SMART Goals are a fantastic strategy that is commonly used in many different professions to develop specific and actionable steps to moving towards a goal.
This is also true in a therapy environment, where therapists will set SMART goals with patients to support their desire to improve their mental health.
SMART Goals represent goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time Bound.
Examples of SMART Goals include:
- Going for a walk twice a week for 15 minutes
- Saying hello to 5 strangers a day
- Waiting at least 10 minutes before smoking when urges occur
Although SMART Goals are an excellent tool, there are certain instances when SMART Goals may not work the way we want it to and we may feel discouraged. Consequently, it is important to know when these times might occur and what to do to overcome these difficulties.
Below, I discuss 7 reasons when SMART Goals may fail and strategies to work through these problems.
1. The SMART Goal is too hard
The first reason is that the SMART goal is simply too hard – and therefore unrealistic (at least at the time when it was set).
For example, a person wanting to be active might set the SMART goal of working out two hours a day 5 days a week. This goal may be too much too soon if you have been relatively sedentary for the last while.
Therefore, consider whether the SMART goal is well-calibrated to the your needs. A more appropriate goal to generate some momentum might be to be active 3 days a week, 15 minutes at a time (but you know yourself best!).
2. The SMART Goal is too easy
On the opposite spectrum, SMART goals can be less effective if they are too easy to complete (e.g., doing 5 jumping jacks, once a month).
SMART goals should be achievable but challenging enough to stimulate growth in your daily life and get you closer to your goals.
3. The SMART Goal is not relevant to the broader goal
There are some cases where the SMART Goal is not relevant to the main goal. For example, setting a SMART goal of waking up at 8:00am everyday with the goal of being more social.
In this case, there is little overlap between the two goals unless the person spends the extra time they have by getting out of bed early to socialize with friends or other people.
Sometimes a goal appears relevant but may not be the type of goal that is specific to what the person truly needs. For example, somebody who wants to be more social may set a goal to speak to 3 strangers every week.
However, their actual goal of developing a deeper social circle might require a different social goal. For example, spending more time and resources into existing relationships. Therefore, a better SMART goal might be to plan outings with friends and loved ones rather than talking to unfamiliar people.
4. There’s not enough intrinsic reason to be engaging in the goal
Sometimes, people set goals that they think they should be doing rather than engaging in activities that they find to be truly meaningful.
For example, some people might set a goal to meditate everyday for 5 minutes. Although meditation can be very beneficial, some people begin to meditate solely for the sake of meditating. This can often lead to poor results because the person may not truly understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Therefore, it’s important to engage in some reflection about the reason why we set goals. Is it to be more responsive in our actions, rather than reactive? Is it to live a more meaningful and active life? Reflecting on our values can be an important process to understand why we are putting in the hard work.
5. We don’t know if the SMART Goal worked
Sometimes, SMART Goals ‘fail’ because we are not sure if the activity actually helped to make any improvements.
It is there important to track how we feel before and after completing the SMART goal. For example, we may have the belief that ‘nothing will help with my mood’. After setting a goal to take a walk in the evening for 15 minutes, it can be helpful to rate your mood levels from 1 to 10 before and after to see if any change has occurred to test this negative prediction.
6. We don’t have a deadline for the SMART goal
Of course, the last letter of SMART goals stands for Time-Bound. There must be a deadline by which we need to complete a goal. If not, we can push it later and later – many fellow procrastinators can vouch for this.
Therefore, deciding on a specific time that works best to accomplish the goal and setting an alarm can be helpful to make sure we avoid procrastination.
7. Other barriers exist for SMART Goals
Outside of procrastination, there can be any number of reasons that create barriers to completing our set goals.
For example, anxiety might make us avoid going to the gym or speak to unfamiliar people. Our mood might also make it harder for us to get the momentum needed to start an activity.
Therefore, it’s important to troubleshoot issues that might come up. For example, you might decide to do some relaxation exercises to increase the likelihood of following through with a goal. Or you might put on your shoes 30 minutes before deciding to go for a jog to make for a smoother transition. Another strategy might be to just get started by promising to read only one page rather than thinking you need to read the whole chapter. Be flexible and creative in your approach to tackling barriers!
SMART Goals can be great evidence-based tool to support your needs. However, barriers can exist that make SMART goals less effective and we need strategies to overcome these obstacles. Hopefully this post was helpful in understanding a few of these possible issues that might come up and giving you a few tools to resolve them!
Here’s an article on setting your own SMART Goals today!