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Setting Personal Goals Using SMART Goals

Updated on December 30, 2012
Setting the goal!
Setting the goal! | Source

A few years ago, I realized that I never actually achieved any of my goals or New Year’s Resolutions. I’d have the best of plans, or so I thought, but I realized that what I actually had was really more of a wish list. Lose weight. Exercise more. Stop procrastinating. Submit short stories. With “goals” like that, no wonder I failed every year!

Then, for work, I had to come up with professional development goals, and in order to do so, I had to learn about SMART goals. It was like a light switching on. Here was the solution to my problems! If I applied this same kind of goal-making to my private life, would it be successful? I tried it. And it worked! Here’s how…

What is a SMART Goal?

SMART goals have actually been around for quite a while – since the 80’s, actually. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound. The idea behind SMART goals is that if you make goals that meet the five criteria, you’ll be able to achieve your objectives.

Remember, objectives are the big picture of the goal world. An objective might be to get in shape. The two goals you’d have for that objective might be diet and exercise. Then, to make them SMART goals, you’d break them down even further. Using this objective, I’m going to explain each criterion and provide examples to help you with your own SMART goal writing.

Objectives to SMART Goals
Objectives to SMART Goals | Source


To make a goal specific, you need to figure out what it is you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, who is involved in achieving the goal, where the goal can be achieved, and whether or not there are any requirements and constraints.

Going back to our example, we want to get in shape. So our specific goals will relate to the breakdowns that we had: diet and exercise.

Specific diet goals might be to sign up with Weight Watchers or LiveStrong or another program and select a plan that allows for a loss of 2 pounds per week.

Specific exercise goals might be to walk around the neighborhood half an hour twice a week, do yoga once a week in a class on Tuesday nights, and take a bike ride once a weekend, weather permitting.


To make a goal measurable, you want to know how much, how many, and how you will know it’s accomplished.

Again, let’s look at the examples.

Measurable diet goals might be to lose 2 pounds per week, weighing in on Monday mornings.

Measurable exercise goals might be to get your heart rate up to whatever is appropriate for that type of exercise, based on your body weight and BMI.


To make a goal time-bound, you have a final date (or multiple dates) that will function as your deadline(s). You want to make sure that you don’t just have a final objective; having smaller goals will make it more possible to reach those goals and therefore reach that objective.

A time-bound diet goal is to lose 5 pounds per month, 30 pounds in six months, and then maintain for the rest of the year with less than five pounds gained back.

A time-bound exercise goal is to be able to run a 5K within one year of starting the exercise routine.


To make a goal relevant, it has to actually matter; it has to be related to whatever your final objective is. You want to make sure that it’s worthwhile and matches what you’re doing.

A relevant diet goal is to replace soda with water.

A relevant exercise goal is to use the stairs instead of the elevator.


To make a goal attainable, you have to make sure that you have ways to actually accomplish the goal. There’s nothing wrong with a stretch goal – one that you want to reach but may not be able to – but you want to have a pretty good chance of success. Failing at a goal means that you’d be more likely to give up. Keeping your goals attainable means that you will be more likely to keep up with them and see that success building.

An attainable diet goal might be to avoid eating desserts when going out to eat, choosing to bring lunch to work to avoid the need to eat out at unhealthy fast food restaurants, or even something as simple as making sure to always keep a small healthy snack on you to avoid grabbing a bag of chips from the vending machine.

An attainable exercise goal might be to increase the distance you walk in half an hour. Depending on your condition, you may start out walking a mile in that half hour; your half-year goal might be to walk a mile and a half.

How to Write a SMART Goal

Evaluations and Re-evaluations

So you’ve gotten these awesome SMART goals all thought out and written down. But what happens if something changes? You can’t bike anymore because your bicycle broke, and you can’t afford to replace it. What if your yoga class is cancelled? What if you break your leg?

Don’t be afraid to look at your goals on a monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis and decide what you need to do to change them. If they’re working, great. If they aren’t, then it’s time to revisit them and think about what you want and how to get there.

Tracking Your SMART Goals

The best way I’ve found to track my SMART Goals are Excel. I break them down into a monthly spreadsheet. Under each month, I will make up a week and have boxes to check off my goals. For example, I may have “Attend four yoga classes, one per week” and then a blank line. Each time I attend a yoga class, I get to check it off, and, hopefully, at the end of the month, there will be four check marks. If not, then it’s time to evaluate where I am and how attainable that goal is.

Using SMART Goals

Have you used SMART Goals in the past?

See results

Celebrating Your SMART Goal Successes

This should be a part of your evaluation and re-evaluation process. Every time you are able to meet your goals, have something planned as a celebration. You’ve run your first 5K? Time to buy a new pair of top-of-the-line running shoes! You’ve lost 20 pounds and none of your pants fit? Time for a shopping trip! You can also choose to use motivating celebrations, such as updating pictures of yourself on social media to show off what you’ve accomplished. Sometimes getting others’ to acknowledge our accomplishments is a celebration in and of itself.


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