Published On: January 21, 2015

Motivation is the driving force that makes us want to achieve our goals in life. One of the tools that we can use to turn our motivations into action is by developing a SMART goal. SMART goals are effective because they help you think through the details of what you are going to do so that you can put them into practice.

SMART goals are defined as Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive plans of action. Here is an explanation of what each component of the SMART goal is, with an example, and then at the end there is a worksheet that will help you develop your own SMART goal.

#1. Goals should be specific. They should be clear and emphasize what you want to happen. Specifics help us to focus and define what we are going to do. Ensure the goals you set are very specific, clear and easy.

Here we describe the What, Why, and How of the SMART model.

  • WHAT are you going to do? Use action words
  • WHY is this important to do at this time?
  • HOW are you going to do it? (By planning what, when, where, and how)

Example: Instead of setting a goal to “exercise to be healthier” set a specific goal such as:

  • What? To participate in a 5km walk for breast cancer in 1 year.
  • Why? To be healthier and take care of my body.
  • How? To walk 30 minutes around my neighborhood three days a week and join a walking group.

#2. Goals should be measurable. Choose a goal where you can measure its progress. This will help you identify when the changes take place. When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the excitement of achievement that feeds your motivation to continue.

Example: How will you measure your goal? Through time, distance and number of days I exercised this week. I will use an exercise log sheet where I record the exercise I did, how much time I spent doing the exercise, the distance I went and how I felt about doing the exercise after it was done.

#3. Goals should be attainable. A goal needs to be something that will stretch you slightly so you feel you can do it and it will demand a real commitment from you. Goals you set which are too big or too hard, you probably won’t commit to doing in the long run. After all we all start with the best of intentions, but if your goal feels overwhelming and too large you’ll be more likely to give up before you achieve it.

Example: A goal that is too large: To exercise 7 days this week for 2 hours each day. A goal that is just right: To exercise 3 times this week for 30 minutes.

#4. Goals should be realistic. This doesn’t mean easy but it does mean that you should feel capable in achieving this goal. It means that you have the skills and resources available to do the work. The goal needs to be realistic for you and where you are at the moment.

Example: A goal of exercising every single day when you have not exercised regularly in over ten years may not be realistic.

It may be more realistic to set a goal of exercising 3 days a week for 3 10-minute bouts over the course of the day. Then choose to work towards exercising 3 days a week for 30-minutes straight gradually as and when this feels realistic for you.

#5. Goals should be time-sensitive. Set a timeframe for the goal: for next week, in one month, three months, 6 months and one year. Putting an end point on your goal gives you a clear target to work towards.

If you don’t set a time, the commitment is too vague. It tends not to happen because you feel you can start at any time. Without a time limit, there’s no urgency to start taking action now.

Example: My long-term goal is to participate in a 5-km walk for breast cancer in 1 year. I will do a practice walk (not timed in 6 months with my walking group).

Extra questions to ask yourself when setting goals:

  • Does this goal involve changing things about YOU (not changing other people)
  • Does this goal involve changing things that are within your control?
  • Will this goal make an immediate improvement in your life?
  • Is there another goal you need to reach first before you can accomplish this goal?
  • Why is this goal important to you?
  • What would success in achieving this goal look like?

References: Information adapted from Mind Over Mood by Padesky & Greenberger (1995); IDEELS Simulation Document by Janet Sutherland, Ph.D; “SMART Goal Setting: A Surefire Way To Achieve Your Goals” by Nikitina (2011).

Heather Strong, Ph.D.

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