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SMART Goals: Brilliant or Bogus?

Ila Gartin

“Science” and “the research” say that people are more likely to meet their goals if they are SMART goals. So, what are SMART goals? It’s just an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (or Realistic), and Time-bound. I’m finding that this system actually doesn’t work for me. I’ll explain how to set these SMART goals (for those who WILL benefit from it) and also why I no longer set goals this way. I’ll also explain the new way I set goals and why I think it works for me. Let’s get into what each letter in SMART means and how to set goals this way.

SMART

The first letter in SMART stands for Specific. Goals SHOULD be specific because you need guidelines within which to work. Setting a goal to “lose weight”* or “tone my body” just isn’t going to cut it. You need to know, specifically, what you’re working towards.

For example, changing “lose weight” to “lose weight as measured in pounds” is making it specific (we’ll get to how many pounds in the measurable section). Changing “tone my body” to “see divots in my upper arms when I hold them out to the side” can even be considered specific! “Pay off my car” can be considered specific because there is a particular end-point. “Clean my house” can be changed to multiple goals focusing on each room, such as, “Declutter, sort, donate, store, and trash items in my office.” “Improve my marriage” might be changed to “Learn and implement my spouse’s love language.” You just need to define your goal so you know what the criteria is for meeting it. 

Measurable is for M in SMART. It’s important to have a measurable goal so you know when it’s been achieved. Using the examples above, “lose weight” can be changed to “lose 15 pounds” so it is now specific (pounds) and measurable. You’ll know when you accomplish the goal. “See divots in my upper arms when I hold them out to the side” is actually already measurable, too. However, there is a little more wiggle room because you didn’t specify or measure how many or how deep those divots are. Ha! Good luck with that! I think, as long as YOU know what you’re looking for, in this case, you can consider that measurable. 

Measuring the goal of “clean my house” can look like setting multiple goals for each room or each task. Maybe what you really want (to be more specific) is for your house to be decluttered and for it to smell like lemons. In that case, you could add, “Scrub all hard floors with lemon cleaner,” to meet those goals. The “improve my marriage” goal changes to, “Read the 5 Love Languages book, learn my spouse’s primary love language, and speak that language to him/her at least 3 times per week.” Now THOSE are measurable goals. Can you see that? You know for a fact when you’ve finished the book. You know when you’ve quizzed your spouse and found his/her primary love language. And you can count how many times per week you practice speaking that language. 

The A in SMART is for Attainable (or Achievable). Make sure you’re striving to meet goals that YOU can actually meet. This takes many things into account, such as how many priorities you’re focusing on in a given season, what your current skills and abilities are, how much time and energy you have available to dedicate to moving forward toward this goal, and what resources you have to help you reach the goal, among others. This one isn’t necessarily about how you write the goal, but more so making sure you’re setting yourself up for success by considering outside factors that could throw you off course.

Realistic is what the R in SMART stands for. Your goals have to be realistic or you’re setting yourself up for failure. Some goals may be realistic for someone else, but not for you. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean anything about you – we’re all different. For most people, a goal to “lose 15 pounds” is fairly realistic. However, a goal to “lose 80 pounds” is NOT realistic if you’re only 15 away from a healthy weight. Let’s say “lose 80 pounds” IS a realistic goal for you. We all know it can take some time and lots of effort to lose weight, so it may be a while before you get there. In this case, make sure you’re setting some more short-term goals along the way so you can celebrate your progress and give yourself credit for moving forward! 

The last letter in SMART stands for Time-bound. This is probably what I disagree with the most. BUT, for many people, having a deadline helps them to be motivated throughout their journey toward the goal. If that’s you, go for it! It’s important to do what works for you, because if you force yourself to play by rules that just don’t work for you, once again, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Make sure you’re time frame is realistic and you’re set! Going back to the primary example, “lose 15 pounds” could be changed to “lose 15 pounds in 8 weeks,” because that’s a realistic time frame to achieve the goal. 

New strategy: TRACS

Now, I’ve discovered the SMART acronym, when applied to goals, just doesn’t completely work for me. I was always afraid that if I didn’t use this system, I’d get off track, fall off the wagon, get trampled by the horse, and show up with my eyes swollen shut and dragging one leg behind me. Metaphorically, that’s happened to me more than once – while USING the SMART goals system! I finally realized that I wasn’t always failing, but that IT was what wasn’t working for me.

In my case, I still need my goals to be Specific, Attainable, and Realistic. I think these are fundamental for goal-setting. Instead of measurable, I need my goals to be Trackable. I need to be sure that I’m moving forward DAILY. In order to do that, I need to be able to track my progress. Finally, and what I believe to be most important for me, is that I MUST have Control over this goal. I’ll explain. 

Control, to me, means that I can absolutely control the outcome of the goal. Let’s use the example above, which is “lose 15 pounds.” Believe me, I’ve had this goal so many times in my life, this is why I’ve been trampled by that horse so often! I finally realized that I don’t ACTUALLY have control over how much weight I lose and how quickly it happens! What I DO have control of is how often I workout, how much effort I put into my workouts, and what I choose to put into my body (among other things).** 

NOW, my goal is “Consistency with exercise and eating healthy.” I can control those things! And I can track them. I meet this goal daily so I can celebrate (by doing a little dance, not by having a Blizzard from Dairy Queen) and track my progress! Ultimately, yes, losing weight is what I want to accomplish, so I can track that, too, but when I exercise and eat healthy daily, I know I’ve done what I can control in order to get to my ultimate outcome. 

So, I guess I’m putting this out there: TRACS. A new way to set goals. Your goals are Trackable, Realistic, Attainable, Controllable, and Specific. If you decide to try this method, let me know, will ya? I’d love to know if others find this helpful, too. 

  • What goals do you have that could be used in the TRACS system?
  • Do you have a goal that you don’t think will work in TRACS?
  • Do you have another goal-setting system that works well for you? If so, please share in the comments!
  • How are you changing your goals to affect that over which you have Control?
  • How do you track your progress in reaching long-term goals?

*I know weight loss is a touchy subject these days. Coming from someone who has been overweight almost her whole life, trust me, I’m trying to HELP here. Don’t tell me there are other ways to measure health and wellness. I know there are. This is a common goal, so it’s MY example.

**I realize losing weight is multifaceted. These aren’t the only factors. Please don’t message me with complaints. This is an EXAMPLE. 🙂

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