What Are SMART Goals and How to Use Them For Your Health

a notebook, computer, and coffee mug

SMART goals have been making their rounds in business, and now they’ve arrived in healthcare.

It’s about time too. Due to the volume of patients and burnout, only 11% of physicians are spending 25 minutes or longer with their patients[1]. This can make it difficult for patients to get a good grasp on how they should tackle their health concerns. Whether it’s exercise, medication, diet, or reducing stress, the patient’s knowledge and experience gaps can make for high-stress situations.

If you’re looking to take the reins on your health, or are simply curious about SMART goals, this article is for you.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound

SMART goals are a simple and effective way to break down the ambiguous goals you have floating in your head into bite-sized tangible ones. When most people start designing a goal, they usually focus on the problem and end-goal. But often the most important parts are overlooked. The purpose of SMART goals is to round up the areas that most people miss, and by doing so, organize goals to lead to a higher likelihood of success.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Before I learned about SMART goals, I would often create a goal that looked something like this:

“I want to eat better”.

As you can tell, there are many issues with this. When am I going to start this goal? How will I start it? Is it even attainable?

If this looks like the type of goals you use, then with a small amount of practice, your goals can start working for you, instead of you working for your goals.

Specific, Measurable, and Attainable

fruits and veggies with a juice

Let’s take that goal and make it more specific, measurable, and attainable.

“I want to eat better by eating fruits and veggies at least 3 times a week”.

Sounds pretty smooth, right?

Relevant and Time-Bound

a chalk drawing of jumbled lines running through a clock and coming out as straight lines

Now, the two we left out of this example are relevant and time-bound.

Relevant

As you could probably tell, relevance is important for staying on track. For example, if bettering my health is my main goal, but I’m trying to push a SMART goal involving something unrelated, such as rollercoasters, then I’m probably getting off-task.

Designing SMART goals to be relevant to your overarching goals, and even values can be transformative.

Time-Bound

Time-bound is fairly straight forward. When do you want to achieve your goal? Without time, your goal of learning to play the flute could be delayed into your 80s.

Time to Practice

"theory into practice"

It can be discouraging when the initial excitement of a health change can be blocked by not having guiding goals. But by framing your goals in this SMART way, you are making it easier for your brain to approach and stick with them.

Take a moment and think about the first simple goal that comes to your mind, health-related or not. After applying the SMART factors to it, how has it changed? Does it seem more achievable?

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