Setting SMART Goals Towards Successful Lifestyle Change

Watch: Setting SMART Goals

Ashley: Thanks so much for joining us today! Today we'll be talking about SMART goals to create a healthier lifestyle for your family. We'll be diving into learning how goal setting can improve healthy lifestyle behaviors, what a SMART goal means, and how to modify SMART goals based on progress. I am joined by Dr. Diana Boone, she is a pediatric psychologist here at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, wonderful having you here!
Dr. Boone: Thank you, I'm very excited to be here!
Ashley: So, a lot of families and adolescents, they really want to create a healthier lifestyle but sometimes this can be a little bit difficult. What recommendations do you
have for them when they're starting this journey?
Dr. Boone: Yes, so when thinking about changing any healthy lifestyle behavior,
it can be beneficial to use goal setting. Goal setting has many benefits one of
those being it can really increase our motivation and accountability and whenever we decide to change any healthy lifestyle behavior, it can be really common for someone to set very broad goals like “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to exercise more” and although those are great goals, sometimes those broad goals don't help us be successful. So, it's much better to set very specific goals and thinking about a SMART goal, which means goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and
Ashley: Well let's go through what a SMART goal is, break it down for us, and then how do we actually develop one?
Dr. Boone: So, the first thing to think about when setting a SMART goal is the “S” in SMART which is “specific.” So, specific means goals that focus on one behavior typically that we have control over. So instead of setting a broad goal about healthy eating, it can be helpful to make that much more specific. Maybe you focus a lot on sports and activities and you want to eat healthier instead of setting a goal like eating healthier you can, you want to increase your water intake which is much more specific and then once we decide the “S” in smart we can focus on a goal that is measurable, and measurable really means how often you will do the goal behavior or how frequently. For example, with our example of drinking more water, maybe we want to drink four water bottles a day, which is very measurable, and then we want to think about how many times we want to do this and let's say for our example we want to drink four water bottles each day of the week. That's very measurable, and then once we decide the “S” and the “M”, then we want to focus on “A” which means attainable so it's really important to set goals that are very realistic for us so if I’m not drinking a lot of water, it might be completely unrealistic to drink all of a sudden, a gallon of water per day, so maybe I want to start with four, that's realistic for me. Then the “R” in SMART is relevant, so it can be really motivating to think about reasons accomplishing this goal is important to us so maybe we want to hydrate more to increase our energy. And then lastly the “T” in SMART is “Timely”. So it can be really helpful to set a deadline on the goal that we set for ourselves. It allows us to stay accountable and then it allows us to refocus the goal if we don't meet the goal at our deadline.
Ashley: So how might somebody want to modify their SMART goal based on progress?
Dr. Boone. Yes, so sometimes we might find we might not meet our goal right away and if that happens, that's completely fine. It's great that we set a SMART goal, we might just need to tweak it a little bit based on our progress. So maybe I find drinking four water bottles per day isn't realistic for me, maybe I want to modify that to drink two water bottles per day and maybe that's more realistic for me.
Ashley: Lastly, how can family members support one another?
Dr. Boone: Families can really make goal-setting fun and help us stay accountable. So, it can really be motivating for families to participate in the goal behavior with us and that can be just make it more fun and motivating
Ashley: Have a lot of camaraderie with each other and have a lot of fun with it.
Dr. Boone: Exactly! And ideally the whole family would want to engage in these healthy lifestyle behaviors together.
Ashley: Wonderful, thank you so much for the tips Dr. Boone, so glad to have you here today.
Dr. Boone: No problem!
Ashley: And for more information about living a healthier lifestyle, you can visit our Healthy Weight Initiative page, it's Thanks so much for joining us!

How does goal setting relate to healthy lifestyle behaviors?

One tool that can be helpful when first thinking about making any healthy lifestyle changes is goal setting. Evidence-based research shows that goal setting can help us make long lasting healthy lifestyle changes. Setting goals can increase motivation and can help increase accountability as well as help us trouble shoot potential barriers to success. Most of us will initially tend develop very broad goals such as “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to exercise more” when starting lifestyle change. Even though these are great goals, setting broad goals like these don’t always set us up for success. Developing SMART goals, meaning goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely, can increase our motivation and set ourselves up to be successful.

What are SMART goals?

Before setting a SMART goal, it can be beneficial to think about specific areas you would like to focus on. For example, maybe you are involved with sports and activities, but could make some healthy diet changes. But instead of setting a goal such as “I want to eat healthier” we want to make the goal as Specific as possible, which is the S in SMART). When thinking about specific goals, we want to focus on a specific behavior that you have control over. Then, you want to focus on the M in SMART which means Measurable. Measurable means thinking about how many times or how long you will do the goal behavior. The next step is to focus on the A in SMART, which is Attainable.  It’s important to make sure you are setting realistic goals that you are able to accomplish.  The next step is to focus on the R in SMART, which is Relevant. It can be helpful to think about specific reasons accomplishing this goal is important to you. Everyone has different reasons for improving healthy lifestyle behaviors, so thinking about your specific reasons can increase motivation. The last step is to focus on the T in SMART which is Timely. Whenever we set a goal, it’s important to put a deadline on it. 

How can someone modify their SMART goal based on progress? 

If you notice that you didn’t quite meet your SMART goal, that means it may be helpful to tweak the goal slightly to make the goal more realistic for you to accomplish. If you have met your SMART goal, that’s great! Then you might adjust your goal so you are maintaining your goal behavior or adjusting (increasing or decreasing the target behavior) so you can make even more progress.  

How can family members support each other? 

Families can help their child/children stay accountable and help encourage them to accomplish their set SMART goals. It can also be incredibly motivating for family members to participate in healthy lifestyle behavior goals together with their child/children. It can also be fun to do active activities together as a family.  
Setting SMART goals is a central component to our Healthy Steps clinic and patient care. To find out more about our Healthy Steps clinic, click here. 

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