Setting Goals for Success
Leslie Davis

Setting Goals for Success

If you could accomplish one thing right now, what would it be?

A goal is defined as what someone is consciously trying to do. [1] Goal setting is a motivational tool to help you accomplish things that you want to do. Setting goals can help you achieve benchmarks not just for your health but also in your education, career, relationships, and more.

Small steps can lead to big success. See MyPlate for more tips in achieving success with your nutrition goals. [2]

Did you know there are specific steps you can take when you’re creating a goal that will increase your chances of achieving it? Follow the steps below for simple ways to create a great goal and pave a path to success.

1. Set a goal

The SMART method is a way to make sure your goals are clear and reachable. [3] SMART stands for what your goal should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed. Think of it as a checklist when you’re creating your goal. Make sure your goal is:


Research shows us that to be effective, goals must be specific.  The MyPlate plan will help you with a personalized plan to know what to eat and how much to eat. [4] This will aid you in setting a specific goal of exactly how many servings in each food group you should be eating to stay within your caloric goals. If you are only eating 1 cup of vegetables per day, you can set a specific goal to increase ½ cup of vegetables per day until you reach your goal of 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day. Knowing what you’re aiming for helps you measure your progress. It can also motivate you based on where you are in achieving your goal.


Make sure your goal is measurable. Consider using some kind of number in your goal since we’re used to measuring with numbers. For example, a goal like “drink more water” is not very specific and it would be hard to measure your progress. How much water counts as “more water”? 1 glass more? 2 glasses more? Instead, add a measurable number to your goal. Take the MyPlate quiz  and use the results to set measurable goals. [5]

Here are a few examples of specific, measurable goals:

  • “I will walk for 30 minutes a day.”
  • “I will swap two sodas for two glasses of water.”
  • “I will be able be able to run one mile.”

You now have certain numbers you are aiming for (30 minutes, two glasses, one mile) that you can track your progress towards.

Alert: There is still one piece missing from these goals! Keep moving through the SMART outline to see what else you need to set a great goal.

fruits, clock, dumbells and a measuring tape


How reasonable is your goal? Do you have the resources (time, money) to achieve your goal? For instance, “eating 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day” might not be something you can achieve if it’s too expensive or if the stores near you don’t carry a lot of fresh produce. Maybe it’s difficult for you to chew fresh vegetables. Consider a goal that is achievable for you and your personal situation. Unachievable goals set you up for disappointment and can be discouraging.

Your goals need to be achievable but still challenging. Over 400 studies have shown that the harder the goal, the more effort someone puts towards achieving that goal. [6] This could be because people normally adjust their level of effort to the difficulty of a task. They might try harder for a difficult goal compared to an easy goal. Challenging goals energize you and increase effort.

Use the MyPlate app to challenge yourself using the goals dashboard. [7]

People who have specific goals that are challenging but achievable perform better than those with easy, non-specific, or no goals at all.


Your goal has to be relevant to your life and matter to you for you to put effort into it. Is the goal worthwhile for you? Is this the right time to achieve it? A goal of exercising outdoors more might not make sense if it’s August and over 100 degrees in Georgia. Instead, maybe indoor exercises would be more relevant to your situation.


How long do you have to achieve this goal? Giving yourself a deadline for which to complete your goal increases motivation. Effort may increase if you know a clock is ticking. Make sure to give yourself enough time to reasonably achieve the goal.

A time frame is needed to achieve goals. Let’s add a time frame to the specific, measurable goals we made:

  • “I will walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for two weeks.”
  • “I will swap two sodas for two glasses of water each week for one month.”
  • “I will be able be able to run one mile in two months.”

We now have a goal we can track our progress towards and a deadline for when we want to accomplish our goal.

Smart goals written in white chalk on a chalkboard with the acronym smart written vertically uderneath with descriptions for each letter, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely

2. Write it down

Transferring your goal from something in your head to something written can help motivate you, help you track your goal, and hold yourself accountable to achieving the goal. You can write your goal down and put it somewhere you will see it every day, such as on your bathroom mirror or on the fridge. You can also make a daily reminder alert on your phone about your goal. Remember to cheer yourself on!

3. Track it

Feedback on your progress towards your goal tells you how well you’re doing. Think of a football team. They need a scoreboard to tell them how well they’re doing in the game. If they see that they’re behind in points, they will try harder based on the feedback on the scoreboard. They might even adjust how they’ve been playing and try something new to see if it works better.

  • Just like the football team, feedback can let you know your progress, can encourage better performance and can let you know if you need to adjust your efforts. You can track your goals by making a hand-written checklist and checking off steps towards your goal when you achieve them. The MyPlate app will help you keep track of your goals as you complete them. You can even earn badges as food group goals are completed. [7]

African american woman in a pink shirt talking to a white woman wearing a red shirt

4. Tell a friend

Telling someone about your goal can increase accountability. Now that someone else knows about your goal, you may feel responsible to follow through with it. You want to be able to give them good news if they ask about it.

Further, research shows that making compatible group goals on top of your own individual goals may be better than making an individual goal alone. [1] An example of this would be your family setting a group goal to exercise for 30 minutes every day. Then, you each set a personal goal for how exactly you’re going to spend that exercise. You decide to walk for those 30 minutes while your partner chooses to play basketball. Seeing someone else work towards their goal can make you want to work towards yours. You each have your own personal goals but you’re also working towards an overall goal together.


Now that you have the tools to set SMART goals, let the fun begin. You are on your way being the best version of yourself one step at a time.


Written by Taylor Newman, Ph.D. Candidate and Leslie Davis, MS, RD, LD, CDCES | Edited by Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD and Darci Bell, RDN, LD

Posted January 1, 2022

[1] Lunenburg, 2011


[3] Mindtools



[6] Latham and Locke, 1991




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