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Tips for setting SMART goals

Goals are not always easy to stick to, and there are reasons why you are able to accomplish some goals and not others. The way a goal is written can make a big difference in whether or not you are successful. SMART is an acronym to remember when you are setting goals. Ideally speaking, each goal should be:

Example

Buy a pedometer and walk 10,000 steps every day for three months.

Specific

You have a much greater chance of accomplishing a specific goal than a general goal. For example, "exercise more" would be too general. To make it more specific, try something like the goal in the box to the right.

Measurable

Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the goal you set. To determine if your goal is measurable, ask questions like "How much?" "How many times?" "How will I know when it is accomplished?" In the example, the measurable quantity is "10,000 steps."

Action oriented

Break down goals into actionable objectives to keep from becoming overwhelmed. Each objective moves you closer to achieving your goal. The example focuses on 10,000 steps per day, giving you a daily objective.

Realistic

Avoid setting unreasonable expectations. Personal and situational factors may influence the ability to reach a goal. Don't be afraid to have a high goal, but make sure that it is realistic. A high goal is frequently easier to reach than a low one because a low goal doesn't get you very excited about accomplishing it. The example above is a high, realistic goal; plus, the American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps a day.

Timely

A goal should specify when the behavior(s) will be achieved. In the example above, there are two times—walking every day and doing that for three months.

Reviewed June 27, 2015.