Setting SMART Goals in DBT: A Comprehensive Guide to Achieving Your Goals

July 5, 2024
# min read

Achieving your goals can be challenging, but with the right approach, you can make meaningful progress. At TheraHive, we believe that setting SMART goals is a powerful way to enhance the learning and application of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Here's a guide on how to create effective SMART goals, with examples and tips to help you along the way.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART goals are a structured way of setting objectives that enhance clarity, focus, and motivation. They ensure that your goals are well-defined and achievable within a specific timeframe. Here's a breakdown of what SMART stands for:

  • Specific: Clearly define what you want to achieve. A specific goal should address the who, what, where, when, and why.
  • Measurable: Establish criteria to measure your progress. This helps you stay on track and recognize when you've reached your goal.
  • Attainable: Set realistic goals that you can accomplish. While it's good to be ambitious, your goals should be feasible given your resources and constraints.
  • Relevant: Ensure your goals are meaningful and relevant to your life. They should align with your values and long-term objectives.
  • Time-bound: Set a timeframe for achieving your goals. Deadlines create a sense of urgency and help prevent procrastination.

Positive Goals: Living Person’s Goals

Before identifying your SMART Goals, consider setting positive goals. Positive goals focus on behaviors you want to increase, rather than things you want to eliminate. These are known as "living person's goals."

Dead Person's Goals vs. Living Person's Goals:

  • Dead Person's Goals: Goals a corpse can achieve better than a living person (e.g., "stop yelling at my partner").
  • Living Person's Goals: Goals that involve active behaviors you can improve (e.g., "communicate calmly with my partner").

Transitioning to Positive Goals: To shift from a dead person’s goal to a living person’s goal, ask yourself:

  • If you eliminate "X" behavior, what would you do differently?
  • What positive behaviors would replace the negative ones?

Examples of SMART Goals

1. Reducing Rumination

Situation: Alex often finds themselves stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, replaying past events over and over, which increases their anxiety and stress. Alex noticed that every time they start to ruminate, their anxiety spikes. To break this cycle, Alex decides to use a mindfulness skill whenever they catch themselves in a loop. By tracking their progress in a diary card and aiming to apply a skill three times daily, Alex can observe patterns in their thoughts and behaviors and see their progress over time. Over the next six weeks, Alex hopes to see if they can determine exactly what triggers or experiences cause their rumination.

  • Specific: "When I catch myself ruminating, I will use a DBT mindfulness skill to document what led to the rumination and refocus my thoughts."
  • Measurable: "I will track each time I successfully catch myself ruminating in a diary card."
  • Attainable: "I will aim to use this skill three times a day."
  • Relevant: "Identifying triggers and reducing rumination will help me manage my anxiety better."
  • Time-bound: "I will practice this for the next six weeks."

2. Managing Anxiety

Situation: Jamie's anxiety has been overwhelming, affecting both work and personal life. By dedicating 10 minutes each morning to mindfulness meditation, Jamie aims to create a calming routine that sets a positive tone for the day. Keeping a journal to track their daily practice allows Jamie to reflect on their progress and make adjustments as needed. Over the next two months, Jamie expects to see a noticeable decrease in anxiety levels and an increase in overall focus and productivity.

  • Specific: "I will practice mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes every morning."
  • Measurable: "I will keep a journal to note each day I complete my mindfulness session, and I will take a GAD-7 assessment which assesses anxiety before I start and at the end of each month."
  • Attainable: "Starting with 10 minutes is manageable, and I can gradually increase the time."
  • Relevant: "Mindfulness will help reduce my anxiety and improve my focus."
  • Time-bound: "I will do this daily for the next two months."

3. Enhancing Emotional Regulation

Situation: Sam struggles with intense emotions, which cause her to act impulsively, which in turn has caused problems in her personal and professional life. By implementing an emotion regulation skill when feeling overwhelmed, Sam plans to break this pattern of behavior and manage her reactions better. Recording each use of the skill in a diary allows Sam to track her progress and identify triggers. This practice helps Sam develop a more mindful approach to handling intense emotions, leading to improved emotional regulation over the next four weeks.

  • Specific: "I will use an emotion regulation skill when I feel overwhelmed."
  • Measurable: "I will record each time I successfully use this skill in my diary."
  • Attainable: "I aim to use this skill at least twice a day."
  • Relevant: "This will help me manage my emotions more effectively."
  • Time-bound: "I will continue this practice for the next four weeks."

4. Increasing Physical Activity

Situation: Jordan knows that regular exercise is crucial for their health, but finding the motivation has been challenging. Jordan knows that regular exercise is crucial for his health, but finding the motivation has been challenging. By committing to take a walk each morning, Jordan aims to build a sustainable exercise habit. Using a pedometer to track his steps and logging his progress provides a tangible way to see his achievements and stay motivated. Over the next two months, Jordan expects to see improvements in both physical and mental health, making exercise a regular part of their daily routine.

  • Specific: "I will take a walk every morning and add a few minutes each day until I can keep walking for 30 minutes without stopping."
  • Measurable: "I will use a pedometer to track my steps and record them in a log."
  • Attainable: "Working up to a 30-minute walk is achievable."
  • Relevant: "Regular physical activity will improve my physical and mental health."
  • Time-bound: "I will commit to this routine for the next two months."

Tips for Setting Your Own SMART Goals

  1. Reframe Your Goals Positively: Focus on what you want to do, not what you want to stop doing. For instance, instead of saying, "I want to stop feeling anxious," reframe it as, "I want to feel more relaxed and confident."
  2. Be Specific: Clearly define each aspect of your goal to avoid ambiguity. A specific goal should answer the questions: What do I want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? Who is involved? Where is it located? Which resources or limits are involved?
  3. Ensure Goals are Measurable: Establish criteria to track your progress. Ask yourself: How much? How many? How will I know when it is accomplished? This helps you stay on track and recognize your achievements.
  4. Set Realistic and Attainable Goals: Consider your current capabilities and resources. A goal should be challenging yet achievable. Setting unattainable goals can lead to frustration and demotivation.
  5. Make Goals Relevant: Align them with your broader life objectives. A relevant goal should be worthwhile, match your other efforts and needs, and be the right time to achieve it.
  6. Time-bound Goals: Set a clear timeframe to stay motivated and focused. A time-bound goal answers the questions: When? What can I do six months from now? What can I do six weeks from now? What can I do today?

Setting SMART goals empowers you to make your aspirations more achievable and track your progress effectively. Remember to regularly review and adjust your goals as needed to stay on track. This approach not only helps you stay focused but also boosts your motivation by providing clear milestones to celebrate along the way. Whether you’re looking to reduce anxiety, improve communication, or enhance physical health, SMART goals provide a structured and practical way to achieve your objectives. Start setting your SMART goals today and take the first step towards a more fulfilling and balanced life.


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