Personal Growth

Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals to Achieve the Things You Want

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What we're about to say may shock you: Eating healthier is a very bad goal. Conceptually, it's great, don't get us wrong. But the words you use to structure goals are as important as the thing you're trying to achieve. Your brain can sabotage you if you don't know how to train it not to. Want a real shot at actually attaining a goal? Make it S.M.A.R.T.

How to Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Partner content from The Great Courses Plus

Retrain the Brain

Dr. Jason M. Satterfield, director of behavioral medicine at the University of California San Francisco, explains in his course for The Great Courses Plus, "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain," how cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used as a tool to help you approach tasks more effectively. Over 24 lectures, he teaches you how to train your brain to improve motivation, manage your emotions, and hone interpersonal skills. You can take the entire course when you sign up for a free trial here.

Get Smart

Whatever objective you're aiming for, you need to make sure you're taking a sma—er, wise approach. One way to retrain your brain for success? Structuring what you're looking to accomplish as a S.M.A.R.T. goal should be step one on your road to glory. This clever initialism stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. If your goal hits on all of these points, you're setting extremely clear expectations that will be much easier for you to work toward and eventually attain. Let's break the parts of that term down a little further:

Specific: Your goal should clearly define what you are going to do. If your goal is to start waking up earlier, you need to define the exact time. What does "earlier" actually mean to you? If you can't define it, you sure can't achieve it.

Measurable: It should be possible to have tangible proof that you've accomplished your goal. If your goal is to deadlift 200 pounds, you can keep a workout log of every weight you lift to keep tabs on your progress.

Achievable: Although your goal should challenge you, it shouldn't be beyond the scope of imagination. A goal to write a bestselling memoir might be above your current capabilities if you haven't written anything since high school. Writing a one-page journal entry every day? That's a bit more realistic.

Relevant: Not all goals are worthwhile. Beating the final level on your favorite video game is specific, measurable, and achievable, but its importance in the grand scheme of things is questionable. Your goal should support and be supported by the other things you want out of life.

Time-bound: Your goal should be linked to a timeframe that creates some urgency. There's a reason many people do their taxes by April without a problem but struggle to save money for the future — one has a deadline, the other doesn't. If you want to lose ten pounds, do you want to drop it by the end of the month? Year? Timeframe affects the entire approach to achieving a goal.

Take the First Step

Learning to set goals is an extremely versatile skill. You can apply these goal-setting strategies across the board in basically every aspect of your life. But goals are just one part of the puzzle. In Dr. Satterfield's course for The Great Courses Plus, he goes even further to help you deal with trauma, learn to forgive, and even boost your health by eating and sleeping better. You can take the entire course when you sign up for a free trial here.

Written by Joanie Faletto February 28, 2018