Setting SMART goals with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

When you’re setting your goals in life, the last thing you want them to be is un-SMART, am I right?


And that’s putting it the nice way.

So, our guest contributor, Jo from Strength Diaries, will be providing some crazy good insight into setting SMART goals.

Keep reading to make sure your goals are as SMART as they can be, using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy!

Setting SMART Goals with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

If you’ve ever set goals for yourself, or at least thought about it, it’s likely you’ve heard of SMART Goals.

But, have you ever heard of setting SMART goals in combination with Acceptance And Commitment Therapy?

What are SMART goals?

First off, in case you haven’t heard of SMART goals I’ll give you a quick overview.

The acronym SMART stands for goals which are:

  • Specific: which means the goal is well defined.
  • Measureable: where you use criteria to measure your progress towards achieving the goal.
  • Achievable: the goal is actually attainable and not something which is totally out of reach.
  • Realistic: similar to the above, your goal should be within your reach and relevant to you.
  • Time-Bound: meaning you set a time-scale for reaching your goal, with a set date for completion.


Setting SMART goals helps you to get clearer on your goals, really focus on them, and helps to generate the motivation to keep working towards them.


This isn’t a setting SMART goals worksheet, but it will absolutely help you with setting clear goals and achieving them. Grab your copy of the Crush Your Goals Worksheet by signing up below!

Wha is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Before we get into setting SMART goals with Acceptance And Commitment Therapy I’ll explain a bit about this approach and why I like it so much in relation to setting SMART goals.

For ease of use, Acceptance And Commitment Therapy is generally shortened to ACT (pronounced as the word ‘act’).

ACT is about being able to accept the things which are outside of your personal control, and committing to action that improves your life.

Now, just to make it clear, this is not about passive acceptance, but it is about being realistic and taking committed action to the things you can control.

The aim of ACT is to live a rich, full, and meaningful life, whilst accepting the pain that comes with it.

I love that. It’s such a great philosophy.

Because the fact is that life comes with its ‘ups and downs’ and there is no way to avoid that.

ACT encourages us to try not to resist life’s ups and downs, but to be flexible and more accepting when they show up.

The ‘troughs’ are as much a part of life as the ‘peaks’. Neither is better than the other, they ‘just are’.


Key concepts of ACT

The ACT approach includes the use of mindfulness, which is the practice of being in the present moment.

In AC it also means not attaching ourselves to unhelpful thoughts and feelings which can often keep us stuck and unable to take committed action.

Getting clear on your values

Another important part of ACT is identifying your Values. These can be seen as things that give you direction in life.


Whilst Values are not goals, remaining true to your Values can help you move towards achieving your goals in ways where you remain true to the things which are important to you.

Befoe we look at setting SMART goals in ACT I think it’s helpful if firstly you get clear on your Values, seeing as these will help guide you to work towards your goals.

When we talk about Values in ACT this is made up of four main areas:

This means your workplace/career, education, knowledge, and skills. What sort of person do you want to be towards work colleagues and/or clients?

Are there any skills you want to work on? Are there personal qualities you want to bring more of into your work?


This includes relationships with a partner, parents, your children, friends, and work colleagues.

What sort of relationships do you want to have in your life? What sort of personal qualities do you want to bring to those relationships?


This Value is about how you relax, ‘play’, and enjoy yourself.

It includes your hobbies and/or interests for recreation and creativity. Are there new things you’d like to do, or increase/decrease the frequency of existing activities?

Personal growth/health

This means your personal growth. It might include religion, spirituality, developing life skills, yoga, meditation, health, and fitness.

How do you want to develop this area

Once you’ve answered the questions under each Value, rate each on a scale of 0-10 in terms of how much you feel you’re living that Value right now, where 0 = not living the Value at all, and 10 = totally living the Value.


So, which areas have the lowest scores?

How could you increase the scores in these areas? Once you know what you want to work on this will help you identify your goals.

For example, under Relationships you might want to build more friendships, so you might want to think about how you go about doing this.

Or, under Work/Education you may want to build your skills in a certain area so you could think about what your next steps might be to address this.

I guess the ‘ideal’ would be that we’re 10 for every Value, but life isn’t like that and none of us are perfect!

Plus, this isn’t a “do it once and it’s done” type exercise. We change over time and therefore our Values can change over time as well.

So, there’s no harm in doing this exercise every once in a while to see how you’re getting on, or whenever you’re feeling stuck.

Bringing it all together: setting SMART goals with ACT

So now you have some goals, it’s time to apply the SMART system, but from the ACT perspective.


Like the SMART system mentioned above, this is about getting specific about your goal.

For example, if your goal is to build in more self-care time during the week you’ll need to be specific about the sorts of self-care you want to practice (e.g., yoga, meditation, reading), and how many times each week you’ll do it.


This is about making sure that the goal(s) you’re setting for yourself are aligned to the Values you identified above.


Ask yourself “Is this goal going to improve my life in some way?”. Think back to your Values and how aligned you feel to them at the moment.


Is this goal going to help bring you more in alignment with your Values?


Look at whether you have the resources to achieve the goal.


For example, do you have enough money to afford the self-care routine? Do you have enough time to set aside? Are there things that might make it more difficult to achieve the goal such as your physical or mental health?

Do you have support from other people to help you achieve your goal?


How much time will you set in order to see whether the self-care routine is benefiting you? Will you give it a certain number of weeks or months before you evaluate whether to continue with it?

Think about the benefits of setting your goal

Think about the potential positive outcomes of achieving this goal, but remember to keep these hopes realistic too.

Using the example above, what benefits will you hope to see to your health? Will this improve other areas of your life? If so, how?

Think about potential obstacles to achieving your goal

Do you think there’s anything that might get in the way of you achieving your goal? Lack of resources, such as time, skills, lack of knowledge.

How might you deal with these if they come up?

Are there any internal factors that might get in the way such as a lack of motivation, anxieties, insecurities?

This isn’t about getting into unhelpful thinking patterns, “what ifs” or thinking the worst-case scenario, but being realistic about potential barriers.

Planning ahead for ‘bumps in the road’ will likely help you deal with any problems more effectively.

Making the commitment to work towards your goal

This is the final part of the ACT approach to SMART goals.

Telling people about your goal is one way to firm up that commitment.

Another way might be to buy any resources you need to help you work towards your goal. My personal favorite is keeping a journal as this can be helpful to reflect on how things are going.


Wrapping up setting SMART goals with ACT

I hope this has been a useful introduction to the ACT approach of setting SMART goals. I really like it as it adds another dimension to the usual way of setting SMART goals.

I think, too often, we put the needs of others first and end up striving for goals which are more for the benefit of other people.

Setting SMART goals with ACT helps you focus on the things that are important to you, to help make sure you’re working towards goals that are going to help you live a full and meaningful life!

Jo is a Psychologist and fitness enthusiast who blogs over at Strength Diaries. Her passion is supporting people to take better care of their health and wellbeing, and inspiring them to pursue the things they’re passionate about.