Monday, January 16, 2012

How to Make or Modify Your Goals Using the SMART Model

According to the statistics, 40-45% of adult Americans made one or more resolutions this year.  These resolutions typically fall under three categories: Weight Loss, Exercise and Stopping Smoking.  Unfortunately, if you are among those who made a resolution, you may also be one of the approximately 30% of people who have already broken their resolution.

So, why are resolutions important if less than half of them will be followed after 6 months?  The answer comes to us in yet another statistic - Those who make explicit resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals!

I believe that one of the main reasons that goals are unmet is that we don't know how to make proper goals.  The goals we make aren't SMART.

So, what is a SMART goal?  It's simple, the goal must be:

S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable
R - Realistic
T - Time-bound

(Iain Abernethy,  one of the UK’s leading exponents of applied karate, does a great job of explaining how to use the SMART model to create your goals in this podcast.)

So, using the two of the common goals, let's examine them and see how we can make them SMART.

Weight Loss - Typically, the makers of this goal do no more than state, "I am going to lose weight this year!"  While this is an admirable goal, it is not a SMART goal.  For example, how much weight are you going to lose?  How often and by what standards will you measure that goal?  What will you do to achieve your goal?  Is the amount of weight you want to lose realistic?  How quickly do you plan to lose the weight?

Now, how can we restructure our original goal to meet the SMART model?  Try this - "I want to drop a total of 20 pounds by the end of the year, or I want to lose one pound per week".  Remember though, while this goal meets the standards of the SMART model, there remains one more key element - HOW are you going to meet your goal?  It could be by reducing your daily caloric intake (again, use the SMART model to make this a new goal).  Or, it could be through exercise.

Exercise - "I'm gonna get off my butt this year!!"  Ok, perhaps you phrased it a bit more eloquently than that, but this is another very common goal.  However, it's not a very specific goal.  After all, you could theoretically meet this goal by simply parking farther away from the entrance to the next store you visit.  If that constitutes "more exercise" to you, then perhaps that will suffice, but most people have something more in mind.  If you are new to exercise, this one may be rather difficult to define.  In fact, I'm still trying to define it.  With all of the various methods of exercise, how are you to choose which would be best for you?  Running, Yoga, Weight Lifting, Team Sports, Martial Arts (my favorite), the list can go on and on.  Then, once you have decided on an activity, how do you determine how often you perform it, how far you will run, how much weight you hope to lift?

I believe there are a few ways to go about this; 1) trial and error, 2) join a class/group or 3) hire a professional.  All of them, in truth, are going to involve some trial and error.  The second two choices, however, are more likely to yield real results and probably a bit quicker as well.

I use a mix of all three.  Late last year, I spoke to a personal trainer and took a complete fitness evaluation.  That served as the basis and helped jump start my exercise goals.  Spending my own money to help attain my goal, while not a requirement, reminded me that I was serious about attaining my goals - after all, money is the great motivator!  Though I didn't follow the specific routine that we laid out (the purpose of me exercising more has changed since then), I still plan to meet with her again in a few months time to track my improvement.

Also, I regularly attend a cardio fitness group.  Personally, I think that this is one of the best ways to keep reaching for your goal as you are usually surrounded by a group of like-minded people.  After a while, a bond begins to develop and your new friends help to motivate you on those days that you'd rather spend the evening in front of the TV.  Search around, find a class and group of people that you enjoy.

The last option mentioned, trial and error, definitely takes the longest and requires the most will-power.  When you aren't spending your money for someone else to tell you what to do or to pay for that exercise class, you have to rely on your own personal will-power to keep you going.  Decide what it is exactly that you hope to attain.  Initially, I wanted to get bigger.  However, during the course of my research, I determined that bigger is not better and now my goal is to achieve greater functional strength. As I'm still in the research and experimentation phase of this, I can't yet give you an exact routine that I follow, but I will begin keeping a detailed record of my activities as time goes on.

This brings me to another important point regarding goal-setting.  It is very important that you write down your goals and then record your progress.  This serves a number of important purposes.  First, it reminds you of your goals and can help to provide direction if you begin to stray off track.  Second, it gives you the opportunity to modify or change your goals if you decide that they aren't reasonable after all or you develop a greater understanding of what exactly it is that you want to achieve.  Third, and perhaps most important, tracking your progress ensures that what you are doing is actually helping you to reach your goals.  This can be a great motivator in itself.

I also recommend proclaiming your New Years resolutions to the world!  Ok.. maybe not the entire world, but having a group of people that are aware of your goals and can help to keep you accountable and striving toward those ends.  You might even end up motivating them with your progress!

I have one more thing I'd like to point out.  Yes, the New Year has passed but don't let that stop you from making your goals now.  In fact, waiting for a particular date or event to occur only shows that you may have a lack of resolve.  Make the change today!

So, what goals have you made?


  1. My goal is to apply myself more to my dreams. IE: I want to race motorcycles. So instead of myself just saying I want too race and never really go forth, I will do what ever is in my power and with in the limits of my job and my family to get myself in atleast one race before 2013.

    1. Its great that you want to go forth and I commend that! So, the question now is what steps are you going to take to realize your goals?


Please share your thoughts! I also request that you ensure that all comments are courteous and productive to the conversation. Thanks!