SMARTE Goal Setting: A Framework for Realising What You Value

By Paul Englert


In my previous two articles I discussed a conceptual model of performance that identified;

In this, my final piece on maximising successful performance, I would like to discuss how one can harness willingness to achieve desired results. I will be presenting a model of motivation that encapsulates the theory of goal setting and presents goal setting in a framework that is easy to implement, practically sound, and based on empirically supported principles of motivation.

Motivation Overview

As in most fields of academia, the motivational literature is varied, and, if explored, presents a particular view of man. This view of man is however rarely explicitly stated by the theorist rather is taken is as a given, an axiom if you like, from which the theory naturally derives. An example, is reinforcement theory that in it's most basic form identifies that man is motivated to achieve outcomes for which he is rewarded (Skinner, 1971). The corollary of this theory is that man is nothing more than an automaton, a machine driven by a principle of maximising pleasure, indeed unable to escape this drive and often unaware of the reinforcer of his action. The mind is taken out of the equation and man is reduced to a being that is motivated or driven by their environment.

An alternative view is that man's motivation is steams from consciousness and man's ability to think. Accordingly, it is a man's premises and values that cause him to act (Rand, 1979). Values as noted in my original paper is that which one acts to gain or keep. The representation of this value can be called a goal, i.e. that which one wants to gain or keep. A negative goal is therefore that which one wishes to avoid, i.e. is against their values. For those that have read my prior work on the HD site it should be clear that I view man as a volitional being that controls, rather than being controlled by, their environment. For this reason, it is goal setting that is the most appropriate motivational theory for me to discuss.

Goal Setting

There is now a wealth of work on goal setting in the psychological literature. This is not surprising as goal setting is one of the most supported motivational theories and has application from sports psychology to organisational development. A review of goal setting is beyond both the purpose and expectations of this article1. Rather what is intended is the provision of a framework for setting goals that encapsulates research, is valid and is easy to use.

Goals are defined as something we value and therefore which we wish to achieve, maintain, or, in the case of a negative goal, avoid. For a goal to led to behaviour and successful goal acquisition a set of criteria must be met. These criteria ensure that the goals one sets are motivational, i.e. will initiate movement to an end state, namely the goal we wish to achieve.

To assist learning I have presented the criteria for a goal in an easy to learn acronym, SMARTE. SMARTE, stands for the letter of each of the criteria that I have selected for successful goal setting. Frameworks for goal setting using the letters S M A R T have been around colloquially in the organisational literature for many years.(2) I have not however, to my knowledge, ever seen the addition of the E into the framework so what is being presented is, to my knowledge, unique, and based on prior research.

To set an effective goal it must be SMARTE. The five characteristics of a smart goal are: -


A well-defined goal must be specific. A goal is specific if it can be clearly stated in one to two sentences ideally but no more than a short paragraph. Longer, more complex goals replace clarity with confusion, making the goal one of quantity rather than quality. To get huge and ripped is a non-specific goal. A more specific goal would be to add a certain amount of weight in a given time while maintaining a set percent of body-fat.


A goal is measurable if there is a specific outcome that is to be achieved. Measurement is then simply an assessment of success or failure in achieving the goal. The more quantified a goal is the more likely it will be that the goal is measurable. For example, too many athletes enter the gym with the desire to "do as many reps as they can". This is not specific as only God, if there is such a being, knows how many reps you can do at a given time (Mentzer, 1997). A measurable goal would be to do a certain number of repetitions. Progress can then be measured by extending this number of repetitions.


A goal is acceptable if it meets your criteria of what you value. It is useless to define for yourself a goal that you do not believe in i.e. is not acceptable to your consciousness. For example, to set a goal to become a better altruist is not an acceptable goal if your code of ethics is based on rational self-interest. Similarly, it is not an acceptable goal if you wish to devote your life to body building, spending all your income on pharmaceuticals and food, if your highest value is to achieve a balanced life. The bodybuilding goal is not acceptable to the holistic development as defined by this individual.


A goal is realistic if you believe it is attainable. This comes back to the principle of knowledge. Analyses your strengths, weakness and task demands to decide how realistic a goal is. It is unrealistic for me to want to be Mr Olympia, even Mr Ohio is out of the question! If a personal trainer set either of these states as goals for me it would not be motivating as it would be beyond my genetic potential. A realistic goal however, like increasing my weight by ten pounds in a year would be motivating as I could strive to achieve this goal.

Within Appropriate Timeframes

Too often people fail to include a time frame to their goal achievement. A goal will be within an appropriate timeframe if the trainer is aware of the difference between proximal and distal goals and sets the deadline for goal attainment accordingly. A proximal goal is a short-term goal. It is a goal that can be achieved in the near future lifting a particular weight in a given work out. A distal or distant goal is a long-term goal. This may be something like successfully improving your dips by 40 pounds over a three-month period.


Goals need to extend a person to their highest capacity. Select a goal that is achievable and requires effort. For example, by resetting new goals, such as increasing weight or reps at each work out, progress is assured and one will be motivated to reach new personal bests.

This cursory and practical overview of goal setting concludes this series on enhancing performance as a HD trainer. Over the past months I have identified that willingness is the key component to success as a trainer. The willingness to accept on the rational approach offered under the principles of training outlined by Mike Mentzer and the desire to achieve your values. The foundation for enhancing your willingness is a belief in yourself as controller and shaper of your destiny. Finally, by framing your values as SMARTE goals the willingness to achieve will become a motivational force leading to action and results.

Mentzer, M. (1997). New Advanced High Intensity Training Program. USA: Advanced Research Press Inc.
Rand, A. (1961). For the New Intellect. Signet: USA.
Skinner, B.F. (1971). Beyond Freedom and Dignity. New York: Knopf.
1 For those interested in further reading I recommend Kanfer (1992). Work motivation: New directions in theory and research. International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 7, 1-53
2 For research related to goal setting I recommend Pervin L (1989). Goal Concepts in Personality and Social Personality. USA: Lawerence Erbaum Associates.

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