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How to Set Smart Goals

As a personal trainer, people commonly come to me for help. They want to get fitter and healthier.

They want to accomplish something. “Run faster. Eat clean. Lose weight.” These are great ideas. As goals, they suck. Here’s why:

Setting a goal means you are making a commitment. It means that you are going to invest your time and energy into achieving something positive. Something that will help you feel better, mentally and physically. The purpose of setting a goal is to create a clear idea of what you want and your plan to get it. The “goals” above don’t fulfill that requirement.

So how do you set a goal? Let’s go to the source. George T. Doran coined the SMART goals back in 1981. SMART goals are:





Time based

Obviously, there is some room for flexibility. What is realistic for you might not be realistic for another, for example. But the premise is solid. If you want something, you need to know exactly what it is and strategize your plan. SMART goals help you do this.

Let's Eat Clean

Let’s take the “eat clean” goal. (I personally don’t like this goal because I don’t believe in good or bad foods, but it’s something I hear a lot, so let’s explore what it takes.)

Specific and well defined goals require research to discover what “eat clean” is. Some camps will argue that “eat clean” means avoiding entire food groups, others will pursue the “only eat it if it grows” rationale. To me, if you understand what different foods do for your body and eat with a purpose, then you are eating clean. In order to set a specific goal, you need to know what the options are and which one is going to work for you.

Measurable and obtainable means that you will know when you have achieved the goal. Maybe you will know when you’re “eating clean” because your salads are all coming from the garden you started growing in your backyard. Or maybe instead of grabbing fast food, you start preparing your own meals. You can measure your success by the new habits you develop. Being consistent with your habits will get you closer to the goal, so give yourself credit for every step you take.

Attainable and agreed upon is also crucial. Your goal has to be something that you can actually do. It has to be something that gels with your value system and lifestyle. If you want to “eat clean” by totally cutting carbs and replacing calories with fat and protein, then great! Unless you are a vegetarian. This will make it infinitely harder because most dense protein sources come from animals and animal products. Figure out what matters most to you and develop a complementary goal that you can achieve.

Keep It Real

Realistic, realistic, realistic. Sometimes this pill is the hardest to swallow because we are easily swayed by unrealistic expectations, advertising, and marketing. Whatever your goal, it needs to be something that can be accomplished in the real world. Using our “eat clean” example, if you decided to buy only organic foods on a limited budget, you’d break the bank (unless you were growing most of it yourself). Make your goals work for you.

Three months at a time

Time based deadlines are important so you can measure your progress on the road to achieving your goal. I happen to like 3 month time frames because it’s long enough to change habits and see results without feeling locked in.

Create a timeline and move forward according to the plan. If it doesn’t work, you know how to tweak for the next round (in three months). The key here is to stick to the plan and give it time to work. Make sure you give yourself enough time to actually accomplish what you set out to do. If you want to “eat clean”, give yourself one month for each habit you want to change. The first month add a big salad, the next month prepare your own breakfast, instead of eating out. During the third month, you can plant your own herbs. And then start a new cycle.

Setting SMART goals is just part of a process. We always have the power to change and improve. By following SMART guidelines, we empower ourselves to learn and grow. We set ourselves up for success by identifying exactly what we want and creating an effective plan to get it.

Know. Choose. Act.



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