Topics » In The Kitchen » How to Set SMARTer Goals
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

At this time of year, many people begin to consider New Year’s resolutions, but how many will successfully navigate the year? As you will see in the following book excerpt—as I am sure you have experienced in your own life—not all goals are created equal. Numerous factors determine whether you are successful. The good news is that most of those factors are within your control.

Research into the usefulness of activity tracking apps has suggested that how we approach and begin a goal may be even more important than we realize. According to one study, “Propensity to meet a goal varies significantly by behavior observed during the first week after setting the goal, despite the fact that goals often take months or even years to achieve.”[1] In other words, that first week (and the time before, as you begin to articulate your goal) can make or break.

In a separate study, researchers emphasize that multi-component interventions are more likely to succeed than stand-alone interventions.[2] Multi-component interventions could integrate many different things (e.g., in this study, education, the provision of equipment, and face-to-face counseling). At its most basic, this makes sense intuitively: the more things you have supporting your goal, the sturdier its foundation will be, and the more likely you are to achieve that goal.

So, as you make goals for the new year, be mindful of what’s likely to last. If you focus on accountability and the SMART goals framework outlined below, you’ll be off to a great start!

The following is an excerpt from A Plant-Based Life by Micaela Cook Karlsen:

Step One of this program will help you define on your big vision and overall goals—what you want your diet, your lifestyle, and your health to be. Crystallizing that vision will lay the groundwork for you to set specific goals and move forward. The next actions for each of the three paths offer ideas for your goals, each of which are relevant to the information in each step.

In creating your own specific goals, the best approach is to follow the SMART Goals model, a method widely used by clinicians and health educators to make goal setting more effective. The SMART acronym stands for: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-limited.

  • Specific means you know exactly what the action is. “Eating better” doesn’t create a clear picture of what the action is, whereas “Eating three salads a week” is a specific and obvious activity.
  • Measurable means you can tell quickly whether you’ve met the goal or not. If your goal is eating three salads, then if you only eat one salad, you know you haven’t met your goal. If your goal were just to “eat better,” you’d have no criteria for telling whether you have achieved it or not.
  • Actionable means you can take action on the goal immediately. Eating three salads is something you can clearly put into practice right away, but “eating better” is something you cannot do until you know what it looks like.
  • Relevant means that your SMART goal supports your larger vision and overall goals in your life. Eating three salads a week is relevant if your vision is to eat a whole food, plant-based diet.
  • Time-limited means you allot yourself a designated amount of time in which to complete the goal, with a set deadline. In this case, planning to eat three salads in the coming week means you will have completed your goal in the next seven days.

There is one more important element to maximize your likelihood of successfully changing your diet—human connection. When you embark on any kind of change, it’s essential that you do so in connection with other people if you want the change to be lasting. Particularly because eating is a social behavior, dietary isolation can dampen the desire to continue for many people who were initially bursting with enthusiasm. We’ll discuss the power of community more in Step Five, including how and where to find a plant-based community if you don’t already have one, but at this point you no doubt have some fresh and inspired ideas about your life and your eating that need to be shared with someone who can support that vision and provide some structure that you can lean on during the transition. You might call this person a support buddy, an accountability partner, a coach, or just a good friend, but whatever you call them they have to have a few particular qualities:

  • They have to be someone you know, and to whom you can talk regularly (in person, over the phone, or through email) so they can personally respond to you. The goal here is to get live, personal feedback.
  • They do not have to eat a plant-based diet (though that would be preferable), but they do need to be open and accepting of your intentions with the diet and have a genuine interest in helping you reach your goals.
  • They must be organized and reliable enough that you can depend on them to check in with you about the goals you’ve set, how you’ve met them, and what might be getting in your way. You need to feel a sense of accountability and that person’s expectation that you will follow through on what you plan to do.

So right now, while you’re thinking about this, make a list of the people you connect with for support and accountability. You don’t need to convince them to eat a plant-based diet. This is about you and about finding the right person to support your needs. Does anyone stand out? Starting with your top pick, reach out and share what you’re about to do. You can even approach more than one person if that feels right.

Excerpt from A Plant-Based Life by Micaela Cook Karlsen
A Plant-Based Life: Your Complete Guide to Great Food, Radiant Health, Boundless Energy, and a Better Body by Micaela Cook Karlsen
© 2016 Micaela Cook Karlsen
All rights reserved.
Published by AMACOM Books
Division of American Management Association
1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019


  1. Gordon ML, Althoff T, Leskovec J. Goal-setting and achievement in activity tracking apps: a case study of MyFitnessPal. Proc Int World Wide Web Conf. 2019;2019:571-582. doi:10.1145/3308558.3313432
  2. Schoeppe S, Alley S, Van Lippevelde W, et al. Efficacy of interventions that use apps to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviour: a systematic review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2016;13(1):127. Published 2016 Dec 7. doi:10.1186/s12966-016-0454-y

Copyright 2024 Center for Nutrition Studies. All rights reserved.

Program Overview

  • 23,000+ students
  • 100% online, learn at your own pace
  • No prerequisites
  • Continuing education credits