Taking SMART Action (Part One)

Dreams are mesmerizing because of their magnetic pull. However, they are also rarely close to the reality of where we are at the present time. That is why so many of us feel the conflict of wanting something of which we are also afraid. If our dream is big, it can be tantamount to having to move a mountain to make it happen. In other words, it is one tall order of a project that would intimidate anyone.

But, what if we were to break this enormous project down into smaller, manageable ones that involve moving a few rocks at a time? When we complete each of these smaller tasks, they eventually add up to moving the mountain. These smaller tasks do not seem so insurmountable, do they? In short, have manageable goals, focus on taking action on one goal at a time, and we are less likely to be scared off. In time, these goals will add up to the realization of our dream.

To take action on your dream, let me introduce you to an effective action planning and tracking tool, SMART. SMART is a mnemonic for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-trackable. The idea is to define SMART goals to take toward fulfilling your dream. Let’s look at the SMART components in turn. This article will focus on the first two components: Specific and Measurable.


First, you want to break down your dream into small, discrete goals that can be acted upon one by one over time. The idea here is to break down something big into manageable chunks. Keep getting more specific, until the goal or action step itself cannot be reduced any further.

For instance, if your dream is to have a more satisfying career, what are specific, manageable chunks of this dream? Perhaps, one specific goal is to define clearly what your dream career looks like. Following that, you may need to assess which of your skills and experiences are transferable to your dream career, and where there may be gaps. In the case of gaps, you may need to explore how best to fill them. Perhaps, you will take some classes or get yourself transferred to another department in your company where you can gain some relevant experience.

For now, let’s follow the thread of taking classes to define more specific goals. The beginning list of your specific goals may look like this:

  1. Define what my dream career looks like.
  2. List all of my skills and experiences to date. Evaluate which ones are transferrable to my dream career, and what gaps I may need to fill.
  3. Request catalogs from the three colleges in my area.
  4. Do research online for where else I can take classes.
  5. Conduct field interviews with people who are already in my dream profession.

Do you see how this works? Each of the above five goals is a discrete activity. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the entire dream of switching careers, you can focus on one activity at a time. The more specific you get with your goals, the more likely you will complete them. In the end, your entire plan will lead you to your dream – provided you follow through with action, of course.


Aside from getting specific about your goals, you would want to set ones that are measurable as well. A great way to set measurable goals is to make sure you can check them off when they are done. For instance, looking at the short list above, each of these steps can be checked off. When a goal is not something you can check off easily, chances are it is not measurable, and may be not specific enough. For instance, if you would like to lose weight, and you set your goal as “Make exercise a priority.” Well, can you check that off? How do you know whether exercise has become a priority or not? Alternatively, let’s say your goal is something like, “Go for a 20-minute walk around my neighborhood every evening after dinner.” That is definitely more specific and something you can check off. You either have or have not gone for a walk on a particular day. And, you can count whether it did in fact last 20 minutes.

My article next week will be about the remaining three letters of SMART: Actionable, Realistic and Time-trackable. See you back here next Thursday!


This article is based on the Act Chapter of my book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life.

About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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