Let's get SMART about goal setting

“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

  • Barack Obama

Learning how to set goals – particularly goals which are both measurable and achievable – can seem difficult, but it is also a valuable life skill. Setting goals is like an action plan for getting what you want and prioritising and recognising your aims and what you will do to get there is an excellent way to propel you towards success!

A lot of you are probably thinking, “Yes, I’ve heard it all before, but goal setting is kind of useless, isn’t it?”. As you will read below, goal setting is actually critical for manifesting and achieving what you want, whether it be better marks in your subjects or a better study/life balance.

Let's set some S.M.A.R.T. goals. What are those? Read on to find out.

Things to DO:

S - be specific

One of the most crucial things to remember when setting goals is to make sure you are specific about what you want to achieve, when you want to achieve it and how you are going to do so. Setting vague goals that have no timeline can be just as counter-productive as setting none at all. It is important to decide what you want to accomplish, when and where it will happen, what you need to achieve this and what is driving you to get there.[2]

M - measurable

By making all of the goals that you have set out to achieve measurable, you are more easily able to track your progress and make adjustments to your course if necessary[5]. Knowing whether or not you are on the right track can help motivate you and can reinvigorate your desire to succeed.

A great way to make your goals measurable is to set timelines and deadlines for completion. This might mean breaking up a larger task into smaller sections and setting smaller goals with deadlines for each step of the process.[6]

For example, if your goal is to get a mark above 90% on an essay, you would need to break up the essay writing process into steps and estimate how much time each of the steps is going to take you. You might decide to come up with a thesis and topic sentences in Week 1, create a plan and gather your evidence in Week 2, complete a draft in Week 4 and then finally hand in the polished copy of your essay by the fifth week. Often times, as with this example, effective goal setting also means being organised and planning ahead!

A & R - attainable & realistic

Aiming for the stars is fabulous, and you should always strive to do the best you can, however, it is important to make sure your goals are achievable. Setting an unrealistic goal can affect your motivation or may even deter you from starting in the first place.[1]

Attainability also includes making sure the goal is exciting – and something that you are willing to pursue. This is self-fulfilling, as it will motivate you during both the process and towards the end purpose.

T - time-based

With any goal it is crucial to ensure you have sufficient time to achieve it.

A goals journal or planner is one of the best ways to keep yourself accountable, and helps you keep track of the things that you plan to achieve[3]. You can purchase specific journals or diaries that are custom designed for this purpose, or you can create one yourself with an ordinary notebook. By planning out your weekly or monthly goals and devising strategies on how to achieve them before you start the process, you can create a vision for the future and a realistic pathway to get there. Keeping a journal is like coaching yourself and it is one of the most powerful tools for articulating your wants and needs[4]. Another great benefit is that all of your past successes are detailed in one convenient place. By reading back over everything you have already achieved, you may find motivation for the next task.

Regularly assess your progress

Commit to your goals and be invested in tracking their progress, and the return will be highly rewarding[7]. By setting aside regular times to think about what you’ve achieved, you are constantly refreshing the purpose of your aims and affirming your commitment to achieving them. This method can also assist you to stay motivated and not be discouraged if you’ve encountered some setbacks along the way. Only by measuring your progress along the way will you know how far you have to go. If you haven’t achieved everything you had planned to, these assessment sessions are a great place for reflection and a chance to learn from the mistakes you have made before re-charting a new course.

Things to avoid:

Be unrealistic

Envisaging unrealistic goals is setting yourself up for disappointment. Putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to achieve goals that were never realistic can impact your motivation and work ethic more negatively than if you never set any at all[8]. As aforementioned, setting goals which are realistic is important in terms of your motivation and persistence, as you will be less likely to keep at a task which seems insurmountable.

Rather than stressing yourself by trying to tackle a huge and seemingly unrealistic goal, it can sometimes be helpful to break down what it is that you want to achieve into smaller tasks. For example, rather than setting yourself a goal to get a certain overall mark at the end of your school year, focus instead on how to improve your marks on each assessment or exam that you have leading up to that point. By working on your study strategies and habits as a method of improvement, rather than solely fixating on the number you will receive at the end, you should be able to see a more holistic improvement because of the way that you have framed your goals.

Setting goals without creating a plan for achieving them

A step-by-step game plan is a really important way of knowing how you’re going to get to where you want to go. As you have already read, there are countless benefits to writing down your goals, as a mechanism for keeping yourself accountable and tracking your progress.[9]

When you write down goals and create pathways to attaining them, general thoughts about what you might like in the future become targets that you can adjust and re-adjust for yourself, depending on the situation.[10]

Negative self-talk

The more often you talk negatively to yourself, the more likely you are to believe that you won’t be able to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself! Negative self-talk comprises a large proportion of the thoughts that a person has each day and despite being so common, it can actually have a profound effect on our day-to-day life[11]. It may even sabotage the positive steps you have taken to reach your goals without you even realising it.

Learning to ignore negative self-talk and believing that something is possible will make you more likely to put in effort to achieve the aims you have set for yourself.

There are so many positive benefits to setting goals for yourself and generating plans to reach them. As this article highlights, setting realistic aims, being specific about these aims, keeping a goals journal, ascertaining that your goals are measurable and regularly assessing your progress are all great methods for ensuring that you stay on track with your goals and live up to your potential!

[1] https://www.mindtools.com/page6.html

[2] https://www.wakeupcloud.com/setting-smart-goals/

[3] https://www.leader-blogueur.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/02e7e5293b4dd5d2f4000000.pdf

[4] https://daringtolivefully.com/keeping-a-journal-goals

[5] https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_90.htm

[6] https://www.wakeupcloud.com/setting-smart-goals/

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/francesbridges/2017/06/30/the-3-steps-to-assessing-your-goals-halfway-through-the-year/#5851d4fb5741

[8] http://routineexcellence.com/why-do-you-set-unrealistic-goals/

[9] https://daringtolivefully.com/keeping-a-journal-goals

[10] https://www.codeofliving.com/goals/5-powerful-reasons-why-goal-setting-important

[11] http://jackcanfield.com/blog/negative-self-talk/


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