SMART Goals for Smart Movement

April 21, 2023

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 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.

S: specific

M: measurable

A: achievable

R: reasonable

T: time-oriented

Example: “I will run 1 mile pain-free by July.”

Inspired by the community around you, 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 instead, just pick one goal to begin with.

Now that you developed your SMART goal, how do you stay motivated to accomplish it?


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. These basic psychological needs have been defined as 1) competence, 2) autonomy, and 3) relatedness.

Competence is your ability to perform the task.

Autonomy is your choice.

Relatedness is your connection to others.

During the COVID pandemic from 2020 to 2022, social distancing had changed our motivational climate and challenged the way these three basic psychological needs were met. Although social media gave us the opportunity to learn exercises via photos and videos, it was difficult to know whether you were doing the exercises correctly. As a result, you may have been less confident and competent in your exercise routine.

Working on a goal in isolation also eliminates our ability to connect with others. As a result, we do not satisfy our need for relatedness. Meaning, you may not be as motivated to engage in exercise. 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 a changing climate?


This is a journaling activity to refocus your goal. So grab a piece of paper and pen. You are going to ask yourself questions about your goal to see if it reflects your personal choice and values. After all, a goal must be personalized for it to be motivating.

Step 1: Write down your SMART goal. (e.g., I will run 1 mile pain-free by July.)

Step 2: Determine the WHY behind your goal. (e.g., Because I want to improve my health by engaging in a fitness routine that I actually enjoy doing.)

Step 3: Ask yourself, does the WHY satisfy the I?

  • Does the activity bring me personal satisfaction?
  • Does the activity align with my values about health and wellness?
  • Is my choice to exercise in this way helping me reach a bigger goal?

If you find that your goal isn’t a reflection of what YOU want to accomplish, write down 3 activities you find fun and accessible at home. There are an infinite number of ways to turn everyday activities into exercise programs. A physical therapist can then help you bridge this gap between fun and exercise. A physical therapist can also help you personalize your goal and keep you motivated throughout the process.

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, consider reaching out to a physical therapist. We all have the potential to aim higher. Let us help you set the bar to feel great, move intelligently, and achieve your goal.

Contact us today to get started.


Doran, G.T. (1981). There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives." Management Review, 70, 35-36.

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.

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.

Dr. Ashley Newton

Center Director | Physical Therapist
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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