How to Set a Smart Goal

“SMART” stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Timed.  SMART goals are often featured in a Veteran’s Personal Health Plan (PHP).  To write one, begin by focusing on a goal that is important to a Veteran.  This goal should tie in to what really matters to them and closely rates to their Mission, Aspiration, Purpose (MAP).

After you have a general goal in mind, apply the principles of SMART goals to focus in on how to reach it.  These are featured in the table below.  As you help someone set a goal, remember the following:

  • It is better to break a general goal down into smaller goals that are easier to reach, in order to increase the odds of success.
  • The more detail the better. “I will exercise more” is very vague. “Starting on Monday, July 1, I will walk in the mall for 20 minutes and keep doing that every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday” is more detailed and incorporates all of the SMART elements.
  • Make sure both you and the Veteran agree (at least to some degree) about the goal. Shared goal setting is a powerful process.  Explain your reasoning.
  • Don’t forget to follow up later to see how it is going with reaching the goal. If they are stalled out, is it best to change goals, or simplify it somehow?
  • The section below is designed to help you take a Veteran through this process.

Putting the SMART in Goal Setting


  • Be very clear and detailed about what you want to do and why.
  • What is required? What are the challenges?
  • What are your assets and resources?

Your Notes:



  • How much time will you spend?
  • How often (daily, weekly, monthly)?
  • How will you know you are making progress?
  • How will you know you have reached your goal?

Your Notes:



  • What actions are needed to achieve the goal?
  • Describe the ones you will be taking.

Your Notes:



  • Is this goal worth it?
  • Does the goal line up with your values?
  • Is the timing right?
  • Do you have what you need to reach the goal?
  • Is it really doable?

Your Notes:



  • How long do you need?
  • Are there any deadlines you have to meet?
  • When will you start?

Your Notes:


Write Your Goal Below:

I will…



This exercise was adapted from: Rollnick S, Miller W, Butler C. Motivational Interviewing in Health Care: Helping Patients Change Behavior. New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2008.

Once you finish this exercise, ask yourself the following:

  • How do you make the person setting the goal more accountable? Can you call them, or have a team member do so?  Is there a way to involve a friend or family member to help them?
  • How can you or your team help them to succeed?
  • Is it possible to involve a Whole Health Coach or Peer Partner who can support them?


“How to Set a SMART Goal” was written by J. Adam Rindfleisch, MPhil, MD, (2014, updated 2017).

This Whole Health tool was made possible through a collaborative effort between the University of Wisconsin Integrative Health Program, VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, and Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.