SMART Goal Setting

With 2020 well underway, be honest… How are those resolutions working out for you? If you’re like most people, your resolutions are beginning to fade into memory, and it’s becoming harder and harder to stick with them. Probably you’ve missed that morning work-out, grabbed that carbohydrate-laden snack-on-the-go just this once because you were in a hurry and had forgotten to pack your protein bar, or you’ve slipped and had that one cigarette. You feel like a loser, so now you want to be a quitter. In fact, US News and World Report states that 80% of New Years resolutions fail by February. If you’ve fallen off the wagon, you’re in good company.

Why do so many resolutions go by the wayside? Much has to do with the reasons I cited above. The well-meaning resolution setter slips up just once or loses momentum, and that’s it. Another reason resolutions fail is because the intended goal is just too hard to meet. It takes months to see significant progress on weight loss plans, whether your method is carb reduction or calorie burning. If you’re burning calories at the gym with toning and weight training workouts, you’ll likely see no significant weight loss, even as your clothes are getting looser and baggier. Why? You’re burning fat as you’re building muscle. That pound of fat you’ve lost weighs just as much as the pound of muscle you’ve built, but the fat is much more voluminous. It’s like comparing a pound of feathers to a one-pound brick.

A significant reason resolutions fail, though, is there’s no SMART goal-setting to back them up. So many people think that, were they to chart their resolutions, it’d look like a solid diagonal line going straight up, demonstrating constant improvement. In reality, it looks like the stock market graph for a high-performing stock if you were to look at the graph for the week. While it maintains an upward trend, the truth is, it rises and falls many times while it climbs overall. Meeting goals is just like that, because those dips show us moments when something we were trying failed followed by the growth from taking a different approach.

That said, let’s look at a SMART approach to goal setting, and I’m going to use getting fit as my example goal, since that’s an important part of my life. SMART goals are:


Specific: “I want to get healthy.” That’s not specific enough. What would “healthy” look like to you? Does this pertain just to physical health or does it also include spiritual, mental, emotional, and psychological health?
Better: “I want to drop 4 sizes this year, lower my blood pressure, and lower my cholesterol through dietary changes, exercise, and yoga.”

Measurable: “I want to drop 4 sizes this year.” Or maybe “I want to lose 30 pounds.” “I want to lower my blood pressure to within normal range. I want to lower my cholesterol to be between 100 and 150.” These are all measurable goals. They have a quantitative value and can be objectively assessed.

Attainable: “I want to lose 200 pounds.” Can it be done? Maybe, depending on your starting weight. Can it be done healthily? Maybe. Timing is key here. Be mindful that some plans to lose weight quickly can also lead you to putting it back on just as quickly – and those newly found pounds have an ugly tendency to bring reinforcements, so you’ll actually gain more than you originally lost. If your overall weight loss goal as part of your broader plan to get healthy is to lose 200 pounds, then it’s definitely doable.

Realistic: “I want to lose 100 pounds. Nevermind that I weigh 180 and am 5’6″.” Is 80 pounds on a five-and-a-half-foot frame realistic? No. You’d look like someone who survived a concentration camp. That’s too much weight loss and quite unhealthy. It’s best to stick in the realm of a healthy weight per your frame size, your target BMI number, and your doctor’s guidance.

Timeable: “I want to lose 50 pounds by Valentine’s Day.” This isn’t happening, not in a healthy, sustainable way, anyway. This goal isn’t timeable. If you were to amend this goal to specify 50 pounds in a year, that’s entirely possible to do in a healthy, lifestyle changing way.

If you want to achieve goals of any sort, you need to make sure they are SMART with special emphasis on “realistic.” Reality is, you’re going to slip off the wagon regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish. The difference between a resolution and a goal is, all too often, people feel comfortable quitting on a resolution, but they will stick with goals, despite slip-ups, failures, and mistakes. When people set goals (I know this is true for myself), they tend to treat errors of every kind as the learning opportunities they are and don’t allow them to set them back. They just keep pushing forward.

I’m setting goals month by month for this year and seeing how that works as each new month brings with it new responsibilities and opportunities. For January, my goals are working out at least 45 minutes a hit for at least three days a week and writing a minimum of 500 words toward my book or stories. What goals have you set for this year? Share in the comments below.