Being S.M.A.R.T. About Your Plateau

Use these guidelines to set and achieve your goals.


By Erica Green


Some of us can admit when we make little progress on our workout plan. The commitment and motivation to achieve is there, but we are not getting the results we hoped. We feel stuck. We know our regime needs a little tweaking, but we are not sure where.

We may plan to eat healthier. We may plan to lose 20 pounds. We may plan to do a Tough Mudder. These are all wonderful aspirations, but for some reason when we get started, we get lost along the way and never achieve our ultimate goal.

As a psychotherapist, I often tell my clients that if we manage our health or private life like our work-life, we are likely to see improvement in both areas. Successful businesses take an end-goal such as losing 20 pounds, let's say, and break it down into smaller tasks, goal markers, or metrics.

Doran (1981) created the "S.M.A.R.T. way to manage to management goals and objectives." S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for the management considerations of specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. There is some variation, but I have found them to generally drive at the same principles. Research suggests that when businesses can refine their goals to fit this criteria, there will be a better outcome overall. I believe this method is beneficial for personal fitness goals as well.

I often work with individuals struggling with anxiety. I find that when we think of the overall goal, in this case to stop anxiety, we feel more overwhelmed. However, if we can first reflect on the issue and then form a strategy, we are more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment and decrease some of those anxious feelings. We tackle the problem head-on with better understanding and a plan. So let's see how this can help with a fitness plateau.

Suppose you want to lose 20 pounds. You’ve lost 10 pounds so far, but cannot get beyond that. In S.M.A.R.T. fitness management, you would consider the following:

Specific: What do you wish to do? The more specific your answer, the better. If your goal is too broad, the likelihood of identifying ways for success is more difficult. In this case, you want to lose the last 10 pounds. To be more specific, you could narrow your goal down to making nutritional changes.

If you further self-reflect, you’ll find that you are getting good exercise in several times a week, but eating out for lunch seems to undermine your accomplishments.

Measurable: How do you know if you are getting closer to your goal? Can you measure the success? Don’t forget to determine when you want to reach your goal. You know that you want to lose 10 pounds by altering your diet, especially through your lunches at work.

Say you want to do this in 3 months. You can measure this in a few ways. First, use a scale to monitor your weight. Next, consider how many meals you eat out versus brown-bagging it. Some of you may need to consider if you want to cut cost as well as high calories. For the sake of being specific and simple, let’s focus on weight loss. So, you might decide to increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. You can start with swapping the french fries for a side-salad. Later, you can aim to graduate to a salad as the entree.

Attainable: Can your goal actually be achieved? Most would agree that increasing the proportion of fruits and vegetables as a way of losing 10 pounds in 3 months time can be done.

Realistic: (Some versions use the word relevant) Is your goal realistic? Is it realistic for someone to survive on plants and lose weight in 3 months? Yes. Is a plant-based diet a relevant or trending way to achieve weight loss? Yes.

Timely: Is this a good time of the year or time in your life to attempt such a feat? If you consider holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions, it may be easier to attempt your goal now rather than later.

The great thing about S.M.A.R.T. goals in fitness is that it keeps you focused. Once you successfully implement them in one area, you can use them in another. For example, once you achieve your weight loss, you can shift your focus to muscle definition.

S.M.A.R.T. goals could be used to help you strategize for the gym, or to help you make any new dietary changes. There are many great worksheets on the web to document each step of the way.

Be tenacious!

Erica is a psychotherapist and humanitarian aid coordinator who has a background in health psychology, global health, and addictions. She has over 16 years of counseling, teaching, and coaching experience. Erica has several masters degrees, is a licensed counselor, and has an addiction certification. She has worked with all ages in the US and abroad. Follow Erica on Twitter. Se habla español.

Main Photo Credit: Angela Aladro mella/; Second Photo Credit: Albina Glisic/; Third Photo Credit: lithian /