Turns out there is a correct way to set a goal, proven scientifically and tested over time. Heather Huntsman, Ph.D., CSCS, explains how setting SMART goals can achieve the greatest results, along with a few other goal-setting best practices.
While there are several methods for goal-setting, few have as much scientific validation as setting a “SMART” goal. The SMART method has been used by individuals and corporations for decades and is a proven strategy for setting effective goals.1
S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that describes the principles that take “B team” plans and transforms them into “A team” strategies.
SMART goals defined:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
- Achievable (agreed, attainable)
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)
For example, rather than saying: “my goal this year is to lose weight,” a SMART goal would sound like: “my goal is to lose 40 pounds this year, at a rate of 3.5 pounds per month over the next 12 months, and decrease my body fat by 6%. To accomplish this goal, I will decrease by caloric intake by 200 calories a day, and increase my activity by going to the gym 2-3 days a week.”
While the difference between these goals is clear, there are a few important points to highlight. It’s most important to understand that the SMART method should be viewed as a scaffolding that frames goal planning, almost as a checklist to make sure strategies towards a goal are on track for success.
Another important note: you can’t settle for a first draft of your SMART goals. Periodic re-assessment will ensure they are still achievable, relevant, and timely.2 Life happens, plateaus occur, things change and a flexible understanding of the ebb and flow of life will help your goals grow with you. Research shows that when you build in ways that provide feedback (e.g. pounds lost, body fat % change), you are more likely to achieve your larger, more long-term goals.3,4
Secondly, be sure to share your goals. Who you share them with and how you share them is up to you, but there is a lot of research that suggests a shared goal adds in the motivation and accountability necessary for success.5 Again, there are many strategies for achieving goals, but what’s important is to find what works for you. Sign up for a class, start a conversation with supportive family or friends that have similar goals, invest in your health at a fitness studio or measure your progress using data on a regular basis.
To set yourself up for success this year and avoid your quitting on your resolutions before getting started, know in confidence that you are building on goal-setting strategies that are upheld by research – and start setting your SMARTest goals yet.
- Doran GT. (1981) There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives. Management Review 70(11):35-36.
- Bjerke MB and Renger R. (2017) Being smart about writing SMART objectives. Evaluation and Program Planning 61:125-127. doi: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2016.12.009.
- Burke LE, et al. (2012) Using mHealth Technology to Enhance Self-Monitoring for Weight Loss: A randomized Trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 43(1):20-26. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.03.016.
- Conroy MB, et al. (2011) Physical Activity Self-Monitoring and Weight Loss: 6-Month Results of the SMART Trial. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise 43(8):1568-74. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31820b9395.
- Goldstein SP, et al. (2019) Associations Between Self-Monitoring and Weight Change in Behavioral Weight Loss Interventions. Health Psychology 38(12):1128-36. doi: 10.1037/hea0000800.