How to Set SMART Goals You Can Stick To

Published on 
April 26, 2024
January 12, 2019
Rebecca Adams, PhD
Rebecca Adams, PhD
Rebecca Adams, PhD

Everyone has something they would like to achieve, health-related or otherwise.

Many of us have long-term or overarching goals, like getting healthy, living a joyful life, or saving for retirement. Key to achieving these long-term goals is to break them down into smaller, more manageable short-term goals. We know goal-setting helps us achieve our goals, but not all goals are created equal! Setting SMART goals will set you up for greater success in achieving your goals.

SMART goals are:

Specific: You know exactly what to do.

Measurable: You know when the goal has been achieved.

Action-oriented: You take an action to achieve your goal.

Realistic: The goal is reasonable and achievable given your resources and time.

Time-bound: The goal has a starting point and an ending point.

Example: “I will go for a 20-minute walk (Specific, Realistic, and Action-oriented), once daily (Measurable) for the next week (Time-bound).

Here are some tips for making sure you are setting SMART goals.

Setting specific and measurable goals

To be successful in goal setting, you need to be able to answer the questions: How do I know if I’ve achieved my goal? Or not achieved it? The more specific your goal is, the greater chance you’ll meet it.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Here are some examples of specific, measurable goals.

Making your goals action-oriented

SMART goals are action-oriented, meaning you take an action to attain your goal. Action-oriented goals are 100% under your control through your own actions.

It’s important to say that you should be the one taking the action to meet your goal. For example, if you want to reduce stress, your goal shouldn’t be your partner nagging you less! Since we can only control our own actions, examples of more appropriate goals are calling a friend or taking a yoga class.

Sometimes even goals that are specific and measurable are not action-oriented. For example, if you want to lose weight, saying you want to lose 20 pounds or achieve a daily fasting blood glucose of less than 125 is both specific and measurable, but not action-oriented or under your 100% control. These goals often need to be broken down further:

Setting realistic goals

It is important to set goals that are realistic and sustainable for you. Challenging yourself is great, but repeatedly failing to achieve goals that are too hard is frustrating and not likely to keep you motivated long-term.

Sticking to your goals is also more realistic when you feel a sense of ownership over them. It’s okay and encouraged to get help setting your goals, but you are the final decision-maker. They should feel important and relevant to you.

Another important part of setting attainable goals is anticipating roadblocks and brainstorming ways to overcome them in advance. Think about what you need in order to remain successful when challenges arise. Here is an example:

Your overarching goal is to attain ketosis and lower your blood sugar by cutting down on carbs. You snack a lot at your desk in-between meals and you think it might be getting in the way. Your SMART goal is to limit snacks to just an ounce of nuts or cheese a day.

You identified the following potential challenges:
(1) Getting hungry with limited food options nearby
(2) Mindless/accidental snacking when you are busy or stressed

You brainstorm potential solutions and choose some to try:
(1) Have nuts and cheese readily available at your desk
(2) Put your daily allotment into a smaller bag to keep at your desk.

Making time-bound goals

SMART goals have a specific time frame. Goals without specified starting and ending points tend to get pushed aside by other day-to-day tasks.

Having an end date to a goal also provides a great opportunity to evaluate how it went! Was it too easy? Too ambitious? Helpful? Were there unexpected challenges that got in the way? After answering these questions, adjust your goal to better fit your needs and then start again!

A note about expectations

Change is really hard! And for some people, it gets harder to sustain changes over time.

It’s important to remember that everyone has moments or days when they slip up and don’t fully meet their goals! This is normal and okay.

Beating yourself up for falling off the bandwagon is not helpful for getting you back on track--in fact, feeling bad about yourself may make it harder. Instead, remind yourself it’s normal to slip up sometimes and then focus on getting right back on that bandwagon!

If you find that you consistently have trouble meeting your goals, it might help to get some extra support identifying potential strategies to help you stay on track. You may need to adjust your goals to better fit your lifestyle!

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any advice relating to your health. View full disclaimer

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