What Is Smart Goal Setting? The Marriage Of Creativity And Logic


In a world that is divided by those of us that thrive on productivity and those of us that are left floundering and haven’t quite got the memo, knowing how to set goals has never been more important. As a result focused society, in order to thrive we need to know how to structure our goals to carry them through to completion, and this is where S.M.A.R.T goal setting comes in. So exactly what is smart goal setting and how do we use it?

Don’t worry, I’ll get to that. But first let’s look at the problems (backwards I know- am I piquing you’re interest?) Structure is great and all, but us creative types, when we hear structure, what the word we actually here is boooooooored. I mean aren’t the two kind of opposite? It’s easy to kid ourselves: ‘I don’t need structure, I’m an artiste’ (cue meaningful pose,) but the truth is even the bounds of creativity work best with borders. How can you get from A to B if you don’t know where B IS? Us creative types don’t always love structure, but sometimes we NEED it. So I’m going to talk about how to be creative within it’s parameters.

Creativity Is A Skill, Not A Lightning Bolt

Smart-Goals-and-creativityThere is sometimes a belief that we can’t be creative on tap, we have to wait for the muse to take hold, but this to a degree is a fallacy. Creativity is not some imaginary friend that only speaks to us sometimes, or a lightning bolt from the sky that we have to wait for to strike. Yes, we can’t force ideas to come, but we can learn to switch on our creativity and feed it, through not trying to create perfect ideas, and accepting whatever comes up.

Take a look at song writers who collaborate and book studio time for this purpose or choreographers who have to create within a time frame, ON THE JOB. I just watched Taylor Swift’s new Netflix documentary Miss Americana (highly recommend it by the way,) and just watching her process in Talor-swift-smart-goalsthe studio and her ability to think of things off the cuff is fascinating. Not only is she hugely talented (that’s right, I’m a Swiftie and proud), that creativity has been CULTIVATED for most of her life. To date, since the age of 12, she has written over 200 songs! And not because she felt pressured or forced herself, but because she loves it; it’s the language she uses to express herself. The more you do it, the more you can flick your creativity on like a switch and create on cue.

Let’s take an example. If I told you to make up some chorus length choreography to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars in the space of half an hour, you could do it. You might not necessarily like what you made up, but you would be able to fulfill the task.

This is because creativity is like a skill- the more you hone it, the easier it becomes to create. That’s not to say we’ll never get blocked, but with time we’ll become better and better at getting ourselves unstuck, and thinking of new connections. So with this in mind, let’s take a look at how we can create SMART goals whilst allowing our creativity to flow.

Here I’m going to cover:

  • What is SMART goal setting?
  • How do we use it for creativity?
  • Examples of how to apply it.

What Is Smart Goal Setting?

Smart goals is an acronym addressing the parameters of time and specificity to help us set goals in an achievable and structured way. Let’s say for example someone says, ‘I want to create a ballet,’ or ‘I want to create a novel.’ Now that’s great, but it doesn’t give us any direction whatsoever. How are we going to do it? When? What do we need? There’s no shortcuts in life; if we want to create a whole thing, we have to do it brick by brick much like we would a building.

So let’s have a look at the breakdown, shall we?

S is for SPECIFIC.

Be-specific-smart-goalsThis is the overall objective, the reason d’etre of your goal making existence. E.g I want to create my own coaching business/ my own film/ my own musical, whatever. This is both the overwhelming part and the easy part. It generally starts with ‘I want…’ These on their own are also examples of goals which haven’t used the SMART acronym yet.

M is for Measurable.

Measurable-smart-goalsThis is an evidence based paradigm, you know not only how to obtain it, but how near or far away you are to the fulfillment of said goal. You have a measurable criterion to know how and when you have succeeded. If your goal is to become stronger on pointe, this may be being able to dance a variation that you’re currently not strong enough to execute, or achieving double pirouettes on pointe. Or if your goal is to write a song, you will measure it by knowing you have the verse, chorus and bridge lyrics completed as well as melody and chord progression.

A is for Achievable

Achieve-smart-goalsDo you have the tools needed to achieve your goal? Are you able to break it down into actionable steps you can take to get there? Knowing what needs to be done and making sure you have the right skill set is essential if you want to achieve your goal. We have to know the exact steps we are going to take to get there and they have to be within our means. If you’re trying to write a song for example, do you have enough of an understanding of how different chords go together, do you understand theory and rhythm? If you’re not sure if you have the right tools, then set another goal to increase your skill set first until you have what is needed.

3-things-needed-for-successTime and money, as well as skill are also the currency of success. Therefore it’s worth considering whether these three are in play in a way that adds up to making your goal achievable: do you have the funds necessary for what you’re aiming for? For example, say you decide you’re going to wheat free or eat more protein. If you don’t have the budget to buy wheat free, or purchase fish and meat (or alternatives) is this an achievable goal? Are you able to realistically give the goal the time it demands in order to succeed? Are you making sure you have the right tools and skill set for your goal? If any of these are lacking, you can use these smart steps to create a pre-goal goal to make your ultimately goal actionable and realistic.

R is for Relevant

Smart-Goals-relevantDoes this goal fit in with the overall arc of your dreams and ambitions? For example, if your goal is to be a multimillionaire company owner and a professional ice skater, do those things go together? Now I’m not saying they can’t (peanut butter and jam anyone?) but it’s important to consider whether a goal’s relevant to the overall arc of our journey and which direction we want to head in.

This is also where the Pareto Principle comes in. This principle basically means that 20% of what you do will be responsible for 80% of the outcome so we better make sure we’re focusing on the right things rather than spreading ourselves too thin. This means that all the other extra ‘stuff’ kind of just falls away, and that more than ever, it’s important that the actions we do take are relevant. Say for example we write down a list of 10 goals, only 2 of those goals will account for 80% of the outcome. Crazy, right? This is true for training as well. So 20% of our core focus and habits during training will carry 80% of the weight!

T is for Timely

I Smart-Goals-take-timemean this last one kind of writes itself. I don’t know about you, but I create best when I’m given a deadline. Why? Because it puts THE FEAR in me (in a good way.) It’s no longer a ‘wouldn’t it’s be nice if…’ but an ‘I have to get this done by [insert date] because that’s when the show goes on,’ or ‘that’s when my next work meeting is.’ If there’s no urgency, more often than not, I end up with stuff that’s half finished. I have to be really strict with myself. Putting a deadline on things maximises your productivity and ensures you stay focused on your goal. It also allows you to map out a plan in actual time for what needs to be done to achieve it. E.g ‘I will choreograph for an hour on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday,’ or ‘I will do strength training for 20 minutes every other day,’ or ‘I will have one chapter completed every two weeks and will write for an hour each day at tea time.’

Let’s take some more examples. If your goal is to ‘get more toned,’ that alone probably isn’t going to get you very far. However, ‘I will go to the gym and lift weights 4 times a week for the next 3 months’ will. See how time makes a difference? Some other examples are ‘I’m going to choreograph one new routine a week,’ or ‘I’m going towing for an hour 5 times a week to increase my vocal stamina.’ By taking these goals out of the La La Land in our brain and putting them in real time we make them ACTIONABLE.


It can also be useful to consider whether your goal is a process goal or an outcome goal. A process goal is habit-centric whereas an outcome goal is all about the grand finale. Neither one is better than the other, they just both have different merits. So a process goal might be ‘I’m going to practise piano six day so week,’ whereas an outcome goal might be ‘I want to play Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto.’ With the smart process you should have both covered!

I hope this helps put you in the drivers seat with your creativity. Now that you know the answer to what is smart goal setting, I’ve taken it one step further and included below my own acronym for your creative goals as a way to short hand reel off how to make a creative goal work for you quickly, and keep your sanity in the process. Check it out!


COST- Is this worth the effort I need to give? Can I prioritise this in my life?

REWARD- What is my motivation? This is the outplay of the goal, what you’ll get as a result of achieving it.

EASE- Do I have the tools necessary to make this happen?

Can-you-give-what-you-getATTENTION- Am I able to give this the attention it needs? And does the amount of attention I need to give seem proportionate to the return I’ll get for my goal?

TENACITY- Am I willing to do what it takes to carry my goal to completion?

INTUITION- Am I willing to let go and trust in my innate ability to create? To create, you have to learn to trust yourself and the ideas that come up, and have the courage to play, or follow a whim or a shadow of an idea and express it.


VALIDATION- Am I willing to make sure I’m getting my validation from myself, rather than how people respond to my work?

EQUILIBRIUM-  This is the marriage of balance: Have I made it easy enough that I have the skill to do it, but hard enough that it’s challenging and I will improve?

So there you have it. Hopefully this post answers the question, what is smart goal setting and how do I use it? If you have any comments or questions, then drop me a message below as I’d love to hear 🙂


  • Tim

    Natalie, I love your own anacronym. the whole article is so useful and a methods here we should always refer to.Very well written by the way. Thanks, Tim

  • Thabo Khoza

    This article shows your creativity in every aspect. It is good to see because as artists like me we love to see that a person whom we follow has creativity themselves before teaching us about it.
    You are right that creativity takes time as I found this out in my dancing career that I could only be creative after years of being a ballroom dancer. This is when you are called a professional.

    • Natalie

      Thank you for your kind words. I felt a slightly different approach was needed to s.m.a.r.t for us creative types, so I’m so glad it resonated with you. You’re right, it takes a massive amount of courage and time learning the tools to connect with creativity, but thank goodness it gets easier the more we do it! And it’s a wonderful feeling when we break through and do something we previously couldn’t. So glad you liked my post 🙂

  • Lee Goupil

    Great article
    I’m a major proponent of creating SMART goals.
    In my previous role I was a regional manager for a fitness company.
    I had several managers who reported to me.
    SMART goals were a part of our business that I taught and had them complete and submit to me.
    I would take the time to go over the plans with them and help them deliver on their goals.
    I felt they were crucial in delivering results and developing a game plan and staying on course.

    Not surprising but the managers that pencil whipped then and didn’t take them serious consistently underperformed their counterparts who took the plans seriously.

    Also, loved your acronym for CREATIVE!!
    Did you come up with that yourself?
    I’ve never seen that before.

    Lastly, my 7 year old has a big crush on Taylor Swift.
    I didn’t know she had a new special.
    I’ll have to watch that with him.

    • Natalie

      Hi Lee,

      I agree with you, SMART really does help at keeping things on course, and as you say it’s a great way of tracking progress. I find that it’s also quite exciting as you start to see it working, and generally just makes you feel more positive about the whole process. It sounds like you achieved a lot through SMART so I’m really glad you had a lot of success, congratulations 🙂

      And thank you, yes I did come up with the acronym for CREATIVE, I decided to be creative with it ?

      Aw, how adorable, yes it’s such a good documentary- only came out on Netflix on the 31st January. It’s fantastic, so I’m glad you now know about it, very inspiring lady 🙂

  • Janet

    Hi Natalie, i have never thought of SMART that way. After reading this i realized i am definitely a poor planner. I will try to follow the SMART method and hope to achieve my short and eventually long term goals. I felt like i was in a motivational class as i read through lol! Thanks foir this great article. Be blessed.

    • Natalie

      Thanks Janet,

      Glad you enjoyed it. Yeah SMART isn’t always needed but it does give us a pretty foolproof way of achieving goals and checking we have all our bases covered 🙂 it can be quite fun too, as it brings our goals into a realistic setting and makes them tangible. Happy planning and let me know if you have any questions as you go 🙂

  • ty Chan

    Thanks for your nice sharing here. I agree with the things you mentioned here. Achieving goals requires-S-M-A-R-T. Among these five points, I think achievable goals are difficult to set. Sometimes we think too big, but don’t know the goals are not achievable easily. To make the goals achievable, I agree with you that we have to write down some actionable steps. Otherwise, we lose motivation to achieve them.

    • Natalie

      Absolutely, it’s very easy for goals to become overwhelming, especially if we like to dream big. SMART not only gives us an actionable way to achieve them, but it also puts the power back in our hands, as it gives us a map regarding how to tap into and achieve our bigger goals, and then the sky is the limit really!

  • Gaurav

    Very interesting article Natalie. I used SMART goal setting in an organizational context for many, many years but your article is an excellent way of imbibing the methodology for self improvement. Brilliant stuff.

    • Natalie

      Hey, so glad you found SMART goal setting useful, and glad you liked the article. I thought it would be helpful to creative types that ordinarily find SMART a little restrictive 😀

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