woman lacing up tennis shoes for a walk or run

The Ultimate SMART Goal Setting Guide For Health And Fitness

Once you have decided that you are ready to make a change, it’s time to set a goal. Goal setting is an extremely important life skill that many people either lack, or just plain overlook.

Why Is Taking The Time To Set A SMART Goal So Important?

Think of all the things that you have to do in order to achieve your goal as a journey – a road trip if you will. In this analogy, the road map to your journey is your goal. 

If your map is out of date, inaccurate, or vague – your chances of making it to your destination are not good. 

The same is true of goals. If your goal is not specific, or if it’s based on inaccurate information or expectations, you are not likely to reach that goal.

Trying to achieve a poorly defined goal is like stumbling around in the dark – you're more likely to run into a wall than to complete the task you set out to do. Click To Tweet

The most common goal I’ve heard as a trainer and coach is: “I want to lose weight”.

What’s wrong with that you ask? Well… it’s a good start. Losing weight can improve health, self-esteem, and quality of life among other things. 

However, this goal is extremely vague and is not likely to be achieved.

The purpose of this post, is to teach you the goal setting skill set by walking you through the process one step at a time. 

We will first cover SMART goals, and then two upgrades that are necessary for success.

We will use the “I want to lose weight” as an example. By the end of this post, this vague goal will be transformed into a well-defined, specific goal that has a much greater chance of being achieved. 

Then, using this new skill set, you will be able to set your own goal using the SMART Goal Setting Worksheet that I have provided!

I would recommend downloading this worksheet from the Free Resource Library now so you can follow along as we go.

Preview of the SMART Goal Setting Template located in the free resource library.
Preview of the SMART Goal Setting Worksheet located in the free resource library.

Use the SMART Method to Clearly Define Your Goals

By now you’ve probably heard about SMART goals. Setting a SMART goal is a great place to start, but it’s still not quite enough.

Let’s start by setting a SMART goal, and then we will upgrade it from there.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific – The goal should be as clear and well-defined as possible.
  • Measurable – You should be able to measure this goal in some way so that you can definitely say whether or not you reached that goal.
  • Attainable – The goal needs to be possible for the person setting it. Avoid setting an impossible or misinformed goal.
  • Realistic – This is one of the most common places that people make mistakes when setting a goal. Make sure that you’ve given yourself a reasonable amount of time to accomplish the task you have laid out.
  • Timely – The goal should have a time limit, meaning that it should be achieved by a certain date. This decreases the temptation to procrastinate.

First of all, let’s transform our example goal into a SMART goal.

Example of how to set a SMART goal for weight loss

By using SMART goals, we more clearly defined our goal – going from “I want to lose weight” to  “I want to lose 50 pounds of fat in the next year.”

We’re off to a great start, but don’t stop now, we’ve still got some work to do to set you up for success.

Break Long-Term Goals Into Several Short-Term Goals to Stay Motivated

We have set a very large (but doable) goal here.  Some people might be motivated by a challenge like this – however, most people might feel overwhelmed and demotivated by such a big goal (losing 50 pounds is far from easy!).

For example, let’s imagine that the person trying to achieve this goal of losing 50 pounds is pretty new to exercise and healthy eating. 

A huge goal like this would likely seem impossible. When goals seem impossible – by human nature, we tend not to put much effort into them. After all, if they are impossible, all that effort would be wasted!

How Can We Make Big Goals Feel More Manageable?

What if I said, instead of focusing on losing 50 pounds in 1 year, to focus instead on losing just one pound per week – would that seem more doable?

The majority of people say yes! So what did we do there, and why does it work?

We broke our goal down into smaller bite size goals! Instead of having one big goal of losing 50 pounds in a year, we now have 50 smaller goals of losing 1 pound per week.

We call these smaller goals short-term goals, while the big goal is a long-term goal. Focusing on the short-term keeps your mind focused on what you can do now to achieve the smaller, more manageable goal whereas looking too far ahead at the long-term goal can often seem overwhelming and impossible.

It’s okay to set long-term goals – our journey needs a destination! But make sure to schedule pit-stops (short-term goals) along the way. 

On your journey to achieving your goal, just focus on getting to the next pit-stop instead of worrying about how far away the final destination is. 

This will make the whole trip more enjoyable and help keep you motivated to continue on towards your destination!

Focus On The Process Instead Of The Outcome To Stay On Track

So far we have a long-term goal of losing 50 pounds of fat in the next year that we broke down into smaller short-term goals of losing one pound per week.

What we don’t have yet, is any direction on how we should go about achieving that goal. How are we going to lose all that weight?

This brings us to the topics of outcome and process goals. 

What Is An Outcome Goal?

Our goal right now – losing 50 pounds of fat in a year – is an outcome goal. It focuses on the end result.

Outcome goals can lead people with good intentions astray.  The reason for this is that outcome goals don’t specify HOW the goal should be completed, only that it should. 

When people feel unsure about how to achieve a goal because they feel that they lack the knowledge or skills to do so –  they’ll often look for quick fixes to the problem.

For example, if we set the outcome goal of losing 50 pounds in one year but the person that was trying to achieve this was new to exercise and wasn’t sure how to go about improving their diet, they might opt for a quick fix like a fad diet or diet pills to lose the weight.

What Is A Process Goal And Why Are They Preferable?

When the emphasis and importance is placed on the PROCESS (the “how”) of achieving a goal, rather than the outcome (losing 50 pounds), people tend to make healthier choices which they are more likely to stick to long-term.

A process goal focuses on what we need to do day in and day out to achieve the end goal.

Similar to a short-term goal, a process goal allows you to focus on the here and now. You might imagine a process goal like a checklist. For example, today I need to do X in order to stay on pace to achieve my goals.

Let’s set a process goal of working out on a regular basis.

woman lacing up her tennis shoes to go for a walk

So our full goal up to this point is to: “Exercise on a regular basis in order to lose 1 pound of fat per week.”

We are getting close! Just one little problem…  do you see it? The part where we added “Exercise on a regular basis” is vague. Let’s make sure that is a SMART goal too.

So our final goal is…. “Lose 1 pound of fat per week by walking for 20 minutes every day.”

Note, that our short-term process goals don’t have to be the same month after month or even week after week. It can be a good idea to progress these goals as you become accustomed to more exercise. See the table below for an example of how to progress your short term process goals.

Example of progression with a short-term process goal.

Conclusion

Let’s take a look at the transformation from our original, vague goal to the final result which is well defined and gives us direction.

Transformation from vague goal to SMART goal, to short-term goal, to process goal.
Transformation from vague goal, to SMART goal, to short-term goal, to process goal.

Now that we have set SMART long and short-term process goals – our journey has a road map! This will help to navigate potential pitfalls on the way to our destination.

So, when you are planning to make a change – don’t overlook the value of setting a good goal! 

Setting vague or poorly defined goals can hold you back, whereas setting clear, well defined goals, can make it much more likely that you will be successful in achieving them!

When setting goals, here are a few things to remember:

  • Make sure your goals are clear and well defined using the SMART method
  • Set long-term goals so you know where you want to end up, but also set short-term goals to help you stay motivated.
  • Focus on the process rather than the outcome to make sustainable choices and stay on track with your goals.

Your Turn!

Don’t forget to download the free SMART Goal Setting Worksheet from the Free Resource Library!

Once you’ve set your own SMART goals check out the following posts for your next steps!

Finally, do you have any other goal setting tips/tricks that have worked really well for you in health, business, or other parts of your life? 

If so, please share in the comments below. You never know, your tips could help someone else achieve their goals!

Share the knowledge!

Author: clarissa.cabbage

Clarissa is a teacher, a coach, and an avid adventurer! Armed with a master's degree in Exercise and Wellness, she is on a mission to teach people how to build healthier habits that support the adventurous lifestyle of their dreams. There is nothing Clarissa is more passionate about than helping people get active and live their lives to the fullest!

41 Replies to “The Ultimate SMART Goal Setting Guide For Health And Fitness

  1. That is really very good point about focusing on SMART goals . I actually did know what SMART stood for already but it’s great to be reminded of it as even when I wrote me most recent post that was not in my field of thought believe it or not. Love your post, thank you x

    1. Whoa SMART! I’ve never thought about it that way and that just might be why it’s so difficult to reach certain goals. This definitely is a game changer!

  2. How we set up are goals is just as important as setting goals. You’re right. I recently just downloaded to apps to try to create some new habits hoping those habits will help achieve to of my goals (seeing the progression helps my momentum) and maybe help clear my to-do list a bit.

  3. This is such a great, informative post! I really like how you’ve broken down the idea of setting SMART goals and made it a much easier process to follow. Goals are definitely more easily attainable when thought out like this because it doesn’t sway motivation , especially something big like your example of losing weight. Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. Not gonna lie, this hit REAL close to home for me 🙂 I am on a health journey and using this pandemic as a time to reset and make better choices food wise. I have a long term goal to drop 40 lbs and weekly goals have been a key in not giving up. thank you for the reminder. 🙂

    1. Yay, that’s so awesome Sophia, I’m glad it came at such a relevant time for you! I think this pandemic is a fantastic time to hit pause, reflect, and re-prioritize our health. It’s easy to cut corners when it comes to our health when we’re constantly busy busy busy. Sounds like you’re on the right track. Best of luck and thanks so much for sharing your story with us!

  5. I love the idea of SMART goals. I think it is so important to really zero in on a more specific goal that has a time frame to it. I am guilty of totally not doing that! I’m wanting to set some goals for myself for the next couple years so this was really helpful to get me in the right mindset. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re very welcome Allison! I’m a big believer that the more thought and planning we put into our goals – the more likely we are to achieve them. Good luck with your long-term goals and thanks so much for reading!

    1. Thank you Kelly Diane! I’m glad to hear you were motivated by this post! We are absolutely capable of achieving big things – but if we try and tackle it all at once, rather than step-by-step, the task can seem so daunting and overwhelming that we don’t know where to start! As you said, small chunks are the answer. Thanks for reading!

  6. How are we supposed to achieve something when we don’t even know what we are trying to achieve? Loved your post and agree that we shouldn’t only focus on the end goal, but enjoy the process.

    1. Yes, exactly Sara! ? Trying to achieve a vague goal is like stumbling around in the dark. You’re more likely to end up with bruises than you are to achieve your goal. Thanks so much for reading!

  7. Great post! Such a good idea to break big goals down into smaller ones. Helps make them more achievable. Thanks for the tips! ?

  8. Hi, I loved that you used a strategy usually used in the classroom and applied it to wellness. I with I had thought of doing that, lol. I will apply the SMART strategy to different areas of my life moving forward. Thanks for the tip.

  9. I have heard of (and used) SMART goal setting many times in the past, but your two upgrades are a great addition. I’m going to apply those to my goals moving forward. I particularly like the suggestion to focus on the process. I think that’s one that could really help me in a positive way. Thank you for sharing!

    1. You’re very welcome Britt! Focusing on the process has so many benefits! For example, you can celebrate little successes all along the way rather than waiting until the whole 50 pounds are lost. It’s also easier to see progress with process goals so they tend to increase motivation and confidence which is helpful for sticking to a big goal! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!

  10. This was such an informative post!! I love the tip you gave about breaking down goal, into smaller ones. It really does help to keep you motivated & makes the end goal seem far less daunting.

    Karen x

    1. I’m so glad you found it useful Karen! Breaking a goal down seems like such a small thing, but as you said, it has a huge impact on motivation, and ultimately, your chances of achieving the goal! Thanks so much for taking the time to read this!

    1. Awesome Candyce! I am glad to be able to introduce you to SMART goals – they make a world of difference! Best of luck with your goals and thanks so much for taking the time to read this!

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