After a doozy of a year 2020 was, perhaps it’s been awhile since you’ve competed in any sort of race or had a significant fitness goal.
Maybe you finally found a goal or race that looks interesting. But will you be ready? How do you know if it’s challenging enough, or too risky?
You’ve probably heard about the acronym of SMART (most often defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) for goals.
Creating goals the SMART way really is an intelligent thing to do. However, I have some suggestions for each letter that will make them even smarter.
Let’s break down each of the five aspects of SMART goals. First I’ll explain the traditional wisdom for each, then share a shift to help you set smarter goals.
1. Specific + Support
The “S” in the SMART acronym traditionally stands for “Specific.” It’s proven that specific goals have a significantly greater chance of being accomplished than ambiguous ones.
Example: A general goal would be “I want to get faster.” A specific goal would be “I will shave 30 seconds off my mile time.”
Or, “I want to increase my endurance” is more specifically stated with a goal such as, “I will complete the XYZ marathon this fall (on a specific date).
Keep in mind, not all specific goals have to be tied to races. Your fitness goal could be to walk, hike or run, bike or swim a new distance or fastest time on your own or with someone close to you. It could mean mastering a new skill or sport.
Make it smarter:
In addition to the “S” being for specific, I think it should also include the word “support.”
“Seeking out expert guidance and advice makes a big impact on achieving your goals,” says Marcel Schwantes in Inc. Magazine. “That’s why successful people are no lone rangers. They surround themselves with mentors and advisors who will support them on their journey.”
Think about who in your life could encourage, motivate, and hold you accountable to your goal. Reach out to those people and ask if you can recruit them when you’re in need of support.
2. Measure Now and Later
The “M” in the SMART acronym stands for “Measurable.” A SMART goal should track progress and be quantifiable. We can only manage what we measure. To make sure a goal is measurable, ask:
What will I track my progress?
When will the goal be completed?
Example: I will perform 5 unassisted pull-ups one month from now.
Make it smarter:
Before you gauge progress toward your goal, first measure where you’re at.
For general fitness, Mayo Clinic offers a self-assessment here.
If you’re a runner, try one of these 10 workouts to measure your pace.
Finally, as you plan to increase training volume, make sure to do so gradually. If you have a running-related goal, keep in mind the 10% increase rule per week.
3. Achievable and Audacious
Common advice is that a SMART goal must be achievable or attainable.
Example: The previous example of completing 5 pull-ups in the next month may not be achievable for a fitness newbie with little upper body strength. It may be attainable in the next six months with consistent training, though.
Stating that a goal must be achievable makes it sound like your goals should be easy to achieve. I want to challenge this idea.
Make it smarter:
In order for goals to inspire you to action, they have to be a little bit scary–a bit audacious. They have to be to be enough out of reach that you’ll have to work, grow, and change. Goals that are easily attainable and completely realistic aren’t exciting or motivating.
Ronnie Staton, a running coach and motivational speaker, says people often use SMART goal setting principles, but agrees it can cause athletes to undersell themselves.
“A real goal must be something that you could not achieve now—the training grows you to the point it becomes possible at a push,” he adds.
Here’s where it’s important to consider both process and product/performance goals.
A process goal is one that’s based on an outcome that you can mostly control based on actions, tasks, or routines you complete consistently. These behaviors are based on identifying what you have to do to achieve a bigger goal. Process goals focus more on the journey than the destination.
Example: This week I will run three times, do three core workouts, get eight hours of sleep each night, and stretch before and after each run.
Process goals should be completely attainable.
A product or performance goal focuses on a specific outcome or destination that may be out of your control. Even if you’re 100% dedicated to that goal, you don’t have control of other people or circumstances. You also might hit an unforeseen obstacle that prevents you from achieving success.
Example: I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon at my biggest race next year.
Performance goals may seem out of reach, and that’s exactly the point.
I’d challenge you to dream and consider the “impossible” in your long-term product goals. While recognizing that you don’t have control of the outcome, you give your best effort consistently to complete those daily process goals so that you can have a shot at a Big Hairy Audacious Performance Goal.
“Any athlete…should at least set goals that are at the lofty end of realistic, because that’s how human motivation works,” said Matt Fitzgerald, author and endurance coach.
4. Realistic to Relevant
The “R” in SMART often stands for “realistic.” A goal is realistic if it can be achieved with your current resources and time.
The “realistic” designation seems redundant, as it’s basically the same thing as “achievable.” Some SMART goal guides say the “R” stands for “relevant,” which seems more appropriate.
Make it smarter:
Relevance considers whether your goal is worthwhile and enhances your life. The only way to stick with a difficult goal is to really care about the outcome. Take the time to figure out what gets you most excited about your sport and craft goals to reflect that.
Why do you want to complete this goal? Is it actually important to you, or are you doing it because someone else is or another person told you to? You’ll be much more likely to stay motivated and take action if the reasons behind your goal, (your “why”) are positive and productive.
Reasons for setting a goal that include guilt, shame or self-loathing, vanity, fear, and people pleasing, for example, won’t stick for very long. Reasons such as getting stronger, having a healthy lifestyle, or being pain-free will be more effective in moving you toward meaningful goals.
Also, your fitness goals should fit into your life and any other goals you’re working toward. A new health routine will usually only stick when paired with careful consideration of family, work, and other commitments.
Example: I will do my weekday workouts at 6 a.m. because I’m a morning person and I also want to take my kids to school and get to work on time.
5. Time-bound but Flexible
A SMART goal that’s time-bound means it has a start and finish date or a specific deadline for completion. Being time-constrained provides a sense of urgency, focus, and motivation to achieve the goal.
A time-bound goal usually answers these questions:
What can I do six months to a year from now?
What can I do six weeks from now?
What can I do today?
Example: I will run a 9-minute mile by July 7.
People tend to overestimate what they can do in a short amount of time and underestimate what they can do in a longer amount of time.
When we start on a goal often we don’t know what a reasonable timeframe should be. As you get started, you may need to make adjustments.
Make it smarter:
Megan Hyatt Miller, CEO at Michael Hyatt & Co. and the creator of the Bold line of the Full Focus Planner, says that the best way to achieve your goal is to hold it tightly but your strategy loosely.
“Your goals may be sacred, but your strategy sure isn’t” she says. “All that matters is whether or not it works. If the answer is no, you should feel free—compelled, even—to chuck it out the window and try something else.”
If you haven’t reached your goal in your desired timeframe, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the wrong goal. You may just need to adjust the way you’re going at your goal–even if it takes longer than you think.
If you’ve got a big goal that may take a long time to reach, try reverse engineering it. Break your big goal down into smaller micro goals. You’re more likely to take action if you have immediate time limits. What actions, or process goals, can you begin today or this week to work toward your long-term product goal?
Now that you know all about SMART goals, it’s time to take action! I created a helpful resource for you since writing down your goals increases the likelihood that you will achieve them.
This SMART goal planning worksheet will help you create smarter fitness goals and keep you on track. Print it out and place it someplace visible to help keep you accountable.
If you’re having a hard time evaluating your current fitness level, determining what would be a realistic goal, or just feeling overwhelmed about the process, it can be helpful to consult an expert, like a certified personal trainer or health coach like myself.
I’d love to come alongside you to support and encourage you through these goal-setting strategies.
Contact me here for a free 20-minute discovery call.