want at work. Use SMARTEST goals to help you learn and grow toward the future you care about.



Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Miller, C. A. & Frisch, M. B. (2009), Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling.

Sinek, Simon (2011) Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. TED Talk.

Sinek, S. (2009, 2011). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Portfolio Reprint Edition.

Halvorson, H. (2010). Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. New York. Penguin Group.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Picasso quotation courtesy of Sweet Dreamz Design
Dead Sea horizon courtesy of Lina Nagano
Climbing Mount Fuji courtesy of Robert of Fairfax
Visualizing Mount Fuji courtesy of ST33VO

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Judy Krings 21 August 2015 - 5:56 am

Hi, Scott, Love your creativity and new acronym. Enjoyed the Picasso quote, too. Many thanks!

Szalai Gabriella 14 January 2016 - 4:04 am

Great article, thank you for writing it!


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