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Setting SMART Goals

Goal setting can be the key to success or the source of frustration and disappointment. After all, the track record for New Year’s resolutions is not the best, and most of us have set goals we never achieved that left us feeling worse about ourselves than before we set the goal. So, how do we make sure we are setting goals that serve us and are right for our lives?

The SMART goal method is one way to set intentional goals and has become popular for goal setting in all areas of life. Setting a SMART goal involves breaking a large goal down into five pieces to help one accomplish the goal and tackle the challenge from multiple areas. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.


When setting a goal, it is important to know exactly what goal you are aiming to achieve. Specifics of a goal may include the place, position, the why, and other people involved. A specific goal should give you a clear endpoint to work towards.

Weak Example: I want to be better at soccer.

Better Example: I want to make the Virginia Tech club soccer team next season.


To make a goal measurable, think about how success will look like while working toward the goal. Is there a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly report that gives you feedback on your success? This is the numerical part of your goal, consider asking questions such as “How many/much?” and “How do I know when this goal is accomplished?”

Weak Example: I want better grades.

Better Example: I want to raise my GPA one point by the end of the semester. To do this I will check my grades weekly and focus on my classes with the lowest grades first.


Is this goal possible and realistic? This stage of SMART goal setting can bring you down to earth again. When determining if a goal is achievable, consider what might constrain you. What are the financial, time, and situational factors that will affect this goal? A goal can easily become discouraging when it feels out of your control. Double-check that the goal will fit your lifestyle instead of trying to drastically alter your lifestyle to fit the goal.

Weak Example: I want Covid-19 to be over by January 2021 so I can be happy again.

Better Example: I want to improve my mental and emotional health now in the midst of Covid-19 so that I am not dependent on the New Year to change my outlook on life.


Why does this goal matter to you? Is this the best time to start working toward this goal? Do you care about this goal? It may seem silly to consider if you value your own goal, but with outside pressure, it is common to set goals for yourself on behalf of what others expect of you, rather than what you want for yourself. This is especially true among college students, who feel pressure from their families and the greater academic community to pursue certain fields, degrees, and jobs. When setting your own goals, think about what you want to be working towards because setting a goal you have little desire to achieve can be frustrating and discouraging.

Weak Example: I want to graduate with a degree in computer science because it should get me a high paying job and my parents will be proud.

Better Example: I want to graduate with a degree in architecture because it is what I am passionate about and am willing to work hard toward.


What is the time frame for your goal? When are the check-ins for your goal? The timing of your goal is important because when you know the time frame, you can create an action plan. If the goal set is floating around, could be accomplished at any time, it will be harder to create smaller goals to build up to your big goals.

Weak Example: I want to be a better runner by the end of the year.

Better Example: I want to become a better runner by running five times a week and working to improve my mile time a little every week. Every month, I will check in to track my progress and see if I am ready to add more runs per week or mileage.

The SMART method may seem tedious at first, however, these principles are something most great goals already have. Take graduating college for example. Most students come into college knowing they want a degree (Specific) and to do that they must pass their classes (Measurable). College can be expensive so many students take out loans to eliminate that barrier (Achievable) and are working toward a degree for about four years (Time-bound) that will help them in the future (Relevant).

Whether you jump in to make all your goals SMART goals or start by adopting a few of these principles in your goal setting, I hope you are encouraged to push your limits in the long run by doing small tasks daily or weekly that lead you to success in all aspects of your life!

By: Grace Farmelo

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