Rua - Goal

S.M.A.R.T Goal Setting

Rua (Paul Gleeson) is the star of TG4’s ten part magic, mind reading and escapology TV series ‘Draíocht’. He co-curated Science Gallery Dublin’s ILLUSION exhibition in 2013, and also had a sellout 4 star show in the Dublin Fringe Festival. A student of magic history and the psychology of illusions, he is regularly hired to perform and speak for companies and Universities across Ireland. He has been featured on RTE’s The Saturday Night Show, TV3’s Morning Ireland, the BBC and every major radio station in Ireland. Rua has a BA and Masters degree in Communication studies from DCU, and currently makes a living performing Close-up magic at Weddings, Corporate Events and Private parties across Ireland, Europe and US.


In keeping with the blog posts on the power of Positive Thinking and all things happiness and empowerment I wanted to share another great process with you called ‘S.M.A.R.T Goal setting‘, which will really help you to get closer to achieving any goals you may have for 2014.  As always, here’s a quick disclaimer…this may not be for everyone! Not everybody is interested in Goal setting. That’s OK! The vast majority of the world are happy to just take life as it comes and be satisfied with what they get. Some psychologists believe that we should actually lower our expectations of our lives for a happier life, instead of raising them, while the Roman Philosopher, Seneca, suggested that we should regularly take the time to visualize losing everything that we have in life, in order to make us appreciate it more.

Achieving a goal and stepping outside of your comfort zone is hard; it often requires big sacrifices, long hours, sometimes huge risk, pain, even heartbreak, not to mention that the journey is rarely financially rewarding! Sounds like no fun at all, so why bother?


Cause and Effect


When I first started studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), I was asked a brilliant question, which stopped me in my tracks:


 ”Are you the Cause, or are you the Effect of everything that happens in your life?”


And it’s worth asking yourself too! In your life, are you the type of person who is the Cause of everything that happens to you, or are you the Effect of things that happen to you? Which would make you feel more empowered? The obvious answer is that it’s empowering to be the force that causes everything to happen in your life. Interestingly this pattern is normally called ‘Cause and Effect‘, or ‘Results versus Reasons‘. When you cause everything in your life, you get results. When you’re the effect of everything in your life, you’ll tend to rely on reasons or excuses. But let’s say you’re stuck at ‘the effect’ side of things for now. There was an interesting article in ‘Psychology Today‘ in 2011 where a Clinical Psychotherapist who writes for them wrote that he had recently noticed a common trend in his patients of


“Depression, dissatisfaction, and stress. Many wonder if their mate or their career were the perfect choice for them after all. The theme seems to be “I could have done better”. “


Leading NLP expert Tad James will be the first to explain that although he relies on this ‘Cause and Effect’ pattern, there’s actually no way of scientifically proving that you’re at either end of the spectrum. However, if you choose to believe that you are the cause of everything in your life,  you’ll get much better results. Still with me? Or are you face-down asleep on the keyboard!?


In NLP terms, the key to controlling your life is to control your beliefs, because your beliefs determine what is possible for you in your life. So for example if you believe that you’re a shy person, there are most likely certain actions you won’t take, and therefore there’ll be experiences of life that might be cut off from you, like going out and meeting new people, or going dancing etc. so your world is changed as a result of the belief that you have. But if you believe that you’re an extremely confident person…well, you get the point!


“I was never a very brave man, so I just acted as though I was until I became one” – T. Roosevelt


So the key to moving from the Effect Side to the Cause Side is to adopt an empowering belief system, whereby you choose to believe that everything in your life happens because you caused it to. The aforementioned NLP guru Tad James theorizes that the people who are at the effect side of things give Reasons instead of Results, and they’ll tell you all of the reasons why they weren’t successful, like “I would have been successful…if it wasn’t for my ex wife“, “I would have been successful…if it wasn’t for the bank crisis“, “I would have lost weight if it wasn’t for the Euro-saver Menu at MacDonalds“, i.e they’ll tend to point to somebody other than themselves. Now obviously that type of behavior is fine and, as always, it’s a personal thing. But how satisfying is it going to be when you’re lying on your deathbed and you’ve never had life the way you wanted it? You’ll have all the excuses and all the reasons why you didn’t, but ultimately how satisfying is that going to be? Conversely, when you choose to believe that you create everything that happens in your life, you have the maximum power to make things the way you want them to be, and all you’re left with are Results, as opposed to Reasons.


S.M.A.R.T Goal Setting


One of the best ways to take charge of things in your life is by setting Refined and Specific goals, and the S.M.A.R.T criteria is a powerful process for doing this and for creating what’s in your future. S.M.A.R.T is a mnemonic/ acronym (meaning that each of the letters stands for a specific word) to help you to remember all of the important steps in this process. Let’s break it down!


  • S = Specific / Simple
  • M = Measurable / Meaningful to you
  • A = As if now / All areas in your life
  • R = Realistic / Responsible
  • T = Timed

 S stands for Specific / Simple

When you first create your goal, it’s important to make it specific because the key to achieving results in the material world is specificity! You wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and ask for ‘food’, you’d tell them exactly what you want, specifically, down to how pink your steak is in the middle! Here’s an example: A goal for a lot of people is ‘to make more money’, however, that’s not really specific is it? If you get a €1 pay rise, you’ll be earning more money…but it’s not quite what you’re looking for! So always try to make it more Specific! Your goal could be ‘to earn €5,000 more’, which would be much more specific. I love health, fitness and well-being, so let’s take an example from that area. ‘I want to lose weight’…is too vague. But, ‘I want to improve my Body-fat to lean muscle mass ratio by dropping from 16% body-fat to 8% Body-fat’ is extremely specific. Relationships? ‘I want to find a girl’…is unspecific, but ‘I want to find a girl who works out, drinks beer and watches Entourage’ is…just kidding (I’ll leave my personal goals out of this!)! But hopefully I’ve highlighted the need for specificity with the first two examples.


S also stands for ‘Simple‘.

It’s important to ensure that the goal that you put into your future is written in simple terms, brief and maybe a sentence or two long. If a child could understand it, it’s probably simple enough!


M stands for Measurable / Meaningful to you

Making sure your goal is Measurable is vital to the whole process, and it all happens in the last sentence of writing it down. So what does ‘Measurable‘ mean? In dictionary terms: ‘Noticeable and definite‘. So what is the last definite thing that needs to happen for you to realize that you’ve achieved your goal? In NLP, this is called an ‘evidence procedure‘, and in simple terms, it’s just the easiest way for you to know that you’ve gotten what you want. This will be a personal thing that differs from person to person, but as an example, if my goal was to ‘fly to New York in December 2013′, my evidence procedure might occur the moment I buy a plane ticket online, or it might be when I arrive at Dublin airport to get on the flight,  or it might be the moment I step off the plane onto the runway in New York. They’re examples of the last steps that need to happen before I realize that I’ve achieved my goal. If it’s a fitness goal, maybe it’s lifting an exact weight on a bench-press, or maybe it’s stepping onto the scales and seeing a certain number pop up. This is a really important step, because the goal you’ve been thinking about and focusing on will take on a concrete reality, so choose something you’re comfortable with, and happy to keep in your mind. Remember to make it specific!


M also stands for Meaningful to You


It has to be meaningful to you. Desire, determination and commitment are what drive you to achieve something, so if you’re putting a goal into the future make sure that it’s meaningful enough to make you keep striving for it!


A stands for ‘As if now


Write your goals in Present Tense language. Why? The idea behind this step is to prevent you from pushing your goals further into the future. If you write the goal ‘In one month I’ll make €1,000 more‘, what’s to stop you from pushing that out into the future every month? You’ll keep putting it off and get nowhere ! Imagine you have to paint your house, and you keep telling yourself “Tomorrow I’ll paint my house“…next day…”Tomorrow I’ll paint my house”….and so forth! You get the idea! This point will be clearer at the end.


A also stands for ‘All areas in your life‘ – try to create a goal that will effect all areas of your life in a positive way!


R stands for Realistic

Make sure that the goals you set out are Realistic. For me, this is the trickiest one…Because who and what defines what is or isn’t Realistic? So when I checked this out, I was told the following: If you’re the type of person who normally achieves goals and gets what they want in life, make your goals a bit more grandiose and extravagant. If you’re the type of person who never achieves goals and never gets what they want, then make your goals a little bit more realistic. The idea here is that you want to try to create a Track Record of successfully achieving goals, because ‘nothing breeds success like success‘! So by creating your track record, and hitting your goals each and every time, you can slowly start to expand your vision and your belief of what’s possible.


R also stands for Responsible

What are the consequences of setting this goal, on yourself and on those around you. When you set this goal, ask if it’s safe to yourself, safe to others and safe to the environment around you. If it’s safe for all those things, then you’re ready to rock!



Decide on a designated time on which this goal will occur on. Yes, even though you’re writing the goal in the Present Tense, you’ll still put a time / date on it, and the idea will be to achieve your goal by that time / date.


T also stands for ‘Towards what you want‘. Now, I know this might sound a bit tricky so here’s a bad example of a goal in the present tense:


“It’s now June 2015, and I’m no longer broke! Woooo!”


…that creates an issue with specificity, negative terminology as well as focus! Briefly, try this age old test; DON’T THINK OF A BLACK CAT! What’s the first thing you think about? A black cat, obviously! The reason for this is that you can’t think about what you don’t want to think about, without thinking about it! So…because ‘being broke‘ is a negative thing, you don’t want to invite it into your focus or conscious thought. Might sound a bit silly to some, but thems are the rules!


So, to improve on that goal, you would write:


“It’s now June 2015, I’m standing at the ATM machine, I’m looking at my bank balance, and I see that I have €50,000 more than I’ve ever had and I’m way ahead of the game”.


Another example,


“it’s now June 2013, I’m standing on the weighing scales, I’m looking down and I see that I’m 3 stone lighter. I’m feeling fit, healthy, confident and full of energy because I’ve achieved my goal! “


Last example, “it’s June 2020, I’m sitting on the couch with my super-model girlfriend, we’re watching Entourage and drinking beer“….JUST KIDDING! But you get the idea!


So that’s the S.M.A.R.T criteria for setting a goal! I can’t claim ownership of this idea, as it’s been around in many NLP sources for years. It’s used by NLP practitioners, Motivational Speakers, Coaches and leaders across the world to great effect. So what are you waiting for? Grab a pen and paper, and get started! Here’s a simple template which you can follow in case you get stuck creating one from scratch.


It is now (future date)__________________

I am / I have _______________


Here’s a strange tip for this whole procedure – Keep your goal to yourself, because repeated psychology studies have shown that telling people your goal makes them far less likely to happen. Derek Sivers gives an excellent TED talk describing why you’re better off keeping it a secret Here. It’s only 3 minutes long and let’s face it, you’ve done enough reading for the day!


Remember, be Brave, be Different and be Ambitious! And if you think your goal is too hard to achieve, or you’re limited for some reason or another, check out Mark Pollocks incredible story here for some inspiration, and realize that anything is possible.


Image: Wikimedia Commons