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How to Set SMART Goals

As 2023 comes to a close and we move into a new year, lots of us take time to reflect on successes in the previous year, and where we could be growing in the next year.  Not everyone sets New Year's resolutions, but many people have an idea of where they’d like to be in the future.  Goal-setting and forming an action plan are powerful tools you can employ to feel a deeper sense of accomplishment and purpose.  However, when we don’t achieve what we intended to, feelings of disappointment and self-doubt can creep in.  At Sedâ Psychotherapy, we’d like to help people set goals and map out a plan to achieve them so folks can foster a sense of accomplishment and pride in their future.

So how do you set a goal/resolution that is good for future you, and something you can take pride in accomplishing?  Speaking with a professional who has experience with setting SMART goals is a great starting point.  SMART is an acronym for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.  This post is going to guide you through what each of those terms means, with an example to show what this type of work could look like if you work with a Sedâ Psychotherapist. 


Being specific about your goal is crucial - what will your life look like when you’ve achieved it?  We can’t know that we’ve accomplished something if we don’t know what accomplishment looks like.  A goal may be something like “get physically fit”, but what does fitness look like for you, and why is that specific goal important to you?  A therapist can help you fine-tune that goal into something where we can evaluate progress over time.  It could look like “increase my physical activity level from three to five hours a week.”


Having a measurable goal is going to put the control in your hands when it comes to execution.  To use our working example, “get physically fit” in and of itself is not yet measurable.  What degree of behavioural change will push you towards the outcome you want?  To build on our example goal, that may look like “increase my physical activity level from three to five hours a week by mid-year/June.”  When we start forming a plan, we have something we can start measuring.


Is your goal realistic?  Continuing to build on our example, “getting physically fit” may not mean scaling Kilimanjaro by the end of the next year.  A therapist can reflect back to you what is realistically achievable in your set of circumstances.  For our example here, something achievable beyond “get physically fit” could develop into “increasing my physical activity from three to five hours a week by adding four 30 minute walks on lunch breaks each week.”


Your goal must be in alignment with the type of person you hold in high regard, and the type of person you want to be.  This can be a tricky needle to thread, as we are all vulnerable to the wider messages we receive in society.  A therapist can help you to identify your core values and suggest areas for goal setting that are personalized to you.  Perhaps you think you should be meditating every day because you hear others benefit from it, but there are other more specific, measurable and achievable goals that are going to be more relevant to you.  A fresh perspective from an outside party can help you get reacquainted with what goals you’d like to pursue.  To use our working example here, there is societal pressure to be “physically fit” which is, at best, an arbitrary concept.  For this example, what does physical fitness look like?  It could be something like “increasing my physical activity from three to five hours a week by adding four 30 minute walks on lunch breaks each week, so I am making an investment in my long term health.”


Setting a timeline or “stepping stones” for goal achievement can make the difference between accomplishing it partway or fully, or deserting the goal and feeling poorly about yourself.  A sea change does not need to happen overnight, nor is that a sustainable way to make changes in life in general.  A therapist can help you to develop a gradual, concrete plan to get you where you want to be.  For our working example, those additional movement periods can be established over time - perhaps one winter walk a week during the cold months, ramping up to the 3 outdoor walks when weather warms up and more sunshine is available.  Please keep in mind that your goal may grow even further once you meet it, and it’s okay to adapt your goals as your life changes.


At Sedâ Psychotherapy, we hope you take pride in all you’ve done this year, and we wish you all the best in 2024!  If you think you would benefit from a goal-planning session, or therapy in general, members of our team are here for you, and you are welcome to book a free consultation here

SMART goals infographic

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