Goal Setting: Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T

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It's that time of the year again.  With the start of a new year, brings the idea of setting goals for the next 12 months.  In speaking with a patient yesterday, she mentioned to me that her goal for 2018 was "to get healthy".  I then asked her "what does getting healthy mean to you and how are you going to know when you are healthy".  She struggled with answering those questions and I gently mentioned to her that you one way to stay on track with your goals is to take your goals and apply the S.M.A.R.T principle to them.  Meaning, when you write a goal, you want to make sure it is Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely

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Let's Break This Down Further:

1. Specific

Your goal should be clear and well defined, otherwise you won't be able to focus your energy, efforts and motivation into achieving it.  You need to ask yourself a few questions about your goal:

  • What do I want to accomplish
  • Why is this important to me
  • How will I go about accomplishing this goal
  • Who will I need to help me?
  • Which tools or resources to I need to help me
  • Where will I need to be to accomplish this goal

Instead of "I want to get healthy", my patient could have said (to be more specific): I want to lose x number of pounds a week by attending one class at the gym a week, reaching my goal of 10,000 steps per day and planning my snacks and meals each day/week.

2. Measurable

Having your goal be measurable is important to be able to track your progress and help you stay motivated to achieve your goal.  Making your goal measurable means that you have identified exactly what it is you will see or feel when you reach your goal.  When you introduce measurable elements into a goal it makes it clearer and easier to reach.

To use my patient's goal as an example we could measure "healthy" by a certain weight loss amount or body fat percentage or lean muscle mass percentage or clothing size.  Something that would allow her to track her progress and give her motivation to continue to work towards her goal but also give her the satisfaction to know when she has reached her goal.

3. Achievable

This part usually involves a little bit of research, but you need to ask yourself "Is your goal attainable?"  You need to weigh the effort, time and costs of your goal against the other obligations and priorities (and sometimes course of nature) you have in your life.

Returning to the "Get Healthy" goal, when prompted, my patient mentioned she wanted to lose a considerable amount of weight before her daughter's wedding in June.  The weight loss amount she mentioned was just not realistic (or healthy) and therefore that big weight loss goal would likely result in disappointment and discouragement.  You need to do the research!  I mentioned to my patient to look into healthy weight ranges for her age and height and to look into what healthy (attainable & maintainable) weight loss is per week and adjust her goal accordingly.

4. Relevant

This step is making sure that your goal matters to you.  The question you want to be asking yourself here is "Why is this goal important to you?"  What is the objective behind the goal and will this goal really achieve that?  Other questions you can ask yourself to help with this goal are:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Does this match my/our other efforts/needs?
  • Am I the right person to reach this goal?
  • Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?

When you are talking about making healthy lifestyle changes, it seem obvious that the answer to the majority of those questions would be "yes" and that being healthy should be important to everyone.  You just want to make sure that you are doing it for your own reasons and not the reasons of others.

5. Timely

Every goal needs a target date, so that you have deadlines to focus on and something to work towards.  I would encourage you to make deadlines along the way in anticipation of the big deadline date.

You want to think about what can I do weekly, monthly, in 3 months,  in 6 months, 1 year or 5 years from now, all working towards your big deadline date, whenever that may be.  Make sure to keep the timeline realistic and flexible.


S.M.A.R.T goal setting is an effective tool that provides clarity, focus and the motivation you need to achieve your goals.  It can also improve the likelihood of achieving your goals by encouraging you to define your objectives and set a deadline date.

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Happy Goal Setting!