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Are you naturally goal oriented? Maybe you are obsessed with making annual resolutions. Perhaps you are one who does not need to wait until a new year because you are always looking for ways to grow and challenge yourself. If so, that is great. However, if you are the exact opposite, if you struggle with goal setting and wind up abandoning your goals after a few weeks, days, or even minutes, do not feel bad. It might not be an issue of willpower or discipline as much as it is goal setting itself. Maybe what will help you succeed is setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive. S.M.A.R.T. goals, then, are a way to assess how clear your goals are and subsequently, how likely you are to attain them. How does that work? Well, it is just like the old adage goes: If you fail to plan you plan to fail. Therefore, if you want to predict how successful your outcome will be you must look at the strength of your goal statement is. You can do that by breaking down how S.M.A.R.T. it is.

Specific

When goal setting it helps to ask yourself, is it specific? Does it have a focus? For example, “I want to get fit” is not specific.” “I want to improve my cardiovascular endurance” is. Think of specificity as the bull’s eye. You do not want to just throw a dart blindly. You want to hit the mark. You can only do that when you know where you are aiming.

Measurable

The next step is to ask yourself if your goal is measurable. In other words, how will you know when you hit the mark? If you want to improve your cardiovascular endurance, perhaps you will measure it by your ability to run nonstop for twenty minutes. Maybe you will be able to run a mile or a couple of miles without stopping to walk. It could even be to run a few days a week. Think of measurability as a numbers game. Quantifying a goal helps you clearly see the progress you have made and how much more work you have to do.

Attainable

Next, you will want to determine if your goal is attainable. Let’s continue with the running goal as an example. Even though running is your preferred fitness activity, perhaps you have an illness or injury that requires you to be mindful of keeping your heart rate within a certain range. If running makes your heart rate exceed the appropriate range, that goal might not be attainable for now. You might need to find alternative ways to besides running to meet your goal for improving cardiovascular endurance.

Realistic

This brings us to how realistic is your goal. If you are an avid runner and you have completed several races before, perhaps a marathon goal is realistic for you. However, if you are sedentary and have never run a day in your life, then to suddenly set a goal to run 26.2 miles is not at all realistic. Asking yourself how realistic your goal is serves as a reality check. It is possible that you can get up early at train. However, if you are not a morning person setting a goal for a 5am run would not be realistic for you.

"How realistic your goal is, is very subjective and individual to each person."
How realistic your goal is, is very subjective and individual to each person. It is important to assess, however, in order to improve your chances of actually meeting the goal.

Time-sensitive

A final consideration when determining if your goal is a S.M.A.R.T. goal is whether or not it is time sensitive. Basically, this means, do you have a deadline or time table for completion? If you just say you want to run a race but do not indicate when you hope to do so, it is really just a wish or vague desire for some unidentified point in the future. It becomes a goal when you add a due date. There is accountability when you give yourself a deadline.

So, now let’s practice. Let’s look at a few goal statements and see if they are S.M.A.R.T. goals.

I want to improve cardiovascular endurance by running three days a week to train for a 5k in four months.

Is it S.M.A.R.T.? Yes! It is specific. The goal is clearly to improve cardiovascular endurance. It is measurable. The target is to train three days a week. The goal is attainable and realistic because, as seen in various couch to 5k programs, it is a reasonable fitness goal for even beginning runners. Finally, the goal is time-sensitive because the race is in four months. Well done. You have yourself a S.M.A.R.T. What about this one?

I want to get fit and sexy by working out more and losing 50 pounds by my wedding day.

Is it S.M.A.R.T.? Not quite. Fit and sexy are not specific. Are you defining it by your ability to lose 50 pounds? It is unclear. A numerical weight loss goal is specific and the deadline of your wedding day is time-sensitive. However, the method for getting there is unclear. How often will you work out and what type of exercise will you do? Also, determining whether or not the goal is attainable and realistic would depend on if a person truly had 50 pounds to lose. If they are already within or close to a normal weight range, that might not be a healthy goal in the first place. Furthermore, if the wedding is in two months, that would not be realistic or advisable to try to lose that amount of weight in such a short amount of time, even if there is weight to lose.

Is it starting to make sense? Do not get discouraged if your goals are not S.M.A.R.T. By asking yourself a few questions, tweaking here, and clarifying there, you can turn nearly any goal into a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Once you do you are well on your way to meeting it. Give it a try. And don’t forget to have fun in the process.

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