SMART Goals refer to goals that are:
Calling your parents at least once a week would be an example of a SMART goal.
But why are SMART goals so important for mental health and moving towards our psychological goals? For example, why not just go through general therapy and just say you want to become happier?
The primary reason is because happiness means something very different for each person. This can be the same for people who want to feel less anxious, sleep better, or be more active.
In the case of happiness, this might mean improving social relationships for some people; for others, it might be feeling more confident about one’s ability at work.
Therefore, SMART goals help determine the specific changes in a person’s life that will lead to improvement and figuring out strategies to get closer to that goal.
Below, I discuss several reasons why SMART goals are important to mental health.
SMART Goals make goals more specific to the person
As mentioned above, SMART goals help move the general into the specific. It is a way to identify the peculiarities of a person’s goals that would truly benefit the person’s life.
For example, a person might have a general goal of sleeping better. A SMART goal for this person might be falling asleep quicker, staying asleep, or getting some more refreshing sleep.
Another example could be that a person wants to feel less anxious. In this case, a SMART goal might be spending less time in the evening worrying about school assignments or more confident when speaking to other people.
When thinking about how to get to a more specific goal, a strategy is to ask yourself: “if I were sleeping better, what would be different” or “if I were less anxious, what would that look like?”. Addressing these questions will provide helpful insight in what SMART goals to try out.
SMART goals help us test and experiment with negative beliefs
Oftentimes, people have negative thoughts such as “nothing will improve my mood” or “I can’t handle any uncertainty in my life”.
SMART goals offer us a way to test these problematic beliefs through specific and measurable goals. For example, setting a goal to take a walk in the evening to test the belief that “nothing will improve my mood” and measuring mood before and after. Another example is opting to try out a new restaurant without knowing the rating to begin tolerating uncertainty.
SMART Goals help make incremental changes
It’s easy to say that your goal is to be more active. It’s much harder to actually get started.
Some people, in a burst of motivation, decide on changes that are not sustainable or hard to follow through when we are feeling less motivated.
SMART Goals therefore help to ensure that the set goal is challenging but manageable. For example, instead of deciding to run a half marathon every day, you might start with a 10 minute jog twice a week.
Afterwards, you can continue making incremental improvements to get closer to your goals!
SMART Goals increase self-confidence
As above, completing SMART goals begin to increase our feelings of self-efficacy. That is, the confidence that we can take matters in our own hands to improve our current situation.
This can be true for a number of psychological challenges, such as anxiety, mood, and sleep. We are able to showcase that we have a direct impact on our well-being and are effective in working through the world around us.
SMART Goals add to the person’s clinical toolkit
Just like different tools are needed to handle different situations, clinical skills are the same – some work well in some situations and others work well in other situations.
Therefore, learning how to use SMART goals is like adding another tool into your clinical toolbox. They are not something that necessarily works for every situation, but helps to create versatility in the way to handle life’s challenges.
If you’re interested in creating SMART goals yourself, here’s a helpful post to get started!