Whether you’re looking to lose weight, exercise more, cut back on sugar or get more sleep, how you approach your healthy lifestyle goal has more bearing on your success than you might think.

The more specific and detailed you are about the goal and how you’ll reach it makes its eventual achievement far more likely.

So “I want to lose weight” instead becomes, “I want to lose 10 pounds by September 1 by walking for 20 minutes three times a week and limiting dessert because dropping excess weight will boost my energy so I’m not so wiped out after work.

What’s the difference?

The first goal is vague and abstract. There’s a loose destination in mind but no road-map to get there and no timeline for the journey.

The second goal is a SMARTY. That’s not praise, but an acronym crafting detailed goals that increases their likelihood of success. Regardless of the goal — big or small, fitness-related or not — formulating plans according to the SMARTY framework provides a clear way forward, along with multiple intervention opportunities to further refine and illuminate the path.

What Is A SMARTY Goal?

It’s one that’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound and motivated by a clear WHY (Y).

Let’s take a look at each of these elements and how they work.

smarty fitness goal
SPECIFIC – When setting a goal, it’s important to make it as clear, detailed and specific as possible. Not just lose weight, but lose 10 pounds. Not just get in shape, but get strong enough to do 10 push-ups or run a mile without stopping. Not just eat better, but eat three servings of vegetables every day.
MEASURABLE – “What gets measured gets managed.” This is a popular business adage for a reason. If there’s no tangible way to measure success, how will you know when you get there? There are myriad means of measurement. The scale is just one. You can measure your workouts in minutes, hours, or days per week. You can log hours spent sleeping or relaxing. You can measure ounces of water or cups of vegetables consumed. If you can measure it, you can manage it.
ATTAINABLE – It’s important to set goals that are realistic and achievable. So if your goal is to make the NBA, but you’re a middle-aged couch potato, that’s not really attainable. A more realistic goal for the middle-aged couch potato who loves sports might be to find a neighborhood basketball league to join.
RELEVANT – The goal has to be meaningful to the individual — something that brings them closer to a broader life goal or aligns them more closely with their values. So if better health is important, relevant goals might revolve around physical fitness, diet, and stress reduction. A highly driven, type-A person might prioritize relaxation as a health goal, where our middle-aged couch potato values greater activity as a goal.
TIME-BOUND – Napoleon Hill famously said that goals are dreams with deadlines. To move from the dream realm to reality, a goal needs a finish line, which is why it’s critical to include a time element in your goal plan. Setting a timeline adds urgency to the effort and gives meaning to the measurement. If the goal is to lose 10 pounds in three months, that’s about 3.3 pounds a month or a little less than a pound a week — intervals for monitoring progress and success.
WHY – The Y behind your goal is so critical, it really should come first, but that would mess up the acronym. Why is this goal important to you personally? How does it relate to your deepest values and self-image? What would be different about you and your life if you were to reach this goal? What are the consequences of not taking action?
fitness and exercise

Frequently Asked Questions:

What do SMARTY goals look like in real life? Let’s take a look at some FAQs…

How Can I Make Exercise A Habit?

Get SMARTY about it! First, think about why establishing an exercise habit is important to you. For instance, do you need more energy and stamina to keep up with your kids? More productive hours during the day to handle work and school?

Then, imagine what an ideal exercise habit might look like for you.

Would you run every morning before work? Hit the gym a few nights a week on the way home? Walk on your lunch break? Play tennis or go hiking on weekends?

Once you’ve developed an idea of what a good exercise routine for you might look like, work backward to set SMARTY goals around this new behavior. Identify a specific activity you intend to do and how often you want to do it, then check in with yourself to monitor your progress.

What Are Some Common Exercise And Fitness Myths?

The greatest myth is that some people are “cut out for exercise” and others aren’t. Hogwash! Everybody can exercise, and everyone should! Besides the physical payoff of greater strength and flexibility, exercise provides bountiful benefits to the brain and body-regulating systems, including boosting immunity and improving digestion. Using the SMARTY parameters around an exercise or other healthy-living goal makes success more likely.

What Should My Workout Goals Be?

Every individual is different, and workout goals will vary depending on desired results, physical condition, and phase of life. A new mom has different fitness needs than a competitive athlete, for example. But regardless of the starting point, a good rule of thumb for goal-setting is to aim just outside your comfort zone.

So the new mom may want to simply reintroduce regular movement, maybe walking the baby in a stroller a few times a week, while the athlete may want to shoot for a performance-related goal, like setting a new personal record in speed or endurance. The SMARTY framework can be applied to any goal to make success more likely.

How Can I Stop Snacking?

Awareness of current behaviors and tendencies is the first step. When are you most prone to snacking? What kinds of circumstances make snacking more likely or less? Once you have a sense for the settings and scenarios that lead you to snack, you can establish a SMARTY goal that encourages a healthy diet plan, reducing reactivity to triggers and allowing for a more thoughtful response.

What’s The Best Workout For A Healthy Lifestyle?

In short, the best workout is one you will actually do. Consistency is key when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. What counts is what you do regularly, not what you do once in a while. So strive to find exercise you enjoy. For some, it may be gardening or walking in the neighborhood while listening to a podcast.

For others, high-intensity exercise like running or CrossFit might be the go-to, because it doesn’t feel like a workout without breaking a sweat. You can swim, bike, climb mountains or do tai-chi. You can even dance in your pajamas in your living room. The exercise you do consistently is the best for you.

Conclusion: Get SMARTY About Your Goals

SMARTY goals don’t just work for fitness. Any personal or professional goal can fit within the SMARTY framework. Its six components offer six opportunities for further refining your approach.

Can you make it more specific? Maybe alter your measurement metrics? Is the goal really meaningful and relevant? Does it need to be amended to be more attainable?

Regardless of what you hope to achieve, supporting your success with a SMARTY approach makes the journey more fruitful and fun.