How to Build Healthy Habits with SMART Goals 

If you’ve thought about making a healthy lifestyle change but don’t know where to start, consider setting a SMART goal to focus your efforts and set yourself up for success. SMART stands for:  

  • Specific – This sounds obvious, but specific goals answer these two questions: what needs to be accomplished, and what steps need to be taken to accomplish it.  
  • Think about how often/when you want to work toward it (e.g., once a day, twice a week, a few times per month), where you might work on it (e.g., at home, at work), and with whom (e.g., by yourself, with family or a friend).  
  • Measurable – When you build in methods to track your progress, you’ll be able to determine whether you are following through with your plan. This can play into the point above. If you have thought about how often, where, and with whom you are working on a goal, this will help with tracking.  
  • Attainable – Stick with intentions that are realistic for you to achieve success. Think about it this way: what is one small change that you can make now to help you reach some of your longer-term goals?  
  • Relevant – Your goals should be meaningful to you and align with short-term or long-term objectives you may have for yourself and your health.   
  • Time-based – Having a built-in deadline is important for making goals attainable.   

To put it into context, a resolution like “eat healthy” or “exercise more” – while noble plans – are not SMART goals. They are loosely defined and do not have a sense of urgency, so it will be hard to identify if/when you are successful in accomplishing these goals. You can make them into SMART goals by adding more details to clearly define your plan. Some examples of SMART goals that might help you work towards a healthy diet or lifestyle include:  

  • Have a meal with a plant-based protein (beans, lentils, tofu) instead of meat for dinner twice a week.  
  • Add 1 cup of vegetables to your plate at lunchtime on Saturday and Sunday. 
  • Pack an afternoon snack of an apple and nuts four days a week. 
  • Walk at a brisk pace for 20 minutes every Monday morning. 
  • Set a timer/reminder to take a one-minute stretch break after sitting at your desk for a half hour. 

Build Your Own SMART Goal 

Begin by thinking of a positive lifestyle change you would like to make. Is there one aspect that you can add to your routine that will help you build this new habit?  

Once you have a goal set, it’s important to keep your goal front and center. Check in with yourself every two to three days to see how you’re doing. Many people also find it helpful to have a person or group supporting their changes and holding them accountable. This is a great reason to also involve a friend or family member in the planning process.  

The end of each week or the end of the month is a good time to assess previous goals or think about new goals. Once you attain one of your SMART goals, it can become a healthy habit to build upon. And as you build confidence in reaching your SMART goals week by week or month by month, you will be on your way to reaching your larger goals. 

If you find yourself struggling to create a goal that is achievable, try to start small. For example, if your SMART goal was to eat five servings of vegetables every day but this felt too difficult, consider changing your goal to two servings of vegetables, five days a week at dinner with your family for the following week. Build on this for a while until it feels like a comfortable part of your routine.  

Finally, take time to celebrate your accomplishments each week and be kind to yourself if you fall short. Making changes that last is no easy task—it takes time and commitment. Remind yourself of the “why” behind your goals to stay motivated and keep going. 

Ready to get started and need some inspiration? Consider the goal of swapping out meat with a plant-based protein for Meatless Mondays. These protein-packed and fiber-rich meals can help you get started.  

Jenn Dearden is a registered dietitian with a background in professional cooking. Jenn serves as Cook for Your Life’s content writer and editor.


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