How to Use SMART Goals to Achieve Your Health Goals

Are you somebody who wishes to make a healthy change in life, but find that you never stick to it? Common goals people have include losing weight, waking up earlier, going to the gym, reading more, etc., but many report never achieving these goals even though they really are ready to make that change.

Let me just tell you now: it isn’t your fault, and you definitely aren’t alone.

I, too, have struggled with this same phenomenon. Whenever I wanted to make a change, I just decided that I was going to do it full throttle with no preparation. It wasn’t until my senior year of college when I took a class called “Nutrition Counseling” that I finally recognized where I was going wrong. The spontaneity of my decision was the exact reason why I failed. I had a rough plan on how I would begin, but there were so many things I hadn’t prepared myself for. I didn’t have plans regarding maintenance and longevity of good habits once sole motivation wore off. I didn’t plan how I would handle setbacks or things outside of my control. In reality, I didn’t have a plan for anything at all.

Then, I was introduced to SMART goals.

In 1981, George Duran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham published an article called “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write managerial goals and objectives.” Evidently by the title of the article, it was originally created to help managerial staff generate higher success rates when completing their assigned goals and objectives. It is designed to make goal setting much clearer and simpler by following the goal setting criteria outlined by the SMART acronym. Although Duran, Miller, and Cunningham created SMART in order to assist businesses at a managerial level, the acronym has been adopted by numerous professions, (therapists, registered dietitians, etc.) but you can learn how to implement it to achieve a healthier life, too![1]

I’m sure you’re probably wondering…

What does S.M.A.R.T. stand for?

S.M.A.R.T stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Just like reading a word, when setting a health/nutrition-related goal, you want to start with the first letter and work your way to the right, so let’s start with “S.”

Image courtesy of fitsmallbusiness.com.

S – Specific

Think of your goal. How specific is it? A big reason people stop pursuing their goals is because they made their goal too broad. For example, “I want to eat healthy” is an incredibly broad statement that does not pinpoint anything specific. Instead, when constructing your SMART goal, think of what you could implement to make your goal even more specific. An example of a more specific SMART goal could be, “I will eat one piece of fruit at lunch and at least one vegetable with dinner during the work week.” Not only is it specific, but it also helps to give you specific instructions on what foods you will be eating and exactly when you will be eating them.

M – Measurable

Let’s continue on the path of “I want to eat healthy.” We have to make this goal measurable, but what does that mean? A goal that is measurable means that there is some indicator that progress has happened or is happening. How often does this goal need to occur for it to be a success for you? For example, a measurable goal related to “I want to eat healthy” would be, “I want to eat one piece of fruit for lunch and at least one vegetable for dinner 5 days a week for the next month.” Not only is it specific, but your progress is also measurable.

A – Attainable

In order to make achieving your health goal successful, it must be made as something realistic, and you need to make sure you have the tools and resources to complete it. For example, if you don’t have regular access to cooking appliances, it wouldn’t be very attainable to make your healthy eating goal, “I want to cook a healthy meal 5 days a week.” Instead, you want to utilize the tools and resources around you in order to create a reasonable goal that you can achieve!

R – Relevant

Relevance. Does your goal align with your values or your long-term goals? This may seem obvious, but oftentimes when chasing a big goal, we make irrelevant smaller goals that don’t quite relate to our overall plan. For example, your big goal is healthy eating, but you begin to make goals such as “I want to work out 4 times a week.” While this is a healthy practice, it doesn’t not relate to your overarching goal of wanting to eat healthier. So, when creating your health goals, be sure that every goal you create directly ties back to the big goal!

T – Time based

And finally, you need to have a timeframe in which you want to complete this goal or when you will do tasks you have assigned yourself. For a long-term goal such as healthy eating, the goal should be based around when you will put in active effort each week to eat healthier. For example, a time-based goal around healthy eating could be, “Every Saturday, I will plan healthy meals for the week and go grocery shopping.” This goal will give you a guide on which you will complete a task, therefore taking the guesswork out of healthy eating.

To wrap it up, let’s put together some SMART goals for healthy eating.

I want to eat healthy.

 

I will add one piece of fruit to my lunch and at least one vegetable to my dinner 5 days a week for the next month.

 

Every Saturday for the next month, I will plan four healthy meals for the week, and I will go grocery shopping at [insert your grocery store!].

 

I will try a new fruit or a new vegetable once a week for the next 30 days.

 

Achieving your goals doesn’t have to be difficult! I hope that by learning these steps, you’re on your way to making Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based goals!

 

– By Ashley Gardoni, Dietetic Intern, Department of State Hospitals, Atascadero

References

  1. Haughey, D. (2014, December 13). A brief history of smart goals. Project Smart. Retrieved February 2, 2022, from https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/smart-goals/brief-history-of-smart-goals.php