How SMART goal setting can help you achieve your goals

January 2023

When it comes to setting goals, do you feel a little lost? Maybe when the new year rolls around, you define a few “new year’s resolutions” that you work towards for a bit but then find yourself leaving them behind by April.

Or maybe after years of unsuccessfully trying to set goals, you’ve chosen to work towards them without a framework in place. But when you look back on the progress you’ve made over the past year or two, the change is less than you’d like.

It may be time to start exploring how to set SMART goals.

What are SMART goals?

The term SMART goals date back to George T. Doran and a 1981 article in Management Review (pdf). He proposed that goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely are more likely to be reached than those that are vague, unrealistic, and unattainable.

Since then, SMART goals have been studied and used to implement goal setting in a variety of instances. An American study found that setting SMART goals helped type 2 diabetics lower their A1c levels (also known as glycated hemoglobin levels). Another study explored how SMART goals can help people implement lifestyle medicine prescriptions including diet and exercise changes.

SMART goals have been used for over 40 years for a reason—because your goals should set you up for success. And that is what SMART goals do. Let’s look at how each element in a SMART goal works.


When you set a goal like “I want to get in shape”, it can be hard to know where to start and it’s easy to get demotivated in the process. Instead, you want to make sure that your goals are very specific. Think of the who, what, when, and why.

In our example, a better goal would be “go for a 30-minute walk every day”. This goal will help you get into better physical shape but now you know exactly what you need to accomplish. And while walking 30-minutes every day may just be one goal to help you get to your main goal of getting fit, it's important to set short-term goals that align with your long-term goals.


Being able to measure your progress toward your goals is another important element of the SMART goal-setting process. Tracking your progress will make it easier to stay motivated as you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come towards achieving your goals.

An example of a measurable goal is “to run 5 km in 30 minutes”. As you set smaller goals to get you to your larger goal, you can measure your progress by tracking your time and distance.


You need to set achievable goals—remember, your goals should set you up for success, not failure. If your goal is “to run a marathon in 2 months” but you can only run 5 km when you set the goal, your goal may not be attainable. Instead, set a smaller goal that is reachable — work towards your marathon goal over a longer period of time or start with a 10 km run.

Manulife Vitality can help you set personalized attainable goals. This program helps you understand your health and motivates you to keep reaching your goals. The best part? When you make healthy choices, you get rewarded!


This is all about managing expectations and being realistic about what you can achieve within the realities of your life—you should consider the tools, support, and budget you have available to you as well as your physical capabilities.

It is also important to make your timelines realistic. Like the above example, you need to consider your circumstances to ensure the goals you set are realistic. Instead of trying to complete your goals in one go, your goal should progress along with you. Set short-term and long-term goals that will help you get to your result.

For example, “to walk 30 minutes every day” is a short-term goal, while “to complete a 5 km race in 4 months” is a long-term goal that the short-term goal can help build to.


Set a reasonable deadline for when you’d like to achieve your goal. Recognize how much time you need to reach your goal—and remember to be realistic! And also be specific when setting your timeline. So “I will run 5 km by spring” should be more specific. Consider “I will run 5 km by May 1st”.

SMART goals provide clarity and motivation to help you achieve your goals. And SMART goals can be used by anyone, anywhere without any specialized training or tools. So next time you sit down to plan goals—whether they are health, career, or life-related—think about how you can make them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.

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