SMART Goals and "Why I CAN"


When you begin an exercise routine, it is helpful to develop a goal for yourself so that you stay on track. When making your goals, keep them simple, achievable and SMART. When goals are SMART, they give you the opportunity to make a concrete plan. SMART is the acronym for all components of a well-planned goal.

SMART Acronym (Doran, 1981):

S: specific

M: measurable

A: achievable

R: reasonable

T: time-oriented

Example: “I will run 3 miles by July pain-free.” Inspired by the community of movement specialists, you may be making a laundry list of SMART goals for yourself. Now more than ever, you may be feeling the pressure to work on your running, yoga, and overall health and wellness. All of these are important, but together may be overwhelming in this time of uncertainty. So, now that you developed your SMART goals, how do you stay motivated to accomplish them?


The why behind a SMART goal reflects your motivation to achieve the goal. There are two different types of motivation: motivation influenced by personal choice and motivation influenced by outside factors. Our surrounding environment impacts motivation and is collectively known as the “motivational climate”. If the motivational climate meets our “basic psychological needs”, the more self-motivated we are. (Shehand, Herring,& Campbell, 2018; Vallerand, 1997). These basic psychological needs have been defined as 1) competence, 2) autonomy, and 3) relatedness. Competence is ability to perform the task, autonomy is choice, and relatedness is connection to others (Sheehan, Herring, & Campbell, 2018; Vallerand, 1997).

Social distancing has changed our motivational climate and challenged the way these three basic psychological needs are met. Although social media gives you the opportunity to learn exercises via photos and videos, it is difficult to know whether you are doing the exercises correctly. As a result, you may be less confident and competent in your exercise routine. Working on goals in isolation also eliminates our ability to connect with others. As a result, we do not satisfy our need for relatedness/connection. Meaning, you may not be as motivated to engage in exercise during this time, but that is to be expected if you are falling short on meeting these basic needs. So, how can you recharge and refocus your motivation in this changing climate?


This is a journaling activity to refocus your goals, so grab a piece of paper and pen. You are going to ask yourself questions about your goals to see if they reflect your personal choice and values.

  1. Write down your SMART goal: i.e. I will run three miles by July pain-free.
  2. Determine the WHY behind your goal: In order to engage in a fitness routine I enjoy.
  3. Ask yourself, does the WHY satisfy the I?
  • Does the activity bring me personal satisfaction?
  • Does the activity align with my values on health and wellness?
  • Is my choice to exercise in this way helping me reach a bigger goal?

Does your exercise goal satisfy the “WHY I”? Does it satisfy your personal needs and values or is the goal something you feel like you should be doing. If you find that your goal isn’t a reflection of what you want to accomplish, write down three activities you find fun and accessible at home. There are an infinite number of ways to turn everyday activities into exercise programs and a physical therapist can help you bridge the gap between fun and exercise! Goals should be personalized in order to be motivating so let’s make your goal unique to you!

Now, let’s go over how you CAN optimize the at-home environment to meet your needs and grow your motivation.

  • Establishing Competence: The “C” in “WHY I CAN”

To get confident that you are performing an exercise correctly, speaking to a movement specialist (physical therapist) to assess your movement can ensure that you are moving optimally, safely, and sustainably. When you know the reason behind a movement and are confident in your execution of the exercise, you demonstrate competence in that movement.

  • Maintaining Autonomy: The “A” in “WHY I CAN”

When you have your goal, ask yourself if your goal aligns with your values. If the answer is “yes”, now comes the fun part! A physical therapist can offer you different ways of moving that will help you achieve your SMART goal. Working with a physical therapist can personalize and optimize your exercise program so that it is both enjoyable and informed.

  • Creating a Network: The “N” in “WHY I CAN”

While at home, video and phone calls literally connect you to others. When you connect with a physical therapist via telehealth services, they are able to guide you through exercises while relating the movements back to your original goal. Exercises in physical therapy are always goal-oriented and keep the client’s needs in mind.

So, if you find yourself scrolling through social media and are 1) inspired to start moving but do not know where to start or 2) demotivated in your current exercise routine, establish your SMART goal and journal about “WHY I CAN”. A physical therapist can be essential in motivating you to begin and sustain an exercise routine. At Activcore, physical therapists are available via telehealth services. We all have the potential to aim higher. Let us help you set the bar to feel great, move intelligently, and meet your goals.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

Need help? We're here for you. Contact us today to request an appointment. Also check out our Telehealth offerings to get help from the comfort of your home.


Doran, G.T. (1981). There's a SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives."
and Miller. Arthur F. & Cunningham, James A" How to avoid costly job mismatches" Management Review, 70(11).

Sheehan, R.B., Herring, M.P, & Campbell, M.J. (2018). Associations between motivation and mental health in sport: A test of the hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00707

Vallerand, R.J. (1997). “Toward a hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation” in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, ed M. P. Zanna (New York, NY: Academic Press), 271-360.

Dr. Ashley Newton

Physical Therapist | Doctor of Physical Therapy
Ashley Newton is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Evidence In Motion Pelvic Health Certified (PHC) practitioner with a special interest in adult pelvic floor issues and yoga-related injuries. She works at Activcore in Princeton, NJ, located just 2 miles from Princeton University.
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