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Goal Setting in Therapy: A SMART Recipe for Good Results

SMART goalsWe often try to improve our lives by setting and achieving goals. But many people have poor goal setting skills, making choices that are too grand or unrealistic. The result? Despite their best efforts to make their goals a reality, they rarely get their desired level of success.

Not knowing how to properly set up goals often leads to failure, and can create feelings which may impact self-esteem and motivation levels.

So knowing how to set proper, realistic goals that produce measurable results is essential.

Sometimes our issues blind us towards good goal setting. On a good note, our personal problems can also provide an excellent starting point for goal creation. Turning something negative into something positive, i.e. a goal, is a wonderful way to begin overcoming personal issues.

If identifying a goal or life challenge is difficult for you, working with a professional therapist can be an invaluable aid in the goal creation process. The right trained therapist can help you identify what your problems are, how they are maintained, and how you may be able to go about changing them. Goals should be about personal empowerment, and what better way to boost your self-confidence than overcoming the challenges that life presents?

A technique often used by therapists that may be helpful in identifying personal goals is the “magic wand question”. The question goes roughly as follows: “If you were to have a magic wand, which would give you the ability to change the things you did not like and you would wake up tomorrow to your world as you would like it to be, what would be different?” Asking yourself this question can serve to identify possible goals on which you can work.

Smart Goal SettingOnce you have identified goals on which you would like to work, prioritise them! This will help you identify which goal needs the most attention. Remember to focus all your attention on one goal at a time; this will help to maximise your chances of success. If you have more than one goal, you can work on the others after you have accomplished the first goal.

After you have selected your most important goal ask yourself if your goal is something that can be accomplished though changing how you think, by how you act, or both. This question will provide an important clue about which direction you should take to most effectively accomplish your goal. Your response to this will be integrated into your plan of action and can increase your chances for success.

Am I stressed or depressed online quiz

And make sure you set a S.M.A.R.T. goal for yourself!

S.M.A.R.T. Goals And How to Set Them

S.M.A.R.T. is a popular method for setting goals (especially in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and stands for:

Specific: Set a specific goal for yourself – general goals are too broad and focusing your energy on one thing is less difficult. For example, say that your goal is “to lose weight.” This is too general. It is not exact about how much weight you wanted to lose. Be specific!

Measurable: If you goal is not measurable how will you know when you have achieved it? Setting a goal that is measurable will help you to gauge your efforts and let you know if you are working hard enough. Sticking with our previous example, saying that you want to lose 5kg is both specific and measurable. The track to success will be clearer with a measurable goal.

Achievable: Dreaming is a wonderful characteristic about being human. However, when we wish and hope for a goal this only leads to the creation of goals that are often too unattainable for the majority of people. An example of this might be being elected the prime minister, or finishing the London marathon without adequate training. If you ask yourself the question: “Is this goal likely to be achieved if I stick to my plan of action?” and the answer is “no”, then you’re headed for failure and you should start over.

Realistic: The goals need to be in line with reality. If you have established a goal to lose 5kg in one week’s time, or to win X Factor by this Tuesday, you may want to reconsider the direction your goal is taking you. Keep your head on straight!

Time frame: Establish a clear amount of time that you are going to dedicate to your goals. Take time to think over how much time it will realistically take to achieve your goal. Very often people become frustrated and give in because they were too impatient. People often fail to reach their goals because they did not work often enough or long enough. Your success is worth the time!

(Tried using S.M.A.R.T. goals before but didn’t get results? Try our guide to troubleshooting your life goals).


Setting goals can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be! Incorporating the above techniques will help to take the guesswork out of the goal setting process. By creating goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time limited we may increase our chance of turning our goals into reality and enjoy the level success that we all deserve.

Still have questions about setting goals that work? Or want to share a tip that has helped you? Comment below, we love hearing from you!

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Blog Topics: Cognitive Therapy, Self Esteem

2 Responses to “Goal Setting in Therapy: A SMART Recipe for Good Results”
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    Dr. Sheri Jacobson


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