Smart Goals Vs. Hoping What You're Doing Sticks

by Erica Stephanopoulos, MPH, MBA
January 27, 2021

couple making smart goals working out jogging outside

With a few weeks into 2021, how are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? If you’re like most people, you may have felt an initial burst of motivation, followed by a few good days of progress, then slipped up and dropped the plan.

Or, maybe your new healthy habits never even started. They seemed too grand, too vague, or too far in the distance to ever become a reality, so your routine stayed the same.

If either of these scenarios have happened to you, don’t worry. It’s not you or that you lack the ability to move forward in life - it’s your plan. The truth is, most people don’t know how to set achievable plans to reach their goals. No matter how dedicated you are to your goal or outcome, without a clear plan and defined steps, the chances of success are slim.

So, how can we stop hoping and start planning? We get SMART - a SMART goal, that is!

 

3 Reasons Why Hoping Your Habits Will Stick Doesn’t Work

We’ve all been there - you try a new habit (or four) in hopes of making a big shift in your health. You are ready to start thriving, then, the whole idea loses its appeal and you fall back into old, less desirable habits. You still want to thrive, so what changed?

Reaching your goals has less to do with how motivated or capable you are and more to do with how supportive your framework for achieving the goal is. A clear plan sets you up for success, while a vague plan just sets you up for frustration.

Here are three reasons why adopting new habits without a plan (or a SMART goal) hasn’t worked for you:

1. You tried too many new habits at once.

A common reason new habits don’t stick is that too many are implemented at once. You may want to live healthier, but changing your lifestyle with many new habits is too difficult to maintain. Instead, focus on one or two simple ways you make a difference each day and practice those until they are second nature. Then, add in a new habit and continue the cycle.

 

2. Your new habits weren’t tracked or recorded.

Another common reason we ditch our goals is because we don't track our progress. Studies show habit tracking adds a rush of excitement and encourages you to keep going through a process called gamification. Plus, like all great things in life, goals are reached one step at a time. By tracking your small, daily habits, you create tiny stepping stones that will eventually create the path to your success.

 

3. You didn’t focus on why you started the habit in the first place.

All goals have a deeper motivation than what you see at surface level. For instance, someone may have a goal to run a marathon, but their “why” is because they want to build their self-confidence. Another person may want to become more flexible, but their “why” is that they want to play with their grandchildren without getting injured and spend more time with their family. Understanding your “why” is a crucial piece of the puzzle - it’s what keeps you motivated and on-track when habits start to feel like a drag or times get tough.

 

The Secret to Success: SMART Goals

smart goals on chalkboad

If simply hoping your habits will stick doesn’t work, then strategy will. And that’s where SMART goals come in.

SMART goals are smart, but they’re actually a specific type of goal-setting strategy. SMART is an acronym that represents the different criteria that a goal must have to make it achievable.

A SMART goal is:

  • S - Specific(or: simple, sensible, significant).
    You can describe exactly what it is you want to accomplish and why.
  • M - Measurable (or: meaningful, motivating).
    Your goal is measurable and you can be held accountable for it.
  • A - Achievable (or: attainable).
    You can realistically achieve your goal, but it is still challenging.
  • R - Relevant(or: reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
    Your goal is relevant and related to your bigger purpose, goal, or “why.”
  • T - Time bound (or: time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
    Your goal has a specific start date and end date.

 

Hopeful Habits Vs. SMART Goals Examples

Not quite sure how a SMART goal applies to you? Consider these common goal examples to see how any dream can become a SMART goal.

 

“I want to lose weight.”

writing down smart goals for a new diet

The goal to lose weight is common, but many people find it hard to stay on track because “losing weight” is too vague and can feel overwhelming. Instead, we turn it into a SMART goal by focusing your goal:


Specific: State a clear goal and why you want to work for it.

I will lose 15 pounds so I can stay healthy for my family.

Measurable: Use numbers or measurable instances to define how you will work towards the goal.

I will lose 15 pounds so I can stay healthy by doing 20 minutes of walking each morning and 30 minutes of weight training or cardio every evening. I will cook for myself 6 nights a week and take a healthy weight supplement daily. I will track my weight on a health app each day.

Achievable: Build in room for unexpected events or off-days without losing your streak. 

I will lose 15 pounds so I can stay healthy by doing 20 minutes of walking and 30 minutes of weight training or cardio at least 5 days per week. I will cook for myself 6 nights a week and take a healthy weight supplement daily. I will track my weight on a health app each day.

Relevant: Remind yourself why these steps will lead you to your goal. 

I will lose 15 pounds so I can stay healthy by doing 20 minutes of walking and 30 minutes of weight training or cardio at least 5 days per week. I will cook for myself 6 nights a week and take a healthy weight supplement daily. I will track my weight on a health app each day. Regular exercise will help me burn more calories, improve my mobility and metabolism, and avoid issues like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Time-Bound: Give yourself a timeframe to complete the goal, then re-evaluate. 

I will lose 15 pounds so I can stay healthy by doing 20 minutes of walking and 30 minutes of weight training or cardio at least 5 days per week. I will cook for myself 6 nights a week and take a healthy weight supplement daily. I will track my weight on a health app each day. Regular exercise will help me burn more calories, improve my mobility and metabolism, and avoid issues like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. I will re-evaluate my progress in 6 weeks and adjust my goal by increasing my workout time or adding new activities to make exercise a natural part of my everyday lifestyle. 

 

“I want to get on top of my stress this year.”

woman doing yoga and meditating as part of her smart goals

In our stressed-out and overworked society, it’s no surprise that cutting out stress is one of our most common goals. Reducing stress and becoming more resilient takes time and a clear plan for overcoming issues when they arise. Here’s how to make “stressing less” a SMART goal:

Specific: State a clear goal and why you want to work for it.
I will feel more in control of my stress response so I can enjoy life more fully.

Measurable: Use numbers or measurable instances to define how you will work towards the goal.
I will feel more in control of my stress response so I can enjoy life more fully. I will take one walk outside per day, meditate for 15 minutes each morning, and supplement with a stress-relief supplement to improve my resilience to stress. I will track my daily stress levels each night before bed to see my progress.

Achievable: Build in room for unexpected events or off-days without losing your streak.
I will feel more in control of my stress response so I can enjoy life more fully. I will take one walk outside at least 4 days per week and stretch inside if I cannot exercise outdoors. I will meditate for 15 minutes at least 5 mornings a week to improve my stress response. I will take a stress-relief supplement at least 5 days per week. I will track my daily stress levels each night before bed to see my progress.

Relevant: Remind yourself why these steps will lead you to your goal.
I will feel more in control of my stress response so I can enjoy life more fully. I will take one walk outside at least 4 days per week and stretch inside if I cannot exercise outdoors. I will meditate for 15 minutes at least 5 mornings a week to improve my stress response. I will track my daily stress levels each night before bed to see my progress. I will take a stress-relief supplement at least 5 days per week. Daily walks, stress-relief nutrients, and meditation will calm my mind and give me focus so I can take on the day with a clear head. Feeling less stressed will help me focus on the good things in life.

Time-Bound: Give yourself a timeframe to complete the goal, then re-evaluate.
I will feel more in control of my stress response so I can enjoy life more fully. I will take one walk outside at least 4 days per week and stretch inside if I cannot exercise outdoors. I will meditate for 15 minutes at least 5 mornings a week to improve my stress response. I will take a stress-relief supplement at least 5 days per week. I will track my daily stress levels each night before bed to see my progress. Daily walks, stress-relief nutrients, and meditation will calm my mind and give me focus so I can take on the day with a clear head. Feeling less stressed will help me focus on the good things in life. I will re-evaluate my plan in 2 months and check my progress. I will then increase my meditation time to 20 minutes twice per day, in the morning and the evening.


Create Your Own SMART Goals and Thrive with Aceva

woman running in open field - goal setting

Have our SMART goal examples inspired you to make a few SMART goals for yourself? Creating clear goals like these may take some time, but this method is one of the simplest ways to stay motivated and make lasting progress. Ditch the hopeful habits this year and start smart!

At Aceva, we believe everyone deserves a chance to feel well. Find a local Aceva practitioner or contact us for more information on how we can help you make major strides towards your biggest health goals.



Erica Stephanopoulos, MPH, MBA
Erica Stephanopoulos, MPH, MBA

Erica has a longstanding passion and involvement with healthcare philanthropy and global health, specifically looking at how malnutrition and lack of key nutrients relate to infectious disease. She’s helped establish clinics and research projects across the globe in her work with Stanford Research Institute, Airbel Impact Lab, World Pediatric Project, and the International Rescue Committee. She’s also written for numerous publications to help educate others on the importance of nutrition and their overall health. Before setting out to make her mark on the world, Erica studied Biochemistry and International Relations. Just to shake things up, she then went on to get her Masters in Public Health and M.B.A. When she isn’t working, she is an avid runner, reader, and (very) amateur chef.


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