Stretch and SMART Goals


In the book, “Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg, the author explains an experiment held to test how goals motivate people.

Runners were given 10 seconds to get as close as possible to a finish line 200 meters away. The report explained the athletes knew no one had ever accomplished the feat of sprinting 200 meters in 10 seconds. On average, athletes made it 59.6 meters.

When presented with task number two, however, something happened. Athletes were given 10 seconds again, but only to sprint 100 meters this time. However, Duhigg explained this goal was more within the realm of believability. In fact, he said in 2009 Usain Bolt ran 100 meters in 9.58 seconds. This was proven the, on average, runners were able to sprint 63.1 meters in 10 seconds.

Duhigg explained the runners had no practical approach when trying to accomplish the first task of 200 meters. He said they knew they couldn’t do it; it was impossible, so they had no way to try and effectively accomplish the goal. But with the 100 meters, runners were able to tackle it like any other sprint. They took the larger task and broke it into manageable parts – start off strong in the beginning, set a pace and push hard in the last few seconds.

The experiment helped explain the idea of stretch and SMART goals — SMART stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timeline” and was started by General Electric. Stretch goals are those goals that might seem at first impossible. SMART goals are the ones that are smaller and attainable. He explained everyone needs both – a stretch goal allows one to be ambitious, while SMART goals are more manageable.

“It’s often not clear how to start on a stretch goal,” wrote Duhigg. “And so, for a stretch goal to become more than just an aspiration, we need a disciplined mindset to show us how to turn a far-off objective into a series of realistic, short-term aims. People who know how to build SMART goals have often been habituated into cultures where big objectives can be broken into manageable parts, and so when they encounter seemingly outsized ambitions, they know what to do.”

The author explains it’s key to have both. If you focus too much on you stretch goal, you will be overwhelmed by its impossibility. But if you only focus on your SMART goals and get a high off crossing out items on your to-do list, you’ll never grow.

So, “come up with a menu of your biggest ambitions,” wrote Duhigg. “Dream big and stretch … Then choose one aim and start breaking it into short-term, concrete steps. Ask yourself, what realistic progress you can make in the next day, week, month?”

If your stretch goal were to run a marathon, you’d break it down into subgoals, like how far you want to run by the second month of your training. Then, you’d make a plan to reach that subgoal.

“What matters is having a large ambition and a system for figuring out how to make it into a concrete and realistic plan,” wrote Duhigg. “Then, as you check the little things off of your to-do list, you’ll move ever closer to what really matters. You’ll keep your eyes on what’s both wise and SMART.”

What’s your stretch goal, Affiliate? Dream big today. Get ambitious. And after you do, form SMART goals to help you attain that dream.

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at