How to Set Goals Using ABCDE

Take a moment to visualise your ideal career… What does it look like? Feel like? 

(Check out my resources page for FREE self-reflection tools to help you with this…)

Goals help you to craft your ideal career


I’ll level with you: if I said, “here’s how to set SMART goals”, you’d probably yawn, roll your eyes, look at your new fancy smartwatch and get ‘the ick.’

So, here’s my totally radically new ABCDE framework. (Pssst - it’s an evidence-based re-imagining of the SMART framework but outlined in a way that - hopefully - won’t give you ‘the ick’. Give it a try…) 


A is for Autonomy – this is all about YOU! 

It’s best when you have ownership and investment in your own goals. Obvious really. 

Classic research from the 70s highlights that when employees help set their own goals (rather than being told their goals by a supervisor), they set more challenging goals and perform better (Latham, Mitchell & Dossett, 1978). 

This is consistent with Motivational Interviewing (MI) theory, which posits that the more a person a person talks about their own reasons for change, the more likely they are to make that change (Miller & Rollnick, 2012). This is central to my coaching work. 

Great news: you can set whatever the heck goals you want to! 

By the way, if you’re clinging to the familiarity of SMART, this replaces the R for Relevance. 


B is for Boundaries – be clear about your timescales 

Setting appropriate boundaries on your time reduces your risk of underachieving, or indeed unhealthy over-striving. 

If you don’t set time limits on your goals, you’re at risk of procrastinating and letting things drift. You might think to yourself that you will do those things “one day…” or “soon…” and convince yourself that you’ll get round to it. Then before you know it, a decade has passed and you’ve made no progress. You’re stuck doing the same old things. Setting time limits on your goals can protect you from procrastination (Underhill & Edwards, 2021). 

On the flipside, if you have Over-Excited-Puppy tendencies (like me), you’ll likely overwhelm yourself with wanting to do everything at once, and put yourself at risk of burnout. Setting timescales reassures you that you’ve got a plan to achieve what’s most important to you, in a boundaried way. I find it helpful to set life-long goals, annual goals and monthly goals. 

If you must, this loosely relates to the T of SMART, Time-bound.


C is for Challenge – you need just the right level 

Here we need the good ol’ Goldilocks approach: not too challenging… not too easy… but ‘just right’. The most motivating goals feel like a stretch to the edge of your abilities, but within reach (Locke and Latham, 2002). 

Ideally, it feels exciting to think of achieving your goal. When you visualise achieving this goal, you feel proud. You believe that, with effort, you can achieve this goal.   

If you haven’t let go of SMART yet, this would be A for Achievable.


D is for Defining success - What does success mean to you? 

So, what is your big dream? What is your end-goal (Whitmore, 2009)? What do you envision as your ideal life? It’s good to reflect on your values and what’s important to you. This is deep: it often ranges far wider than just your career, which is only one element of your life. I love doing values work with my coachees. 

Getting clear on your personal definition of success is an essential step to inform your goals. What, specifically (ick!), does that look like for you? If I saw a video montage of you ‘being successful’ and living your best life, what would I see you doing? Seeing? Saying? Feeling?

If we really have to (eye roll), yes, this would be S for Specific. Major Ick.


E is for Evaluation – Are we there yet? 

How will you know you’ve got there? Underhill and Edwards (2021) argue that if something cannot be measured, it cannot be improved. We need to build in some kind of measure of success, so that you know how you’re doing. I like to use scaling for this: where are you now and where would you like to be? What does that look like? Feedback along the way can help to motivate you and keep you on track. That’s why I review and celebrate my progress monthly and yearly. 

And in the interest of completing the SMART acronym, this would be M for Measurable. Did you avoid getting ‘the ick’? Hope so!



In summary, good goals are personally motivating to you (Autonomy) and link with your ideas about success (Defining success) at an appropriate level of complexity (Challenge). Good goals are time-limited (Boundaried) and have ways to measure your success (Evaluation). 

You can use this sentence framework: 

By … (Boundary on timescales)… 

I will … (Define what success looks like for you personally - Autonomy - and the right level of Challenge)

…and I will know I’ve got there because I will…see/feel/think/have/be/do… (Evaluation, using scaling if relevant).


What's Next for You? 

 Are you ready to start writing your career goals? How can I further help you? Here’s some of my current offerings: 


  • Join my online goals workshop on Friday 06.01.23 at 9:30-11:30am. You’ll get a free workbook download with self-reflection activities, I’ll share further ideas and we’ll engage in small group coaching discussions with like-minded EPs. Find out more… 




  • Drop me a quick message with any thoughts or questions relating to goals or your EP career development pathway – I’d love to hear from you. (Email:; WhatsApp: 07957 025 066; Twitter DM: @fiona_coley)


  • My 1:1 coaching slots are currently full. Drop me a line if you’d like to find out more and join my waiting list 😊



Latham, G. P., Mitchell, T. R., & Dossett, D. L. (1978). Importance of participative goal setting and anticipated rewards on goal difficulty and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 63(2), 163-171.

Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717 

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change (3rd ed.). New York: The Guildford Press. 

Underhill, B. O., & Edwards, L. A. (2021). Goal setting in coaching. In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: Theory, tools and techniques to achieve outstanding coaching performance (4th ed., pp. 340-356). London: Kogan Page.

Whitmore, J. (2009) Coaching for Performance: GROWing human potential and purpose (4th ed.) Nicholas Brealey Publishing: London 


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