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Setting SMART goals: how to set goals and stick to them

Do you ever set goals then struggle to accomplish them? Have you ever promised yourself that you would start or finish something and then procrastinate? Does setting goals ever feeling overwhelming or shameful to you? Take a look at this goal setting technique that can help us to set smart and sustainable goals throughout our lives.

Most of the time we have great intentions for setting goals, it’s the application of these goals that cause difficulties. Let’s take New Years resolutions for example –an extremely common time people set goals for themselves. However well-intentioned these goals are, often, we see the gym memberships canceled, the self-care plan postponed and the wellness goal entirely changing. Many people go to bed at night with the compromise of “I’ll do it tomorrow,” or “I will start next week.” While this compromise feels “good” in the moment, it often can further push our goals away through avoidance and procrastination. In turn, that feeling “good” from yesterday can lead us to feeling frustrated, disappointed, or overwhelmed with what we have been unable to accomplish and have to now do tomorrow. This is why the method of introducing SMART goals can be so helpful in our day-to-day life.

S.M.A.R.T. --an acronym and method for goals:

S -SPECIFIC: to make something specific, we need to define some more details. When goals are general, it is very hard to stay accountable. Narrowing the focus can allow us to work on things more intentionally rather than broadly. For example, “I want to get healthy” vs. “I want to exercise more often.” This small adjustment helps to determine where I want to begin my focus.

M -MEASURABLE: to make something measurable, we need to define how to know if something is changing. Using numeric measurements helps us to look at how far we have come in our goals and determine progress. For example, “I want to exercise more” vs. “I want to exercise 30 minutes three times a week.” This goes from generally doing more to defining how we can measure “more.”

A -APPEALING: to make something appealing, we need to determine if this is truly something we are interested in. A goal that is not appealing or not for yourself often loses motivation quickly. Sure your loved ones might want something for you to change, but if we do not find that change appealing, likely, we will not be engaged in that goal. The basic function of appealing goals is making sure it is something you truly want for yourself. For example, “I want to exercise 30 minutes three times a week” is great in theory; however, if it’s not appealing, likely, we will not engage with it.

R -REALISTIC: to make something realistic, we need to determine if something is “within our means” meaning-- Am I physically/emotionally able to accomplish this goal? Did I provide myself with the appropriate time? Is this goal something within my control? Are there other goals that need to come first before starting this goal? For example, “I want to exercise 30 minutes three times a week before work” might sound like a great goal BUT, if I snooze my alarm every day, is it realistic to think I will start to get up on time and even earlier to start working out? When we look at realistic, we often learn there are steps we might need to take with other goals before we get started. For example, getting up after my first alarm might come before getting up and working out.

T -TIMELY: to make something realistic, we need to determine a deadline for our goal. Plenty of time we set a goal and never return to see how we are progressing. For example, “I want to exercise 30 minutes three times a week” does not determine when the week ends and begins. This is where we often see procrastination of goals beginning. Instead, we use time management to help us to reevaluate on a regular basis if we are hitting our goals. When we add timely, we also allow ourselves to reevaluate if we need to set different goals or pivot from our original plan to make these goals SMARTER in application. Overall, it is not that we do not want to achieve our goals. Most of the time, we just need to figure out how to set them more effectively! Therapy can be a supportive place to add some accountability to these SMART goals and learn how to apply this in our daily lives.

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Sydney Snyder, M.S., LPC, SAC-IT

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Sydney Snyder, M.S., LPC, SAC-IT

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