Every New Year’s Eve millions of people make resolutions to “lose weight.” People fill their fridges with fruits and vegetables. Gym membership sales skyrocket. Treadmills as far as the eye can see. Two weeks later, over two-thirds of those who set those resolutions are right back to their previous lifestyle. Where did they go wrong?

Don’t get me wrong. Most people move towards their goals with the best intentions and extremely motivated. However, those individuals do not always have a definitive plan and only a vague idea of what/how to accomplish their goals. Some of you may have heard of this approach towards goal setting, and it is one of my favorite tools to use with clients and for my own sanity.

SMART has nothing to do with intelligence. It is an acronym outlining five specific ideas to keep in mind when developing your goals:

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timetable.

Specific– When I ask my clients what their main goal is, I can almost guarantee that they will first say “to get better” or some variation. After this, I always probe them to be “more specific.” The initial goal is stated with good intentions, but it offers no direction. This is the same idea as “losing weight.” Be a little more specific (i.e. “I want to lose twenty pounds.”) On the other hand, do not get too specific, or you might put too much pressure on yourself.

Measurable– We want to be able to track our progress. This is easier with concrete tasks like losing weight or obtaining a specific grade. This is a bit more difficult with abstract concepts, but try your best to put a number on it if you can. For example, “I want to think in a positive manner.” To put a number to it, “I will reframe one negative thought to give it a positive tone.” 

Attainable– Growing up, we all knew that one kid who wanted a career that was just…out there. “I want to be an astronaut.” That is not to say that one or two of those kids did eventually become an astronaut, but the vast majority of children realized that it was outside their realm of possibilities based on factors like academic abilities or motivation.

Realistic– Along the same lines as attainable, we must keep our expectations within reach and leave a little wiggle room for ourselves. In this area, people tend to put things into definite terms like “always” or “never,” or they set their expectations so high that they are setting themselves up for failure. Compare someone telling themselves that they will lose twenty pounds in a week versus over the course of three months. If you set the bar jumping with all your might, then the fall will be unbearable. If you set the bar a little lower and do not reach it, then the fall isn’t so bad. If you keep falling from great heights, you will not want to continue after experiencing so much pain. Shorter falls make it easier to continue. A broken bone versus a bruise.

Timetable– Put a timeframe on your goal. “I want to lose twenty pounds…” in a week? In a month? In ten years? Imagine if your teachers in school had never given you a deadline for your homework. It would have never gotten done. Give yourself a deadline. It will provide you with some guidance and puts the right amount of pressure in place. Otherwise, the task at hand may never be accomplished.

One last thing to consider with SMART goals is to break down a larger goal into smaller goals. “I want to lose fifteen pounds in three months.” Instead, break it down. Restate as “I want to lose five pounds a month.” It still fulfills the five concepts listed above and helps you move towards your ultimate goal. On the other hand, it makes it more manageable and not as daunting when you think of it.


-The Caring Counselor

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