Lauren Brown, a psychologist from Central Coast Health, discusses the importance of setting SMART goals to help us set and reach our health goals. 

I’m sure you can think of instances where you’ve set yourself goals that you haven’t managed to reach. New Year’s resolutions are a classic example of this.

But we can use a technique called SMART goal setting to give ourselves the best chance of sticking to them. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed, and it can be used in any area of our life where we are working towards improving our current habits, from exercising more and eating healthier, to saving money and even cleaning out the garage.

Let’s use the goal of ‘I want to exercise more’ as an example, and turn that into a SMART goal.

S – Specific

We’ll start by making the goal as specific as we can – that’s the S in SMART. For this, the more detail the better, such as the intensity, type of exercise, time of day you want to do it, and for how long.

So, rather than saying ‘I am going to exercise more this month,’ we can make the goal: ‘I want to walk around my neighbourhood 20 minutes a day, three times a week in the mornings.’

By making the goal specific, we set ourselves a definitive target to aim for.

M – Measurable

The M in SMART stands for measurable, and it’s important because it lets us know if we’re moving toward the goal. Making your goal measurable doesn’t have to be complex; just find a simple way to record your progress. For example, are you ticking days off on a calendar, wearing an activity tracker, or simply writing it in a notepad?

Just make sure every time you are working towards your goal, you’re recording it somewhere – and try to do it straight away so you don’t forget.

A – Achievable

The A in SMART is all about making sure what you are setting out to do is in fact achievable. It sounds common sense, but this is the time to ask yourself some hard questions about your goal: do you believe you can do it, or do you have doubts? What are the doubts? What could be some barriers that may get in the way of you achieving your goal and how will you overcome them? For most people, we have more chance of success when we set small goals and increase them slowly.

Let’s use our example of an exercise goal of walking 20 minutes a day. If you are new to exercise, recovering from an injury, or don’t feel too confident in general about the length of time you would like to exercise for, it would be better to start with an amount of time you feel confident in achieving, such as five or 10 minutes, rather than 20.

Once you have accomplished this target, you can then reset the goal and increase the walking time. In other words, walking 20 minutes a day is much less intimidating once you’ve proved to yourself that you can manage 10 minutes. That’s why it’s so important we make our goals achievable.

R – Relevant

Making your health goal relevant is about asking yourself ‘what is the purpose behind my goal?’ ‘What am I hoping to achieve?’ Maybe the exercise goal is about trying to improve your balance. If that’s the case, then setting a goal of walking probably isn’t relevant because walking won’t improve your flexibility as much as a Thai Chi or a dance class might.

And if the goal is about improving your cardiovascular fitness, five minutes of walking a day is a great start but not enough; I’d need to keep resetting the goal and increasing the time until the walking was giving me cardio benefits.

SMART goals – Timed

Finally, the T in SMART is how to set a timeframe for your goal. Doing this helps to hold yourself accountable, otherwise there is always tomorrow. If you think back to all those failed New Year’s resolutions, it’s the timeframe that’s often the reason why. We’ve got a whole year to work on exercising – and really, that’s too much time.

Let’s look at how we can make our example of aiming to walk three times a week for 20 minutes a day a timed goal.

If I set the achievable goal of starting off by walking three times a week for 10 minutes a day, and I remain on track – which I’ll know because I’m recording it – on the start of the month I can reset the goal to increase the walking time by five minutes. If I remain on track, it should take me three months to achieve my goal of walking 20 minutes a day, three times a week.

So try it today. By making any goal SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed – you give yourself the best chance of achieving whatever it is you’re working towards. I wish you the best of luck in achieving your goals.

Need help with reaching your health goals? The Get Healthy Service is a free telephone and online coaching service that helps people set and achieve their health goals. Visit or call 1300 806 258 to register or for more information.

This article was written for and featured in GOALL (Growing Older and Loving Life) magazine.