The Definitive Guide to the SMART Technique for Healthy Living
A recent survey found that over 70 percent of Americans set a resolution or goal for each new year.
In fact, you may be thinking about ongoing goals at the moment, and if you are like the majority of resolution-setters, the number-one goal may involve some form of fitness or exercise.
Unfortunately, research has also found that the majority of people abandon most of their resolutions by February of the following year.
What if there was a distinct formula that may increase the likelihood of achieving our goals for healthy living? Remarkably, experts contend that the SMART technique for exercise and fitness does exactly that.
A closer look at the SMART technique can help you implement the method to reach personal milestones for self improvement.
What is the SMART Method?
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the CDC, the SMART (or S.M.A.R.T.) method is an acronym used as the criteria or guide to goal-setting.
Most scholars attribute the origin of the SMART technique to the writings of Peter Drucker, a management consultant and contributor to the Harvard Business Review.
As part of the process of “management by objectives,” the SMART guideline is meant to help you clarify needs, focus efforts, use time and resources wisely, and increase chances of success and happiness and life.
The technique provides that goals should have the following tenets:
- Specific (or sensible, simple, and significant). Target one area for improvement.
- Measurable (or meaningful, motivating, and guided by quantifiable metrics). Ensure that you have a clear indicator of progress.
- Attainable (or achievable, assignable, and agreed upon). Make sure the goal is one you can attain with clearly discernible results.
- Relevant (or realistic, reasonable, resourced, and results-based). The goal must have a relevant impact on your life if you expect to reasonably and realistically stick to it.
- Time-Bound (or time-based, time-limited, and time-sensitive). Without question, the goal must have a deadline and must be completed within a certain amount of time. The lack of a time frame turns a goal into a “dream” instead of a resolution.
What is a Practical Example of the SMART Method?
While a SMART goal can be anything you set your mind to accomplishing, it often helps to have a practical example. One of the clearest applications of the SMART method is physical fitness.
The ACE recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week for the average adult. Using the SMART criteria, the average adult now has a specific (aerobic exercise) and measurable (150 minutes for every seven days in a week) goal.
The criteria also help make the exercise goal achievable. Using the criteria, an average person would not set up 45 minutes of exercise every single day since this adds up to more than twice the recommended amount, thereby making the goal unattainable and unrealistic.
Instead, the average person would aim to get around 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on at least five days out of the week. This adds up to the recommended 150 minutes per week, gives the person a reasonable two-day break from training, and helps the person reach goals in a timely fashion.
How Can I Get Started With the SMART Technique?
The SMART method can be a general guideline for practically any personal or fitness goal you have in mind. You can get started with the SMART technique by expanding on each of the five steps.
Without setting a specific goal, you literally have no target for which to aim. Avoid vague goals. For example, instead of saying “I wanna lose weight,” it is important to specify, “I will lose five pounds.”
To help make your goals as specific as possible, try answering the classic Five Ws:
- What do I need to accomplish?
- Why is it so important?
- Who does this involve?
- Where is this located?
- What resources do I already have?
Goals must be quantifiable. (How else can you objectively know you have accomplished them?) Surprisingly, quantifying goals is where many of us fall off course. The good news is that you can put a number on practically anything. Instead of saying, “I want to be a runner,” set your goal for 800 yards or even five miles.
A measurable goals should be able to answer:
- How much?
- How many?
- What quantity or number indicates this goal has been accomplished?
Drafting “attainable” goals can be easier said than done. We want to stretch our limits and reach our potential, but at the same time it is pointless to be unrealistic. One of the best ways to overcome this conundrum is to understand that attainable goals are also action-oriented.
For example, setting a goal of walking for two hours each day is generally unattainable for people with work and family obligations. However, walking for 20 minutes per day is achievable, and you can get started right away.
An achievable goal can usually answer the following questions with one sentence:
- How will I accomplish this goal?
- What is the easiest way to overcome other constraints (such as financial or time constraints)?
A goal needs to have a relevant impact on your life for you to stick with it. While some might argue “relevance” depends on the person, a relevant personal goal can answer “yes” to all of the following questions:
- Does the end-result look worthwhile?
- Is this the right time?
- Does this match my other efforts?
- Am I the right person to reach this goal?
- Is this applicable for my current living environment?
For example, your goal might include walking more frequently, but your location or environment may not be suitable for outdoor exercise. A solution would be to invest in a few indoor-walking DVDs and make other adjustments to reach your goal.
You should be strict about a deadline. This helps you keep your goals on track (instead of just creating a discouraging “to-do” list).
How do you know if a goal is truly “time-bound”? Time-based goals answer the following questions:
- When is this complete (date and time)?
- What can I do six months from now?
- What can I do six weeks from now?
- What can I do today?
Time is one of the best rubrics for measuring change and growth. And once you meet the deadline, never forget to reward yourself for reaching these goals.
The Bottom Line
The SMART technique is a strategy for providing clarity and ensuring commitment to goals, no matter how complex. It provides an expert-endorsed way to challenge yourself and obtain clear feedback – even if you never share the goal with anyone. By following each criterion, you can unravel uncertainty to reveal a timely path to success.