What are SMART Commitments?

You may or may not have heard about SMART goals. Oftentimes therapists use them to help clients identify specific goals they have. Typically SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. I have made a few small tweaks. Instead of attainable, for example, I use aligned with your values. Why have I made that change? Because why you want to make changes is important and staying connected to your why, or your values, can help you make those changes. You may also have noticed that instead of goals, I use commitments. There is an important difference between goals and commitments. Goals are something that you can achieve and they are in the future. Commitments, on the other hand, cannot be achieved and they happen in the present; they are also related to your values. For example, you might have the goal of losing 10 pounds, which is something that you can work toward achieving in the future. But why do you want to lose weight? Is it for health reasons? In this case, health is something you value and an important thing to keep in mind as you make changes in your life. Health is also not something that can you can achieve at some future point, like a box you get to check off; it requires an ongoing commitment on your part to make healthy choices. Shifting your focus from goals to commitments helps you to stay present, which is the only place change happens.

Change happens in the now, not in the future!

Reorienting your thinking in this way also keeps you from getting too stuck on the outcome. In this example, say you hit a plateau while trying to lose weight and naturally feel discouraged. If you are hyperfocused on the outcome, it may deter you from continuing to go to the gym and eating healthily. But, if you are focused on why you want to lose weight, for your health, and focused on the process rather than the outcome, it is more likely that you stay on track and continue to make healthy choices.

Specific- For example, "I am going to run three times a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:00am," rather than, "I am going to start going to the gym."

Measurable- For example, "I am going to run for 30 minutes or 3 miles."

Aligned with your values- Why are you doing this? What meaning or purpose does it hold for you? Identifying why you want to make this commitment is especially important when it comes to maintaining your level of motivation.

Realistic- This one is crucial. People often set lofty goals for what they would ideally be doing rather than what they can do realistically, which sets them up to get discouraged and perhaps give up altogether. Start by setting small, attainable goals, and build up! For example, if you aren't a runner just yet, you might start by committing to walking for 30 minutes or 3 miles instead of running.

Time-sensitive- For example, when does this happen? If it is a part of a New Year's resolution, perhaps you start January 1st.

See if you can identify a SMART Commitment for yourself based on the examples above.

Now that you have identified a SMART commitment I want you to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 both how important the commitment is and how confident you are in your ability to make this commitment.

How important is your commitment on a scale of 1 to 10? (with a 1 being not important at all and a 10 being extremely important)

How confident are you that you can make this commitment on a scale of 1 to 10? (with a 1 being not confident at all and a 10 being extremely confident)

Now, if either one is below a 7, I want you to modify your commitment in a way that makes it more important or makes you more confident in your ability to make it. For example, say you are recognizing that your alcohol use is excessive or problematic in some way, but you are not ready to commit to being sober for life. You might start by committing to 30 days of sobriety or to do dry January and then reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.

Learn more about SMART commitments in my book Reclaim Your Life: Acceptance & Commitment Therapy in 7 Weeks here.

If you are interested in learning more or in working with me please go to my homepage to contact me or schedule your free 15-minute phone call.

Please note that the information in this blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for psychological or medical care. If you are looking for professional help, visit my resources page for guidance on how to find a therapist. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest ER.

Dr. Carissa Gustafson, Clinical Psychologist Los Angeles
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