Avoid inflammatory, processed foods. Get plenty of sleep. Move your body on a regular basis. It’s the trifecta of good health. But if this was everything you needed to know, we’d all be metabolically flexible with rock-hard abs and proper blood sugar levels.
That’s because knowing what to do and how to do it are two entirely different things.
Too often, I’ll get messages from new clients saying they’re ready to drop all carbs, get better sleep, start intermittent fasting, cut out fast food, buy blue blockers for everyone in their family, workout more…
In other words, they’re all in.
You’d think I’d be super psyched about their level of motivation. But to me, it means they need help reeling it in. My job as a health coach is to show people how to get from point A to point B, and having broad, sweeping goals with no clear direction doesn’t work. Ever.
To really succeed, you’ve got to know what you’re changing and how to measure your success. Want to sleep more? Eat more veggies? Exercise more? Yep, me too. But real goal setting requires getting smart about it. And that’s where SMART goals come in. Originally credited to Peter Drucker in his 1954 book, The Practice of Management as well as George Doran and Dr. Edwin Lock, and used by everyone from professors to Primal Health Coaches, SMART is an acronym that stands for:
• Specific. What specifically do want to achieve?
• Measurable. How will you quantify your results?
• Attainable. Do you have the tools to make this happen?
• Relevant. Does this goal align with your lifestyle?
• Timely. What’s your deadline on this goal?
NOTE: If you’ve seen different versions of this, just know that there are a few different variations out there. Sometimes the ‘S’ stands for significant or simple, the ‘M’ for meaningful or motivating, the ‘A’ for achievable or agreed upon, the ‘R’ for realistic or results-based, and the ‘T’ for time-sensitive or time-based.
Examples of SMART Goals
Want a better night’s sleep? Your SMART goal might be:
S: To get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
M: I’ll use a sleep tracking app to measure my progress.
A: I’ll wear my blue blockers for any screen time in the evenings.
R: Being in bed by 9:30pm is doable for me.
T: Every night until my vacation in the fall.
Want to work out more? Try:
S: I will walk 3 miles every morning.
M: I’ll track it with my Garmin.
A: GPS watch? Check. New sneakers? Check.
R: I have to walk my dog in the morning anyway, so this works.
T: For the next 4 weeks.
Remember, SMART goals are designed to be quantifiable and have a defined end point, which helps you get clear about what you’re doing to reach that goal and how you’ll know if you’re successful or not. For example, in a 2005 study,1 researchers worked with 1785 obese men and women seeking treatment for weight loss. Using different goal setting approaches, they found that nearly 52% of participants with unrealistic and unattainable weight loss expectations had discontinue treatment after one year.
The truth is, it’s easy to get discouraged, especially with things that are more long-term. That’s why I always use SMART goals with my clients. But you don’t have to work with a health coach to take advantage of this approach. Follow my How to Write a SMART Goal guide below to get started on your own.
How to Write a SMART Goal
Here’s a sample of the goal setting worksheets I use with my clients. You can highlight this section, right-click, and print to fill out your own SMART Goals, or you can opt to follow the format on a blank sheet in your journal.
1. Make it Specific. This is the time to get as clear as possible. The more you define your goal, the easier it will be to understand what it will take to get there. Also, be aware of using non-committal phrases like “I want to” or “I think I can”. Get concrete with your goals, describing them in a percentage, frequency, or number.
Write your S here: _____________________________________________________
2. Make it measurable. Adding quantifiable criteria to your goal allows you to measure your success in a tangible way. How else will you know if you’re making progress? Having a goal that’s measurable gives you the evidence that what you’re doing is working, and it’s an easy way to ward off feeling overwhelmed by larger goals. Plus, there are tons of apps for measuring everything from macros to miles.
Write your M here: ______________________________________________________ 3. Make it attainable. Keep in mind that your goal should also be doable. It’s okay to push the boundaries here and there, but if you’re thinking you want to run a marathon in 3 weeks or drop 50 pounds in a month, you might want to revisit your goal so that it’s in the realm of what’s possible. The idea is to choose something that feels attainable with the right effort, commitment, and available resources.
Write your A here: _______________________________________________________
4. Make it relevant. Relevance means that it aligns with other aspects or longer-term goals of your life. How does it fit within the big picture? How does it impact or contribute to your household, your work environment, or your family responsibilities? Think about why you’re setting this goal now and why it’s important to you.
Write your R here: _______________________________________________________
5. Make it timely. While I’m not a fan of dropping pounds for an event or summer or bikini body or whatever, having a deadline can set you up for success. An end-date provides the motivation to stick with it. It also keeps you from being too unrealistic with your goal. Even if you plan on eating paleo or sleeping 8 hours a night forever, choosing an end date will give you the parameters to know if you were successful or not.
Write your T here: _______________________________________________________
Why Use SMART Goals?
Think back on the health goals you’ve had in the past. Maybe you weren’t as successful as you would have liked. Or maybe you’re a pro goal setter and knocked it out of the park. For those of you who feel like you’re working super hard and seeing zero progress, I want you to know that there’s a way to be smarter about reaching your goals. And it starts with these five steps:
• Make it specific. • Make it measurable. • Make it attainable. • Make it relevant. • Make it timely.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.