SMART Goals: How to Set Yourself Up for Success

Goal-setting is a vital part of success and can help push us forward in many different aspects, including mental health and recovery. Setting goals can be easy, but reaching them is another story. We may begin extremely motivated, then lose sight of why we started. We may want something so badly, but we’re unable to dedicate the time or resources to make it happen.

In the end, we can end up reinforcing negative thoughts and beliefs about ourselves when we aren’t successful. For instance, if we set the goal to “be more active,” but find that we’ve failed to maintain an exercise regime a month later, we may find ourselves thinking, “I’m lazy, and I can’t stick to my plans.” On the other hand, a history of success leads to self-confidence, which allows us to continue reaching higher. So how do we set ourselves up for success?

SMART Goals

The SMART acronym is a well-known technique for goal-setting, most likely developed in the 1980s by a consultant and former corporate planning director named George T. Doran. Since then, it’s been used in nearly every industry, by everyone from young students to C-suite executives.

"The more specific you get, the more you’re thinking about what you’re going to do and when, [and] whether you have the resources and availability."

SMART Stands For…

There are a few different variations of this acronym swirling around, but they all mean essentially the same thing. Each letter helps you narrow and define your goal.

  • Specific. Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish?” and define how you’re going to get there.
  • Measurable. How will you know that you did it?
  • Achievable. Is your goal realistic? Do you have the tools and resources you need to achieve it? If they are not easily available, how can you acquire them?
  • Relevant. Is this the right time, the right goal for me? Is it worthwhile?
  • Time-bound. Now that you know what you need to do, when do you need to do it? Within six months? Once a day for six weeks? This goes back to helping us measure or track our progress, and it helps keep us accountable.

Let’s continue with the example above: Being more active. This is a great goal for both your physical and mental health, but it’s a little vague. It can be difficult to know if you’ve succeeded, or if you’re on the right track to achieving it. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish and what that might look like. Taking the above questions into account, you might say, “I will be more active by going for a 20-minute walk at 6 a.m., three days a week for the next six weeks.”

The Benefits of SMART Goals

The more specific you get, the more you’re thinking about what you’re going to do and when, whether you have the resources and availability—for instance, whether it might involve child care or coordinating with a spouse—and even whether it may have to take priority over another goal, such as cooking dinner every night for your kids. It also helps you know that you’re on the right track to accomplish your goal.

With the example above, we’ve also begun to break our goal down into smaller steps, which can help it seem less overwhelming. Being a more active person seems like a major change, but breaking it into small, manageable steps and segments can help. If you succeed in six weeks of walking, you can reassess. Perhaps with consistency, you’ve improved your fitness and proven to yourself that a gym membership would be worth the cost. Your next goal might be to lift weights for one hour three times each week.

Using the SMART technique doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t fail in your goal. Sometimes, we may still get too ambitious, or “life” may get in the way, but it allows us to reassess and determine what went wrong. If we find ourselves unable to make the time or simply not having the energy, we may need to decide whether this goal is worth narrowing our schedule down even further. If we don’t have the motivation, we may need to look at A) whether this goal is truly something we want, or B) how we can become more motivated.

"At Ethos Wellness, we believe that setting manageable goals and identifying pathways towards those goals can help restore hope, regain a strong sense of personal agency and give patients the power to transform their lives."

Motivation and Other Goal-Setting Tips

Motivation can be the hardest part of meeting any goal. We can write it down in our calendar, lay out our clothes and plan our workout, but that doesn’t mean we’ll have the motivation to get up and go to the gym at 6 a.m. three mornings a week. However, there are a few ways we can increase or build our motivation.

  • First, reflect on a time when meeting a goal was especially enjoyable, or when it felt a bit easier to achieve. This can help you determine whether you are internally or externally motivated. Were you achieving this goal with a group or using others to hold you accountable, or did you do this on your own? Are you the type of person who enjoys group projects and wants to share news of an achievement with others right away, or do you prefer to work alone and keep things to yourself? 
  • If you’re externally motivated, it might help to invite a friend to join you in your goal, or join a group. You can also share your goal with friends and family or even post accomplishments to social media to keep you accountable.
  • Meanwhile, if you’re internally motivated, it can help to continue reminding yourself of the “why” behind your goals, and to visualize what it might look like when you succeed.
  • Bundling is another trick that can help improve motivation. If you love listening to podcasts, for instance, you might choose to listen to your favorite one each week during your workout or walk. This helps associate something special and positive with a taskk that may initially feel challenging.
  • Finally, don’t forget to consider the feelings, thoughts and beliefs that may be holding you back or undermining your success. What can you tell yourself to combat these thoughts? If you can overcome them and succeed in this goal, you’ve taken the first step towards replacing these negative feelings with positive beliefs in yourself. 

At Ethos Wellness, we believe that setting manageable goals and identifying pathways towards those goals can help restore hope, regain a strong sense of personal agency and give patients the power to transform their lives. 

If you’re struggling to reach your goals, combat negative self-beliefs, find ways to motivate yourself or manage your time effectively, consider whether you may benefit from additional support. Reach out to our client care team confidentially to find out how our skilled clinicians can help.

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