What Are SMART Goals and How Are They Effective?

Dr. Samantha Morel May 1st, 2023

Goal setting is hard for most of us because we struggle with vague goals, goals that are too big, or an underdeveloped action plan and an unclear routine to keep us accountable. Most of us mess up once and we throw in the towel- we give up too soon! Accomplishing goals takes time, and the bigger the goal the longer it takes. One problem is that people tend to underestimate the time it will take to complete a task, or how they will approach it. 

SMART goals keep us accountable as we measure our progress and allow us to set our own timeline that we know is manageable. This process helps us achieve our goals in an organized and more obtainable fashion. What are SMART goals? A SMART goal is just a process used to help guide goal setting. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

Specific- What do you want to accomplish? Who needs to be included? Why is this a goal? Pro tip: Always leave room for struggle in the goal- that way when it happens, the goal is not ruined. Ex. Working out 3 days a week instead of 7 is a better goal, because even if I don’t work out on Monday, my week isn’t ruined and I keep my motivation and ability to achieve my goal intact! 

Measurable- Answer the question how? How will you know if you have successfully met your goal? Track your progress and measure outcomes. 

Achievable-  Is the goal obtainable? Am I choosing a goal that is manageable, or is this multiple SMART goals. 

Realistic- Be honest with yourself… you know what you are capable of. Set a goal that is respectful to your life, something that is important to you, and realistic in your shot at accomplishing it. 

Timely- Define the time frame during which you will achieve this goal. There must be an end goal in mind. Something two years from now is rarely super motivating. Try to keep these to more manageable time frames. If it seems long, consider breaking it up into multiple SMART goals to complete one after another. 

Why are SMART Goals Important for Improving Positive Mental health?

SMART goals can help if you want to improve your mental health. People face many challenges when it comes to improving their mental health and achieving our goals is definitely one of them. The reality is that there are hundreds of mental health issues we can talk about. SMART goals can help with mental health struggles such as, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, high stress levels, etc.

SMART goals can help you overcome many or even all of these types of problems in one way or another. Setting specific, concise, and realistic goals, where you have a deadline and the goal is measurable, will make it easier to overcome obstacles you face. It is all about overcoming more minor barriers in order to reach the bigger goal. Although SMART goals are not a replacement for therapy, they are a relatively easy tool that are great to use on your own. 

We can use smart goals in so many situations, or adapt many things we are facing with the SMART goal mindset. Here are a few examples:

1. My goal is to feel more calm.  

S: My goal is specific right now– meditation for 20 minutes, 5 days a week in order to reduce anxiety and panic attacks.

M: The goal is measurable by tracking the amount of time spent meditating and monitoring the frequency, as well as severity, of panic attacks.

A: This goal is achievable because meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety, and I can easily spare 20 minutes in my day. 

R: This goal is realistic to the overall end goal of improving positive mental health, and I have all the tools set up to be successful with it already. 

T: I will do this every week for a month and assess my progress. 

2. My goal is to feel healthier through exercising. 

S: The goal is specific– to reduce stress levels through exercise for a certain amount of time a day.

M: It can be measurable by tracking how much you exercise and your mood, sleep, and anxiety levels.

A: This is achievable because I have a gym membership already and a friend who wants to go with me at the same time. 

R: This is relevant as being healthier is one of my personal values and lifestyle goals I have. My friends support this goal and will help me achieve it too! 

T: My end goal is to do 20 workouts this month. 

3. My goal is to improve my mood and overall well-being. 

S: A specific goal– practice self care for at least 30 minutes 3x per week.

M: The goal is measurable by keeping a journal and logging in the activities that you completed for self care each day, as well as logging in your mood at the end of the day.

A: This is obtainable because self care has been proven to enhance moods and reduce stress, and also it could look very different depending on my day or what I need to do. 

R: This goal is important to me because I notice if I don’t take care of myself, my whole family feels that, and my relationships with them struggle. When I take care of myself, things feel better, thus I know I just need to work on consistency and it will be successful!

T: My goal is to commit to this for one month and then assess my progress and goals for moving forward. 

Many people find goals hard to achieve, and understanding they don’t happen overnight is imperative to not getting discouraged! Setting SMART goals can help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that we face. They are an effective tool to help you achieve the goals you set by providing accountability, time management, and a tailored approach to your needs. It is a great tool to improve your sense of accomplishment and pride in yourself, and thus set you up for more success in the future. Give it a try and see for yourself! 🙂


Stay well. 

-Dr. M

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Samantha Morel, Ph.D.

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