The SMART Way to Plan for Success in Life and Career

Luck only gets you so far. In good times, anyone can get lucky. Right now, things are a little harder. Smart people don’t count on luck, they plan. Then they work hard and are ready when “luck” strikes.

I’ve been laying out a success formula for life and career through Clarity, Intention, Attention and Focus. These are the four keys my co-authors and I talk about in our latest book, “Do Eagles Just Wing It?

By writing down specific intentions you get clarity, and then you identify the critical success factors and waypoints that let you know you’re on track.

The thing to watch out for with Waypoints is that they actually do help you move along your path. Dreams, fantasies, and “Gee, I really ought to do that” don’t really cut it. The best waypoints are what I call SMART Waypoints.

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistically high, and Target Date.

Specific. What, exactly, do you intend to do? Describe your desired outcome as clearly as you can. When you create specific waypoints, you tend to get specific results. When you create unclear waypoints, you’ll have a hard time visualizing yourself reaching them. Let’s look at a very common example of an unclear waypoint: “I want to lose weight.”

Okay, how much? How soon? If you step on your scale every day for a couple of weeks, I can promise you there’ll be one day the number is smaller than it was yesterday. Congratulations! You’ve lost weight! Check that one off! Hmm. Maybe not.

By contrast, a specific weight-related waypoint is “weigh 185 pounds by December 31.” This comprises a specific objective with a specific time frame to achieve it, and on December 31, you will know with perfect certainty whether or not you were successful.

Measurable. Measurable helps in two ways. It lets you know when you’re there. It also gives you sense of whatever progress you’ve made. Not every waypoint you create will be 100% attained. However, you did make progress, didn’t you? When you can measure the progress, you can take your wins and celebrate your successes, and even redefine your waypoint with a higher or lower bar based on your experience.

Attainable. Very few things are impossible, but some are so unlikely as to make their pursuit demoralizing. You may be absolutely determined to become a Formula 1™ race car driver, but if you are a lightly built woman learning to drive for the first time at age 60, the best attitude in the world probably isn’t going to get you there. If you create unattainable waypoints, the frustration of failure will really hurt your self-confidence.

But that doesn’t mean you should only create easy, safe waypoints. Not at all. You want to stretch yourself, just not so far as to be counterproductive. The key is to create waypoints that are Realistically high. Maybe Formula 1™ is too great a stretch, but stock car racing in a local contest isn’t. Find the most ambitious version of your dream that is attainable, and set your sights there.

Marianne Williamson said, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” If it is within the capacity of your mind and body, make it happen.

Finally, give your waypoint a Target Date. The best-defined waypoint with no deadline is still just a dream.

So that’s a SMART Waypoint. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistically high, and with a Target date.

One more thing. You want to make sure to get your waypoints written down. The “power of the pen” is no mere cliché. Writing makes things real. Putting your waypoints in writing creates a performance contract with yourself. It forces you to clarify your thoughts and make a commitment to realize your dreams. Once written down, sharing it is easy. Most waypoints will take some help to accomplish, so why not have them available to share in written form?


So that’s Intention. Now that you know where you want to go and what specifically you’re going to do to get there, now you’re ready to make some things happen. It’s time for Attention and Focus. More about that later.

What’s been your experience with writing down your goals? I’d love to hear from you.

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