The (over)use of SMART goals for physical activity promotion: A narrative review and critique

The SMART acronym (e.g., Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) is a highly prominent strategy for setting physical activity goals. While it is intuitive, and its practical value has been recognised, the scientific underpinnings of the SMART acronym are less clear. Therefore, we aimed to narratively review and critically examine the scientific underpinnings of the SMART acronym and its application in physical activity promotion. Specifically, our review suggests that the SMART acronym: is not based on scientific theory; is not consistent with empirical evidence; does not consider what type of goal is set; is not applied consistently; is lacking detailed guidance; has redundancy in its criteria; is not being used as originally intended; and has a risk of potentially harmful effects. These issues are likely leading to sub-optimal outcomes, confusion, and inconsistency. Recommendations are provided to guide the field towards better practice and, ultimately, more effective goal setting interventions to help individuals become physically active.