SMART Goals for Lifestyle Change

Set Effective Health Goals Using This Method and Template

Man running while the sun sets
Geber86/E+/Getty Images

Setting SMART goals is a method that is used in creating a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. The SMART criteria help to incorporate guidance and realistic direction in goal setting, which increases motivation and leads to better results in achieving lasting change.

When setting healthy lifestyle objectives, a goal of aiming to walk for 30 minutes, five times per week, for a period of four weeks is a SMART goal, while an overall goal of simply wanting to be healthier or having less stress is too vague and does not incorporate the SMART criteria.

Goal Setting the SMART Way

Spending some time to recognize your objectives and use the SMART criteria listed below will help you put more detail and direction into setting your health and lifestyle goals:

S: Specific

  • Start with stating the objective you wish to meet, as specifically as possible. If your plan is to lose weight in order to have more energy, a goal of “lose 20 pounds” is more specific than simply saying "my resolution is to lose weight.”
  • Being specific helps to incorporate the method into the goal, not just the outcome.
  • Create your goal as an instruction telling yourself what to do. Try creating a statement for your goal, such as “I want to lose 20 pounds by increasing my exercise to four times a week, reducing sugar in my diet, and controlling portion size.”

M: Measurable

  • Adding quantifiable or measurable criteria to your goal will allow you to measure progress as you work towards achieving your goal.
  • Being able to count off the numbers as you progress will feel good, and measuring can help keep you from cheating. The goal of “lose 20 pounds” can be gradually measured by a scale, and exercising four times per week can be tracked on a calendar.
  • Consider creative methods of tracking your progress. If you want to reduce stress, devise a stress measure for yourself, like the number of times you get upset every day. Keep a log and record each stressful reaction.
  • Measuring results can help you adjust your goals as you work towards meeting your objectives. When it comes to stress, you can watch for trends, such as situations that cause you more stress, so that you can avoid them or respond differently in the future.

A: Attainable

  • Do not set yourself up for failure by selecting unattainable goals. For example, setting a goal to lose that 20 pounds in a two week period is both difficult to do and unhealthy to achieve. Goals should be ambitious but not impossible. Choose a goal that you are confident you can reach, but that will challenge you to follow through with smaller, more attainable actions required to achieve it.
  • Break large goals into smaller goals and spell out the process required to achieve your objectives.
  • Make sure that the process is also realistic so that you can achieve all of the individual steps that you need. If you don't have time, supplies, or the right location, make adjustments to your methods and goals.

R: Relevant

  • Your goal should be meaningful to you, set by you and not set by someone else.
  • Each step of attaining the goal should make sense. If you want to lose weight, be sure to select a type of exercise that you enjoy. Zumba, jogging, cycling, and swimming are all exercises that can help you lose weight, but not everyone considers each of these enjoyable. Pick the method that is right for you.
  • If you don't actually care about the goal, you are unlikely to work on it. For example, if your goal is to eat vegan to lose those 20 pounds that are weighing you down, but you don't actually enjoy vegan foods or truly believe that it will produce the desired outcome, then you are far less likely to achieve your goal of losing 20 pounds.
  • The goal should be inspiring enough that it motivates you to succeed. If you are not determined to meet your goal, obstacles will be very difficult to overcome.
  • For example, if your doctor says, “lose weight” and your spouse says, “lose weight” but you are not inspired by this statement, find another goal that also improves your health while you try to find a way to become inspired about weight loss. For example, it might be much more inspiring to you to say "I want to have more energy to play with my kids" or "I want to fit back into my college football jersey" in order to feel inspired to create smaller, process-based goals that work towards your desires and wishes.

T: Time Based

  • When will you achieve your goal? You need to choose a time that is realistic but not too far off into the future.
  • Saying “I will lose 20 pounds in three months” is good, but saying “I will lose an average of 2 pounds every week, for 10 weeks” is better for motivation as you track your progress.

Get Started with a Template

Use the following sentence as a template to set your SMART goal:

  • I will [your goal here] by [how you will do the goal]. I will know I am making progress because [how you will measure the goal] for [time goes here].


For example,

  • I will lose 20 pounds by doing cardio and weight training at the gym four times a week, cutting back on sugar and controlling portion size. I will know I am making progress because I will lose two pounds a week for 10 weeks.

Tips for Success

You don't have to wait for New Year's Eve to set your SMART goals. There is no better time to start than today, but keep in mind that the method requires a bit of practice.

The following tips can help you better achieve success in reaching your goals:

  • Focus on process goals instead of just an outcome. Focussing on an outcome gives you a target, but it doesn't address how you will reach the goal.
  • Work on changing behaviors and habits.
  • For sustained lifestyle changes, feel free to set long-term goals to keep the big picture in mind. However, break down the long-term goal into a series of smaller short-term goals in order to track progress and keep yourself motivated.
  • Write your SMART goal down. This will allow you to go back to your goal to reference and review.
  • Share it with others. It's much more difficult to give up on your goals when others know about it.
  • Don’t set yourself up for failure by taking on too much or setting an unattainable goal. For example, if you work an office job 65 hours a week, do not set a goal of going to the gym seven days a week for 2 hours a day unless that is actually a feasible workout schedule for you.
  • Remember that someone else's goals are not your goals. Your goals have to be meaningful and attainable for you.
  • Accept that sometimes things happen and failing to reach a goal is part of the learning process. Do not beat yourself up and instead evaluate your progress and your goals to see whether you missed a SMART criterion or step. Simply readjust your goals and jump back in.
Was this page helpful?

Article Sources