Using SMART Goals

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Adapted excerpt from A Plant-Based Life by Micaela Karlsen

In creating your own specific goals, an effective approach is to follow the SMART Goals model, a method widely used by clinicians and health educators to make goal setting more effective. The SMART acronym stands for: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-limited. The Sustainable Diet program uses SMART Goals to help improve your accountability, organization, and therefore your success.

  • Specific means you know exactly what the action is. “Eating better” doesn’t create a clear picture of what the action is, whereas “Eating three salads a week” is a specific and obvious activity.
  • Measurable means you can tell quickly whether you’ve met the goal or not. If your goal is eating three salads, then if you only eat one salad, you know you haven’t met your goal. If your goal were just to “eat better,” you’d have no criteria for telling whether you have achieved it or not.
  • Actionable means you can take action on the goal immediately. Eating three salads is something you can clearly put into practice right away, but “eating better” is something you cannot do until you know what it looks like.
  • Relevant means that your SMART goal supports your larger vision and overall goals in your life. Eating three salads a week is relevant if your vision is to eat a whole food, plant-based diet.
  • Time-limited means you allot yourself a designated amount of time in which to complete the goal, with a set deadline. In this case, planning to eat three salads in the coming week means you will have completed your goal in the next seven days.

There is one more important element to maximize your likelihood of successfully changing your diet—human connection. When you embark on any kind of change, it’s essential that you do so in connection with other people if you want the change to be lasting. Particularly because eating is a social behavior, dietary isolation can dampen the desire to continue for many people who were initially bursting with enthusiasm. We’ll discuss the power of community more in Step Five, including how and where to find a plant-based community if you don’t already have one, but at this point you no doubt have some fresh and inspired ideas about your life and your eating that need to be shared with someone who can support that vision and provide some structure that you can lean on during the transition. You might call this person a support buddy, an accountability partner, a coach, or just a good friend, but whatever you call them they have to have a few particular qualities:

  • They have to be someone you know, and to whom you can talk regularly (in person, over the phone, or through email) so they can personally respond to you. The goal here is to get live, personal feedback.
  • They do not have to eat a plant-based diet (though that would be preferable), but they do need to be open and accepting of your intentions with the diet and have a genuine interest in helping you reach your goals.
  • They must be organized and reliable enough that you can depend on them to check in with you about the goals you’ve set, how you’ve met them, and what might be getting in your way. You need to feel a sense of accountability and that person’s expectation that you will follow through on what you plan to do.

So right now, while you’re thinking about this, make a list of the people you connect with for support and accountability. You don’t need to convince them to eat a plant-based diet. This is about you and about finding the right person to support your needs. Does anyone stand out? Starting with your top pick, reach out and share what you’re about to do. You can even approach more than one person if that feels right.

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