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  • Writer's pictureHarvey Hillary

Goal Achievement - not just about being SMART

I'm fascinated by what enables some individuals to be really effective goal achievers. By that mean the fuel motivation through challenge, their enjoy the process of pursuing a goal, they set goals that are in their grasp but not out of reach and most of all, find a real sense of fulfillment in achieving the goals they set.

What continually surprises me, its that so many people fail to grasp the difference between goal setting and goal achievement. Goal setting is well documented and any G.C.S.E. student should be able to produce a Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time Phased plan. My central thesis here is that SMART is only part of the process and in fact their are Four stages that set Serial Goal Achievers apart from the rest of the unenlightened population. My model to goal achievement is SPIRE Principle: Inspire, Conspire, Perspire and Expire.


It is not good enough to want to do something for the simple reason that if it were that easy, you would have done it already, for example, losing weight or getting fitter this year. You must have a compelling reason WHY you want to do something and that can be motivated by several factors:

Ego – This is a self-serving goal, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. Elite athletes and top business people are some the most selfish/narcissistic people I know and yet we respect their achievements. Their ego goals could be beating personal bests, competition success, demonstrating skill mastery, closing the most deals or making more money than others.

Need – “If I do not do this, then I or someone I love will suffer.” An example of a ‘Need’ goal might be to stop smoking for health reasons or the goal of spending more time with a partner or child to benefit the relationship. 

Fulfillment – Doing something with a holistic view on your happiness is a noble goal. Fulfillment is often overlooked by many high achievers, who confuse success with happiness. The objective here is to understand what makes you happy and maximise the time you spend doing it.

Altruism – “I am more fortunate than others and through my struggles, others will benefit.” This factor overlaps between ‘Need’ and ‘Ego’ in a complex relationship. 

There is no shame in any of these ‘inSPIRE’ drivers although some might pass judgement on the ‘worthiness of your goal’. That said, Maslow might point out some drivers are more powerful than others regarding their internal motivation. 

InSPIRE Action Points:

The key message is the clearer your picture as to why you want to achieve a goal the more compelling and resolute your motivation will be. Once you have committed to the goal, tell everyone. Peer pressure is a powerful companion.The ultimate test is to publish your intention on social media – now you are serious….and going public!


When you conspire to achieve a goal you not only need to define ‘success’, you need to map the route to success. ‘Process Goals’ are the stepping stones that take you from where you are now to where you need to in bite-size chunks. The goal is the What, but you need to define the How, then the When and finally Who are the right people to help.  

I could list numerous inspirational and highly capable people who have failed to achieve a goal, not because it was beyond their capabilities but, because an element of the preparation was inadequate.  From my experience, I have seen many highly talented sailors fail to reach the Olympic Games because they failed to understand what it takes to transition and what it takes to win. In sailing, the historical data suggests it takes 12 years of intelligent effort before the average medalist wins their 1st Medal. During this period, they must find the right teammate and coach and acquire the skills to become world-class. They need to avoid long-term injury, maintain sufficient funding and purchase equipment capable of winning. They need to win the Olympic Trails and finally, fulfill their potential under exceptional outcome stress to achieve their stated Goal.  

ConSPIRE Action Points:

The quality of your planning will define the effectiveness of your development and the efficiency of your execution.  Do your research and understand How others of similar capabilities have achieved a similar goal. What has been the cause of failure in unsuccessful campaigns and What can you learn from those failures (both from your experiences and those of others).Write your plan down. This can be on paper, a Goalscape or a Gant chart.  In 2008-9, I designed a plan with two Olympic hopefuls that would take then from 19th in the world to a Podium at the World Championships 9 months later.  95% of that plan was on the back of a Napkin over dinner.  


No one said it was going to be easy! The key to success in this phase is the first principle - that compelling reason to achieve the goal. Having a vivid picture in your head will power the motivation to develop and improve your performance. If that is not there, then it is back to Phase One – INSPIRE, with the question, “Do I really what to do this and why?”

Working with a Coach can have a real impact on training efficiency – they should help to plan and implement individual training sessions that enable you to acquire the physical capacity, techniques, and knowledge to achieve the stated Goal. Their experience should allow you to fast-track your progress and achieve the goal within the agreed time-frame.

In most sports, the athlete will appoint a training partner. A good training partner will bring more to the table than companionship and motivation. They provide a benchmark and ‘overload’ your training sessions. The best training partnerships or squads provide a benefit to all involved.  Everyone brings a super-strength that the others can learn from and subsequently enhance their performance.

Finally, train hard – race easy.  I know it is a cliché but it still rings true. 

PerSPIRE Action Points: 

Find a Coach or Training Partner that can ‘stretch’ your training or impart key skills, knowledge or physical capacity required to achieve the stated goal. Monitor your progress frequently to allow you to stay on track and modify the plan if required to remain on trajectory.  There’s plenty of apps and software that can help. Ask someone to follow your progress– a ‘Goal Hanger’. I have mentioned before the power of peer pressure and I find having someone to hold you accountable hugely beneficial. Set dates where you check in with this person and adhere to them. 


Why do you climb mountains? For many, it is the chance to turn around and look back at the journey and enjoy the euphoria that comes from attaining their goal. This is your chance to get closure or at least close the book at the end of the first chapter. Before you do that, you must de-brief your success or failure.

Interestingly sport and business rarely de-brief on success. Instead, they debrief failure, choosing to reinforce poor performance with intent to find excuses rather than learn. Successful goal achievers will unlock the ‘cause of failure’ in the de-brief. If they still feel motivated to achieve their goal and have the resources available, they will go again with a refined plan based on the lessons learnt.

Having taken the time to debrief, it is critical to REST. Adaptation happens while resting and I am a big believer that having a period of time off from training will have physical, psychological and motivational benefits in the long-term. Celebrate, Recover, Re-focus and GO AGAIN…and achieve something incredible next time.

ExPIRE Action Points: 

Debrief continually! What did I set out to achieve and what was the plan? What happened – did I execute the plan accurately – Did the plan need to change? What caused the gap between the plan and what happened? What would we do differently next time? 

Answer those questions and then it is time to reward yourself with something that you have been deprived of while ‘Perspiring’ and enjoy the rest and recovery. 


This article has attempted to communicate the attitudes and processes I have observed in Elite Sport that will resonate with anyone looking to achieve a Goal. Moreover, I have tried to expand on why SMART goals only support an individual in the planning phase. My SPIRE Principle helps frame the phases required to commit to the goal, design and execute a plan and finally bring the closure to the goal, recover and learn for future goal success. 

Good luck achieving!

a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Robert Browning

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