Be “SMART” About Your Goals: Part 2

Have you been thinking about your goals and wondering if they really are “SMART”? Last week[1], 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[2] have been talking to you about checking your feet, for example, or improving your cholesterol[3] levels, or starting on insulin[4], 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. Last week:
  2. diabetes educator:
  3. cholesterol:
  4. insulin:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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