Setting SMART Goals

Written By: Elizabeth Fay, MS, RD, CNSC

Registered Dietitian, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician


When changing your lifestyle habits, setting goals are a great way to create markers for yourself to strive for and evaluate your achievements. Goals are a great way to stay motivated, keep on track, and accomplish bucket list objectives. Working towards a goal or accomplishment helps to keep you focused and stick with new plans. Plus, at the end of achieving a goal, you gain the sense of success and gratification. In addition, once you achieve one goal, it becomes easier to follow it up with a second goal, and so on! You gain confidence that you are able to achieve milestones, which keeps you motivated to accomplish other challenges. Looking back on your achieved goals helps you feel empowered and inspired to continue making progress.


When making goals, it is helpful and important to follow the acronym “SMART,” which stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. We will walk through this acronym, giving specific examples of how to best set up your SMART goals.


Starting with Specific, we want to create goals that are detailed and precise. When setting our goals, ensuring that the achievement is specific, helps to us to narrowly focus on that goal. A specific goal example is the following: “I will run 1 mile.” By specifically stating that the goal is to run and the distance is 1 mile, we know where to focus our attention and efforts for a concentrated endpoint. A nonspecific goal example would be “I will exercise.” This can be loosely interpreted. If ultimately, we want to be running at the end of an exercise plan, then we will want to focus on running and exercises to help us get better at running. We may choose to dance, box, ski, and swim if we have a generic goal of “I will exercise.” Ultimately if we want to run 1 mile but our goal is not specific, then we may miss the importance of practicing running and other complimentary activities.


Next, our goal should be Measurable. Having a measurable outcome(s) is important when we evaluate our accomplishments. Back to our running example, “I will run 1 mile”, the distance of 1 mile helps to add a measureable component to the goal. A goal example without a measureable component would be “I will run.” Without the distance, we have no gauge on our progress to our goal. We can better divide the training into chunks. Perhaps we’ll start with walking ½ mile, then a full mile. We may follow it up with jogging ¼ mile and walking the remainder, then slowly increasing our jogging percentage. Our final training stretch can be increasing our pace within that mile, ultimately getting to our own comfortable running pace and consistently completing a mile.


Following Specific and Measureable, we want our goals to be Achievable. This is a great way to ensure that your goal is accomplishable in order to feel proud and progressing on your ways to behavior change. Choose goals that allow you to feel challenged, but also allow the ability for you to reach such goals. When setting goals, look to have your goals be ambitious, but not outrageous. Let’s revisit our running goal. If someone has never run before, then running 1 mile may be an achievable goal to work towards. An unachievable goal example for someone who has never run before may be, “I will run a marathon in a week.” This goal is likely far fetched for someone who has never run before. By choosing a more practical goal, such as running 1 mile, you will likely feel more motivated to achieve this goal as you make progress.


Rounding out our SMART goals includes Realistic. Both Achievable and Realistic aspects of your goal go hand-in-hand. When setting your goal, make your goal truthful and accurate. Be honest with yourself and what is an achievable goal that does not set yourself up for failure. Back to our unrealistic example to run a marathon, starting with such an unattainable goal sets you behind. Having a more realistic goal to run 1 mile is still challenging, but sets an achievable accomplishment. Think forward on your calendar as well. If your goal is to ride your bike every night, but you work until 8:00pm and you find nights after work are already difficult to fit everything in, you may choose to modify your goal to include bike rides in the morning or on the weekends.


Finally, Timely completes our SMART goal acronym. Ensure that your goal has a timely component to keep yourself on track. Adding to our running SMART goal, our new goal may be, “I will run 1 mile in 1 month.” By adding the timely aspect of 1 month, we create a due date for our goal. We will be better able to stay on track and each day work slowly towards our goal within our newly established timeframe.


Utilize the SMART tool when setting goals to help you stay on track and be mindful of your objectives. Contact us if you have any questions or are looking for assistance with setting up or achieving your nutrition, fitness, and wellness goals!

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