Setting & Achieving Goals- Part 3

In the second post in this Setting & Achieving Goals series, we learned that to create a S.M.A.R.T. goal, it must be specific, significant and measurable Now that you have a SPECIFIC, SIGNIFICANT and MEASURABLE goal, how do you turn it into a reality?


The “A” in S.M.A.R.T. is for action plan. Let me explain just how crucial this step is:

Without an action plan, you will not reach your goal.

Trying to achieve a goal without a plan to do it is like trying to hit a bullseye without any darts. The action plan is your ammunition directly aimed at the center of the target.

In the last post we talked about creating a goal that is out of reach, something you cannot yet do. If your goal is something you cannot yet do, you’re going to need to figure out how to get there. So the big question is: How can the goal be accomplished?

Much like the ultimate end goal, an action plan needs to have specific and measurable steps in order to evaluate progress and keep you from veering off course.

But how do you make specific steps for something you’re not sure how to do yet? Here’s my secret that I’ve used since I was just a young athlete with only dreams of a perfect 10:

Work backwards

It may sound strange, even counterintuitive, but it makes creating an action plan easy and keeps the plan directly aimed at the bullseye.

You simply start by writing down your end goal. Then ask the question: What does it take to be at that goall? Write it down. Then backup one step, ask the same question, and repeat until you get to where you are currently standing. Let me give you a simple diving example.

Goal- Make Olympic Team
What does it take to make the Olympic Team?- Qualify at Olympic Trials
What does it take to qualify at Olympic Trials?- Top 2 at Olympic Trials
What does it take to be top 2 at Olympic Trials?- estimate 375 points
What does it take to get 375 points?- a degree of difficulty of 15.9 and average scores of 7.5/8
Where I am now- I have a degree of difficulty of 15.9 but my average score is 6.5 (310 points)

Now you have a set of steps and you can see the difference between where you are currently and where you need to be in order to achieve your goal. It’s good to break down each step as much as possible to help you see exactly what you need to achieve that step.

This is a simple example to show you the basic process of creating action steps. You will likely have many more steps and each step should have details for achieving it. Don’t be intimidated by all the details. Details are good because they help fill in gaps. It also helps you see where you might already be on the right track and where you still need more work. Like in this example, I have the right amount of difficulty, but my average scores are currently too low. But if we broke it down further into each dive and what my strengths/weaknesses are, we may find it’s only a single dive standing in my way. Perhaps there’s only a single action on that one dive that I’m struggling with. Now I know exactly how and where to focus my efforts to achieve that step, which will bring me within striking distance to my goal.

Personally I like the details. It helps me break everything down into smaller, bite size pieces. Often once I see it on paper, it seems so straight forward, very possible and not so out of reach. For the longest time I wanted to break 400 points on a five dive list. It seemed like such a near impossible feat. Until I broke it down on paper. I just needed 8’s on all my dives- consistency. I knew I could do that and now I had a plan on how to finally break that score. After discovering that, I did break that score many times and even by a large margin a few times.

If you have a long term goal that is far away (like four years until the Olympics), mini-goals are useful to break down what all you need to do to reach your goal and keep you motivated in the process. Mini-goals can actually be your action steps for long term goals. Once you break down the steps to get to your long term goal, often those steps can become your mini-goals, each with their own action plan. This can easily get very involved, so I recommend keeping the mini-goals very simple but specific with just one or two action steps so you don’t get overwhelmed but instead see it as an easy plan to get you to that next mini-goal.

After some time, there should be an evaluation of how your progress toward your goal is going and an ADJUSTMENT if necessary. The point is not to adjust your ultimate end goal, it’s to adjust your path getting there to keep you on track. As soon as you start lowering your goal or expectations, you are going to fall shorter and shorter of the original goal by default.


The “R” in S.M.A.R.T. is for ready. Once you nail down your action plan, you might suddenly get super excited to start putting your new plan into action. You should be motivated to begin right away or at least you should feel some peace and confidence in a solid plan to accomplish something you really want.

The reason for this is that you finally know how to achieve a goal that has, until now, been out of reach. Maybe it’s even seemed impossible to you. But now the doors of possibility have been opened. Now you have a road map to get to your desired destination. That should naturally excite you!

If instead you’re frustrated or dreading the start of this journey, you might want to reevaluate what your goal is or where your heart is right now and why.


The “T” in S.M.A.R.T. is for time sensitive. A goal with a time frame gives you a target date. That target date allows you to commit to a deadline.

When creating your goal and action steps, you may have automatically had a target date based on the nature of the goal. Like making the Olympic Team has a timeline attached to it because you have to qualify on a certain date. But goals like wanting to be out of debt or living a healthier lifestyle usually do not.

Deadlines are important to the success of achieving a goal. When your goal is bound by time, there should be a sense of urgency. That’s good. It’s gets you motivated, doesn’t allow you to procrastinate, and you have more of that “now or never” type attitude that helps you plow through the hard stages and valleys in the journey. The sense of urgency is a motivating factor, allowing you to streamline your focus to the goal and action steps, and it leaves no room for outside distractions.

So if your goal does not naturally have a deadline or end date for completion, revisit your action plan. Be realistic and give yourself enough time to complete each step, but it’s good to keep it tight enough to make you nervous. It should push you to get it done.


Goals give your life purpose, meaning, and direction. You’re not going accidentally do great things- you have to be intentional and want to do them.

Written down with a legitimate plan to get there, your big dream won’t feel so out of reach or impossible. It is, in fact, completely possible and tangible now. When you identify goals that are important to you, you will begin to develop the attitudes, abilities, skills and financial capacity to reach them. Goals with an action plan may even cause you to identify previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to achieving that goal.

My coach, Kenny Armstrong, loves to say, “Setting challenging goals creates a fear of failure, but setting no goals, guarantees it.” Yes, you may not always achieve your big goals, but if you don’t try at all you are guaranteed not to achieve them.

I made three Olympic Games but only won one medal at the first Games. Do I regret everything I did trying to win the other two? Not even the tiniest bit! I loved the pursuit! By my third Olympic Games, I was doing dives I never dreamed of doing at my first Games. I traveled the world competing. I went to 3 Olympic Games. I met amazing people that I am still good friends with to this day. I learned so many valuable lessons through my diving that are now helping me figure out how to navigate life outside the pool.

And here’s the real kicker ya’ll: Yes, I did not medal at two of the Olympic Games I made, but I won GOLD at one of them. And in the pursuit of the other two where I fell short, I won a World Cup and a World Championship title which I had never done before.

Perhaps you won’t achieve your goal every time, but you may surprise yourself and astound others.

Read the other posts in this series.

Part 1          Part 2          Part 3

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