Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Have you been thinking about your goals and wondering if they really are “SMART”? Last week, we talked about resolutions and goals and how most people "fall off the wagon" because they haven’t come up with a plan of action as to how they’re going to reach their goals. But using the concept of SMART goal-setting can help you keep your resolutions. Just a quick refresher: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-limited.

You might already be familiar with goal-setting if you’ve been working with a diabetes care team. Diabetes self-management really is all about goal-setting. If your doctor, dietitian, and/or diabetes educator have been talking to you about checking your feet, for example, or improving your cholesterol levels, or starting on insulin, they’ve very likely worked with you to come up with a plan to help get you there.

You don’t improve your cholesterol levels with a snap of the fingers (unfortunately). You need to make changes in your food choices, be more active, and perhaps start on a cholesterol-lowering medicine. All of these steps are part of your action plan to help you reach your goal of safe and healthy cholesterol levels. But first, you need to know what to do to get there. Remember the old proverb “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” This has never been more true than when it comes to taking care of yourself and your diabetes.

Back to setting SMART goals, then. The best way to learn about this is to pick a goal and ask yourself if the goal is SMART or not. I’ll get you started with one:

“I’m going to start exercising.”

What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Nothing, except it doesn’t meet the criteria for being a SMART goal. First, is it specific? Does it lay out what you’ll be actually doing for your exercise? Second, is it measurable? How will you measure your progress? Third, is it action-oriented? Does it explain how you will exercise? Fourth, is it realistic? Are you expecting that you’ll exercise every day for 60 minutes? Can you do that? Finally, is it time-limited? Are you going to re-evaluate your progress and what you’re doing for exercise? Remember that the idea here is to keep working toward your goal, and once you’ve achieved that, to move on and perhaps set another goal.

So, this goal isn’t SMART. But here’s a way to reframe it to make it SMART:

“I’m going to walk for 20 minutes on my lunch break three times a week for the next four weeks.”

Do you see the difference? This goal clearly states what you’ll be doing, when you’ll be doing it, and for how long. Plus, it seems pretty realistic, doesn’t it? And after four weeks, you’ll decide whether you need to make a change. You don’t (and shouldn’t) have to set goals that are way beyond your reach in terms of being doable. That defeats the purpose. Taking small steps will eventually get you to your goal. What if you aren’t meeting your goal? Using our example, what if you just aren’t going for that walk at lunchtime? That’s okay. But think about why you aren’t. Is it too cold? Do you find yourself skipping your lunch break because you have too much work to do? Whatever the reason, it’s an indication that you need to rework that goal. You might decide to walk on your treadmill after supper for twenty minutes instead. It’s okay to change your goals. They’re supposed to work for you, not against you.

Practice writing out a few SMART goals for yourself. Don’t try to set too many goals at once. If you need help, work with your diabetes care team. They shouldn’t be setting goals for you, but should work with you to help you succeed at what it is you want to achieve.

Here’s a link to a goal-setting worksheet that you can use, along with your diabetes care team, to keep track of your goals and help you achieve them: goal-setting worksheet.


  1. Both articles on the subject of goal setting really helped me get things in focus. I struggle.. so much that I won’t go back to the doctor or even check my blood sugar.

    So being SMART I am setting goals that will help me get out of the rut. For instance, keeping a food journal for one week.


    Posted by Priscilla |
  2. Hi Priscilla,

    That’s great! I’m so glad you found these two postings helpful. The concept of SMART goal setting should help you get back on track. Keep us posted as to your progress!

    Posted by acampbell |

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