SMART goals

About SMART goals

Be collaborative and listen carefully to the client’s goals for change. Work with him or her to formulate some goals that point to concrete interventions that can be facilitated by the practitioner such as development of skills.

Goals should be consistent with the SMART mnemonic:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and be Time limited. 


Specific – Goals in CBT should refer to specific changes in particular types of thoughts, feelings and behaviours (or patterns of these); interpersonal interactions, or social situations.

Measurable – Goals should refer to behaviours, emotions and situations that can be objectively assessed to enable evaluation of progress.

Achievable – Goals should be framed in terms of changes that are within the power of the client to achieve. They should not be dependent upon cooperation by other people.

Relevant – Goals should be relevant to other broader goals that the young person has for their future. They should fit with his or her core values and concerns.

Time Limited – Putting an endpoint to the goal provides a much clearer target to work towards. Procrastination may be avoided if outcomes will be assessed in the near future.

If possible set an early goal that is likely to lead to quick success or a reduction in distress.

Early wins build confidence and facilitate progress towards more challenging goals.

Using SMART goals for substance use

The development of meaningful and achievable goals can be facilitated once both the practitioner and the young person are clear about the following aspects:

  • The function of a young person’s substance use
  • The motivations and concerns around their substance use
  • The strengths and areas where they need to develop new competencies
  • The current resources that are and are not available to the young person

It can be a challenge for some young people to formulate goals, particularly when they have a lack of experience and are feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances. If this is the case the practitioner can start by eliciting broad goals to guide their work with a young person. The practitioner can then assist the young person to break down their overall goals into small, achievable steps.  It is essential however, that the goal is articulated by the young person and matches their own desires and wishes.  Over time and with practice, goal setting can become an important competency for a young person whereby they can formulate achievable goals that lead to strategies to achieve those goals, for themselves. 

Example from practice

‘Carly’ is a 24 year old women who has a son, ‘Dexter’ aged 5 years. Carly smokes half a gram to a gram of cannabis daily. Carly tells you she is concerned about her cannabis use and her ability to parent, especially as her use has been increasing recently.  Carly states “I want to smoke less weed by school holidays”.

While this is not yet a SMART goal, it is a great start as Carly has identified what she wants to achieve and a timeframe. Reframing this into a SMART goal gives the process more focus:

Carly’s goal is to limit her cannabis use to no more than 2 grams per week (SPECIFIC)

She will aim to cut down to using a maximum of four days a week (MEASURABLE)

She wants to achieve this goal by the time school holidays start in 6 weeks. She has previously used this amount for a long period of time and feels with supports and strategies she can return to this (ACHIEVABLE)

Carly has noticed that when she is able to use less cannabis, she is able to interact with Dexter and engage in play for a longer period of time (RELEVANT)

Carly has a plan to achieve this by the time school holidays begin (TIME-BOUND)

Further Reading