It is the holiday season, which also means the end of the year is near. Not only is it time to reflect on the past year, but also to set goals for the next one. But goal setting is not an easy task. The SMARTER goal setting technique can hopefully help you to pick the right goal and to achieve it next year.

Goal setting vs. New Year’s resolution

There is a big difference between setting a New Year’s resolution and a goal. Resolutions are usually vague ideas, whereas goals are more concrete. Also you can set goals throughout the year, and not only at the beginning. However don’t underestimate the motivational power of the new year. If this is what makes you set a goal, so be it. But make sure you reach your goals this time by setting them the SMARTER way. To help you set your goals I’ve also created this SMARTER goal setting template

What does SMARTER Goal Setting mean?

I first heard about the SMARTER goal setting method in a fancy project management course that I had to take for work a few years ago. It was probably developed for business purposes but it can easily become adjusted for your personal fitness goals. There are several different versions out there, so I will explain the one I use. The SMARTER goal setting technique consists of breaking down a goal by 7 different criteria that form the word SMARTER. They are:

  • S like specific
  • M like measurable
  • A like achievable
  • R like relevant
  • T like time bound
  • E like evaluable
  • R like re-adjustable

I will walk you through all these 7 criteria and explain them for you, by asking you specific questions. I will also use one of the most common goals out there – losing weight – as an example to show you how to apply this technique.

S like Specific: What exactly do I want to achieve?

You should define exactly what you want to achieve. The more detailed you are, the more likely this rough idea that you will have in your head will become a goal.

Example: I want to lose weight. What type of weight do you want to lose? Water? Muscle mass? Fat? Specific goal: I want to lose x pounds by losing body fat but maintaining my muscle mass.

M like measurable: How will I know I’ve reached my goal?

You need to pic a goal that is measurable. If it is not measurable, you will never know if you achieved it or not, or if you are on the right track. Measurable here means objectively quantifiable, and not by simple good will.

Example: How will you know if you lost the body fat? Right, you have to measure it. Probably not just by looking in the mirror, but you could get an electric scale that measures body fat percentage. It is still a proxy, and there are probably more exact methods. But it is an easy and relatively cheap way to make losing weight measurable.

A like achievable: Can I achieve this goal in my current situation if I work for it?

It is also important to set a goal that is achievable and not completely unrealistic. Setting goals that are not realistic at all will only frustrate you and set you up for failure. However, your goals should also not be too easy to reach. You want a goal that is challenging as well, and where you feel really accomplished when you reach it.

Example: Is x% of body fat you want to lose a lot? Is it too much for you because you are super busy right now or because you are injured and can’t work out? Is it maybe even unhealthy because you would have to use really drastic measures to reach it?

R like relevant: Why do I want to achieve this goal?

For me this is probably the most important question to ask. Find your cause, your inner motivation, your WHY that is so big that you will get a small push every time you think about it. A big enough why will make you incorporate the necessary changes and get you through the tough times.

Example: I want to lose weight for my wedding. Or: I want to lose weight so I can keep up with my children when we play. Or: I want to lose weight to decrease my health risks so I can live a long, active and happy life.

T like time-bound: By when will I have accomplished my goal?

A goal is a dream with a deadline. Without a deadline you will always procrastinate. I’ll start tomorrow because I have enough time will become your favorite excuse. Don’t believe me? Ask any student if they ever worked better under the pressure of a deadline. In 99% of cases the answer will be yes. So when you set your goal mark the date into your calendar.

Example: I want to lose weight until my wedding day next year. (insert date here)

E like evaluable: How will I know if I am on track?

You will have to evaluate you current progress regularly to know if you are still on track or not. Just like a GPS (or map for the older generation) is only useful if you know where you want to go AND your current location. If you don’t know where you are, every path is the right one. So schedule regular evaluations of your progress. If you are on track, good. If not: change plans.

Example: I will weigh myself weekly and track my progress in an app.

R like re-evaluate: How do I re-adjust my goals if life gets in the way?

It happens to all of us. We have a goal, we work hard, but then life gets in the way and sets us back. The worst thing you can do in a situation like that is to give up on your goal completely. It is much better to re-adjust your goals to something achievable so you can still work on plan B. You will feel more proud and accomplished if you reach the adjusted goal than if you gave up completely.

Example: I wanted to lose x% of body fat until day d but got injured and can’t work out any more. My goal is too ambitious now, so I will try to lose only y% of body fat, and focus more on nutrition instead of working out.

Have you used the SMARTER goal setting technique to set your goals for the next year? You might also like my blog post on Outcome, Performance and Process goals.