When you define a new goal, do you also think about how to get there or do you just jump in? Have you told yourself you're going to eat better or sleep more but fail to think about what that actually looks like? We're so eager to see results that we forget there's work we need to do to get there. But studies have shown that making concrete plans is a crucial step to obtaining desired outcomes. Moreover, by planning out our next steps, we break our ambitious goals into bite-sized chunks we can work on, helping us achieve small wins and build self-efficacy and motivation over time.
For over thirty years, psychology has argued for some variation of this five-prong approach to goal-setting. SMART goals are:
Specific. Goals should be clear and detailed.
Instead of "I'm going to exercise more," try "I'm going to walk for 30 minutes."
Measurable. Goals should be quantifiable so you know when you've met them.
Instead of "I'm going to eat better," try "I'm going to cook dinner 3x/week."
Attainable. Goals should be challenging enough to be interesting but realistic enough to be implemented now.
Instead of "I'm going to be fast asleep by 9PM everyday," try "I'm going to turn the TV off and get in bed by 10PM everyday."
Relevant. Goals should be important to what's happening in your life now.
Instead of "I'm going to meditate because my friends meditate," try "I'm going to meditate because it will help relieve the anxiety I'm feeling about COVID."
Time-bound. Goals should have a time frame that's suitable for the desired outcome.
Instead of "I'm going to get stronger this year," try "I'm going to do strength workouts 2x/week for the next 6 weeks."
Undoubtedly, taking time to spell out your SMART goal may slow you down. You need at least a few minutes to diligently plan out your next steps. And a SMART goal will likely require several smaller steps (and successes) over a longer period of time than you initial thought. But if you jump the gun, at best you'll have to go back to the start.