SMART Goal definition and use in depression

SMART goals, as an acronym, stands for goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound.

If interested, here’s a post that goes into further details about what a SMART goals is and how to create SMART goals.

In therapy, SMART goals are often used for people with depression (Cheung et al., 2015). When we are depressed, most goals can seem like mountains to climb, which makes us want to withdraw even further inside.

Therefore, setting SMART goals that feel within reach are important to help patients take the necessary steps to get them to where they want to be. It helps to build momentum to break out of the vicious cycle that characterizes depression and inactivity.

SMART goals help us specify general goals

SMART goals help people move towards their overall goals that require some specificity to accomplish.

A few broader goals that one might see in depression are

  • Having a stronger social circle
  • Becoming more active
  • Doing more things that are personally enjoyable
  • Keeping to a more regular routine
  • Adding healthier and positive activities during the day

Examples of SMART goals to support main goals

Below are several examples of SMART goals that you can use to adapt to fit your needs.

Social circle

  • Call up a friend and ask them to have a weekend brunch
  • Start a conversation with three people at work this week
  • Attend one school social event in the next month
  • Try out a new restaurant with husband twice a week


  • Take a walk for 10 minutes in the evening 3 times a week
  • Engage in a yoga practice found on YouTube in the morning
  • Go for a swim with a friend that enjoys swimming

Personal enjoyment

  • Read a book for 15 minutes before bed every night
  • Ask partner to take child for an outing and take a hot bubble bath once every few weeks
  • Start the day with a cup of chamomile tea


  • Set an evening routine 20 minutes before bed
  • Set up an alarm and wake up at 7:15am every day  

Healthy activities

  • Drink a glass of water upon awakening in the morning
  • Cook a healthy meal at least once a day instead of eating out
  • Journal for 5 minutes before bed every night

To learn more, here’s a post on scheduling activities in your daily life!

Tips to support SMART goal success

Although SMART goals can sound great and people may initially be motivated to start, there may be barriers that come up to dash our best laid plans.

Therefore, it’s important to consider barriers in order to set yourself up for success by problem-solving ahead of time! A few examples that you can draw from:

  • Waking up at 7:00am with an alarm sounds great, but it may be hard to get yourself to get up in that moment when you are feeling tired and cozy. Solution: Tie getting up with something enjoyable, like going to get your favorite Starbucks drink.
  • Going for a walk would be lovely, but inertia might tell you stay inside. Solution: Put your shoes next to you and put them on 5 minutes before the scheduled walk. By thinking solely on simply putting on your shoes, this will generate the momentum needed to get out the door!
  • Wanting to do something you enjoy for yourself, but you have a baby to take care of, which limits your time. Solution: Ask your partner to spend 15 minutes with the baby in the evening so you have some alone time to do something you enjoy.
  • Setting up plans with your friend but they don’t pick up or can’t make the lunch. Solution: Have another friend in mind that you can call if the other person cannot make it.

Beyond troubleshooting, it is important to start small and scale up. For example, if 30 minutes of reading sounds pretty daunting, consider 15 minutes, 5 minutes, or even just one page (reading more if you want). The important part is to set yourself up for success!

Best wishes,