By: Jessica Lanctot, M.S.
Many people seek out therapy because something in their life isn’t working. Inevitably, this involves setting goals, either to add soemthing new or stop something unhelpful. Seems easy enough right? Don’t we set goals everyday, like the goal to go grocery shopping after work or land a new promotion?
Well, it’s actually harder than it seems!
While we all set goals all the time, unfortunately we are not always successful in this endeavor. Who here hasn’t told themselves “I want to get healthier” but immediately feel overwhelmed trying to figure out how to make that happen. Or maybe you know how but days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months with no progress to show. The truth of the matter is goal-setting must be an active process, rather than a passive wishing something will happen. Additionally, repeated experiences of setting goals that do not come to fruition can lead to decreased motivation, increased beliefs that one is not capable of making change, and can have a negative impact on one’s sense of self-esteem.
This may feel discouraging, but in fact the opposite is true. This means unrealized goals is not due to a lack of willpower but rather it may be the problem is not setting oneself up for success at the start by how one sets their goals.
One way to set ourselves up for success is to use SMART goals, which is an acronym and derives from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
S – Specific. A goal has to be specific, ideally outlining the who/what/when/where. It’s all about the details!
M – Measurable. How will you know if you accomplished your goal? Knowing we accomplished something helps increase and maintain motivation over.
A – Attainable. Is this something you can feasibly do? How many times have you set unrealistic goals that were never going to happen but sting just the same when you weren’t magically able to do it. Thoroughly evaluate your life and the potential limitations, such as time, resources, etc. There’s no point setting a goal that isn’t possible so embrace these limitations and plan accordingly.
R – Relevant. The goal must be meaningful to you because let’s face it, habit change is hard work and at some point, the initial excitement may wear off and we start to ask ourselves “why am I doing this”. Figuring out how this goal meaningfully lines up with your long-term goals and values can help keep motivation high. Conversely, trying to do a goal you don’t care about will be hard to motivate yourself to continue.
T – Time-Bound. Set a time-limit. When are you starting? When are you ending? If we keep a goal vague and say it will happen “sometime in the future”, chances are that time will never come. We have to make the time ourselves. Hold yourself accountable to a timeline and stick to it.
Putting all these steps together, let’s examine the common goal of exercise through both a SMART and non-SMART lens:
Non-SMART goal: Work out more.
SMART goal: I will work out 3x a week for 20 minutes of cardio and 10 minutes of yoga at my local gym after work. I will start my goal today and continue for 2 weeks. I am doing this because I want to feel better in my body and value engaging in mindful movement.
See the difference? While it takes more effort initially to “set the stage” with a SMART goal, the reality is your odds of being successful is higher when we intentionally plan ahead. Therefore, it pays to work SMARTer, not harder!