SMART goals – success beyond New Year’s Resolutions

SMART goals2

by Amandeep Sandhu, CDE, RD

Introduction: New Year celebrations have come and gone and by now the reality of our ambitious New Year resolutions has set in.  Based on research, 50% of us who set New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, eat healthy or get in shape have already given up by the end of the first week and by now, at the end of the month 83% of people have given up entirely.

Many health goals focus on attaining a positive outcome — for example “I will eat more fruits and vegetables” whereas others focus on the negative state or avoidance — such as “I will eat less desserts”.  Both of these kinds of goals often lead to discouragement and ultimately to us abandoning the goals entirely because we haven’t taken the time to define what “more” and “less” are in ways that promote success.

The reality is that only 8% of people are actually successful in achieving their New Year’s resolutions — so what makes them successful? That is the topic of this article.

The key to success is to pursue a goal that focuses on the positive but targets a specific outcome that is attainable. We call this a SMART goal.

A goal is a mental representation of a positive outcome that one commits to and setting goals creates sense of urgency and motivation that would seem to provide all that’s needed to accomplish the desired outcome. The difficulty lies in that although one might value the positive outcome associated with the goal (such as being healthy), without a definable goal there is a lack of direction with respect to the specific types of behaviour change needed to accomplish it.

Achieving Success by Setting SMART goals

To achieve success in accomplishing goals requires setting ones that have a clear objective, are specific and that has an outcome that can be measured. It  needs to provide direction with regards to what we are going to do; specifically what action we are going to take. They also need to be realistic and have a time frame in which the goal is to be accomplished.  These are SMART goals.

SMART stands for:

Time frame

5 steps to set a SMART goal

1. Be specific: What do I want to do or accomplish?

When creating a plan, make sure to determine a clear objective and focus in on a specific goal which will help keep you motivated and on track rather than feeling overwhelmed.

Ask yourself:
What will I do?
How will I do it?
When will I start?

2. Make your goal measurable: How much and how often will I do it?

Setting a numerical target helps keep track of your progress. Think about what you will
measure, how often you will measure it and how you will keep track of it.

3. Set action-orientated goals: How will I do it?

Set small goals that you have control over and can actually change. Try not focusing on
feelings and emotions when setting goals, but rather on behaviour and action. Research
has shown that nutrition education interventions produced effective change when intervention were behaviour focused.

4. Be realistic: Can I do it?

This can be difficult for many as majority of people tend to bite off more than they can chew. This is where you need to assess your capabilities and skills. In order to be successful with your goal, it’s important to set a goal that is actually attainable. Then create a plan that you can commit to working towards so that you don’t lose confidence because it’s beyond your capabilities. Remember, that it’s important to be confident when to trying to achieve your goal.

5. Provide a time frame: When will I do it?

Give yourself a period of time or a specific time frame during which the goal will be attained. Having a target date keeps you motivated, on track and focused.

Tips to Reach Your Goal

  • Set 1-3 goals at a time to prevent setback. Taking on too many goals makes achieving all of them more difficult and increases the likelihood of getting discouraged.
  • Make small changes towards your goal.
  • Track your progress within appropriate intervals. You don’t want to track it too often as it takes time to see results but don’t take too long either as you might need to adjust your goal along the way.
  • Plan ahead. Plan for success yet be prepared for obstacles that could make it hard to achieve your goals.
  • Celebrate your success no matter how small it is; every small step in the right direction gets you closer to your goal and further away from where you were.
  • Share your goal with a support network (such as friends or peers at your gym)
  • Get support – asking one of the Dietitians with Nutrition to You to provide guidance in achieving your health goal, as well as some “follow-up” support or “check-ins” will provide you with expert help in planning out SMART goals, as well as valuable help in making adjustments along the way. Let’s work together to make a healthier future.

For more information on how we can help, please click on the Contact Us tab above and send us a note.

Remember, only 8% of people who set New Year’s resolutions are successful.  Why not let us help you set SMART goals and support you in accomplishing them?


Mann,T; de Ridder,D; Fujita,K., Self-regulation of health behavior: Social psychological approaches to goal setting and goal striving, Health Psychology. 2013; 32(5): 487-498.

Norcross, JC et al, Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. J Clin Psychol. 2002 Apr;58(4):397-405

Shilts,M K; Horowitz,M; Townsend,M, Goal setting as a strategy for dietary and physical activity behavior change: A review of the literature, American Journal of Health Promotion. 2004; 19(2): 81-93.

Sullivan,H W; Rothman, When planning is needed: Implementation intentions and attainment of approach versus avoidance health goals, Health Psychology. 2008; 27(4): 438-444.

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