Goal setting shouldn’t create a sense of dread or failure; it should be empowering and clarifying.
What are SMART Goals?
Wikipedia defines S.M.A.R.T. as a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in setting objectives, such as in project management, employee performance management, and personal development. That’s a lot of words to say “a smart and effective way to structure goals so you can have a sense of accomplishment.” So, let’s break down SMART into each of the criteria and offer a bit more context.
SMART goals that are Specific
SMART goals should be specific enough that there is very little room for confusion or loopholes. Regardless of their desire to achieve a goal, most people will gravitate to loopholes and ultimately fail at achieving their goals. There’s a lot of theory as to why we act this way. I suspect the biggest component is our subconscious activating our risk manager (that little voice that keeps us safe). Goals usually mean some significant change in our lives. And with change, there is often some risk. “Will I like the results of losing 20 pounds, or will it be meaningless?”
Some examples of specific SMART goals are:
- “I am going to walk 2 miles 4 times a week.” Not, “I’m going to walk a couple of times a week.”
- “I’m going to be healthier.” Verses, “I’m going to exercise 3 times a week and eat fewer carbs.”
- “I’m going to get more sleep.” Or, “I’m going to go to bed at 10 pm and wake up at 6 pm on workdays.”
The more specific you can be, the better your odds of not getting around the goal and succeeding. Trust me, the frustration of drilling down to a specific goal will yield a lot of pride and accomplishment when you achieve it. So, get specific but also keep it simple.
SMART goals that can be Measured
How will you know if you achieved your SMART Goals? That’s where having specific measurements incorporated will help you:
- Gauge your progress.
- Breaks goals into easily managed segments.
- Let you know when you achieve your goal.
Which of the following goals would you consider to be measurable?
- I will save money this year.
- I will stop eating so many sugary foods.
- By my birthday, I will lose 25 pounds.
- I will walk 5 miles a week.
Although all four are worthy goals, achieving them may provide some sense of accomplishment; you can only measure two. Numbers 3 and 4 give specific amounts (25 pounds and 5 miles) that can qualify the achievement of the goal.
In goal number 1, how do you define “save money?” Is it saving $5 a week or $5,000 a year? With Goal number 2, is it a similar scenario? What defines “so many” in this particular goal?
Make your SMART goals Attainable & Achievable
The beginning of the new year is fraught with enthusiasm and bold statements. People declare they are changing every aspect of their lives, like going to the gym twice a day for a year. Or they are getting their high school body back by a reunion. Setting attainable goals sets you up for success. With true success, you will build confidence and motivation to set more goals, creating a healthy and sustainable cycle of self-improvement.
Since everyone’s abilities are different, giving examples of attainable goals may not be applicable. When you are writing out a goal, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this something I can achieve in the designated time frame? Is there enough time in the day to go to the gym twice a day?
- Do I have the means to accomplish this goal? Will your goal require you to spend a large sum of money to outfit a home gym to meet your daily workout goal? Does your goal require a large chunk of your time, leaving very little time to sleep, work, do chores or socialize?
- Am I setting the bar too low? Sometimes we shy away from stretching ourselves, and we never quite push enough to grow. Be honest when setting your goals, and don’t shortchange yourself on personal growth.
Set goals that are challenging but attainable. Set daily, weekly or monthly goals that you can measure, whether it is saving a certain amount of money, walking a certain number of steps or practicing a lifestyle change on a regular basis. By making your goals and desired changes attainable and measurable, you can assure yourself success.
Creating Relevant and Realistic goals
If a goal has meaning and is relevant to a current situation, that goal will become more important. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why am I doing this?” A good way to determine if your goal is relevant is to ask yourself, “Is this something that I want?”
A good example of a relevant goal for a person with unstable blood sugars due to poor diet and inconsistency with taking their medications would be to take their medications as prescribed for the next 30 days and follow their physician-directed diet.
Having realistic goals is also critical for success. It’s not realistic for a sedentary person to set a goal to run the Boston Marathon in three months. Or, a morbidly obese person to lose 100’s of pounds before their high school reunion that’s in a couple of months. When setting goals, always ask if this is realistic. If you struggle with determining whether or not it’s realistic or relevant, ask a loved one their opinion. Please note, whenever a goal involves drastic changes in physical activity or dietary changes to produce significant weight loss, you should always check with your Primary Care physician.
Make your goals Time-bound or Timely
Did you know that most habits form after 21 days of consistent behavior? The goal with most goals is to change behavior that no longer works. Having a goal that’s time-bound and timely will create not only a sense of urgency but give you a specific timeframe to focus your attention on your behavioral changes. Here are some good examples of time-bound goals.
- I will save $100 each month for two years.
- I will meditate for 10 minutes each morning for 30 days.
- I am not drinking soda for the next 90 days.
- By my 30th birthday, I will have my student loan paid off.
The biggest take-away from setting time-bound goals is to set yourself up for success and not to be overly aggressive with deadlines or timeframes. You want to make goal setting positive and rewarding, not punitive.
Time to activate your goals.
Becoming good at setting goals takes practice and commitment. It may help to have someone you can be accountable to by checking in regularly on your progress and asking for help when you need additional support.
Whenever you are making big changes in your life that may impact your emotional or physical health, please consult your Primary Care physician or behavioral health clinician. It’s important that you are physically healthy and consider how your goals could challenge your body. Your doctor may want to do a physical exam if you plan to lose weight or undergo a new exercise program. If you are making behavioral or mental health changes in your life, you might consider consulting a behavioral health provider. Whatever your goal may be, your think providers and health team are here to help you every step of the way!