Make Your Goals S.M.A.R.T.

It’s that time of year for lofty aspirations. Call them resolutions, call them goals, call them intentions (if you’re a yogi); there’s something about the start of the new year that inspires me.

Yes, I know, it’s a false placebo effect based on an arbitrary Gregorian calendar. But for all its flippant boisterousness, I welcome the chance to make positive change in the New Year.

Last year, I wrote about a few helpful, non-health based resolutions that I chose to incorporate into my yearly resolutions. This year, I’d like to delve into how to create an action plan to drive those dreams into reality.

By choosing a proactive plan to accomplish the goals set in January, even perennial New Year’s Resolutions can come to fruition by December.

Goal-setting and objectives have their roots in basic principles of management. In a strategy called Management by Objectives, conceived by management consultant Peter Drucker and then fully articulated by George T. Doran, participants look to a system called S.M.A.R.T. to manage and clarify their goals.

Drucker, now called the father of modern business management, sought to create employee investment in corporate goals, and create rewards for accomplishing preset goals. It seems intuitive now, but Drucker and Doran’s innovations helped shape the way businesspeople–and people at large–view goals and resolutions.

The method is simple. Using the easy mnemonic S.M.A.R.T., one can check and refine their goals into a realistic set of action steps. To start, let’s take one of my New Year’s Resolutions: to study more Spanish.

As a Hispanic Studies Minor, I love learning Spanish, but this year I know I will be challenging my Spanish speaking and writing capabilities with Silvia Colás Cardona’s SPAN 450: Advanced Grammar. I know this will be a difficult course, so I know I need to up my studying to keep up.

The first step of the process is simple; brainstorm a list of goals that you’d like to work on. It’s helpful to organize them into categories (such as school, relationships, physical health, wellness, etc.) or you can just freestyle. We’ve already done mine, so let’s move on. The next step is to refine my goal through the SMART system.

S stands for specific

First up, I need to check my goal. “Study more Spanish” could be more specific. What exactly am I looking to achieve? I know my grammar needs to be reviewed, and I need to study after each class to make sure I’m retaining and understanding the material.

So, to refine my goal, I would say: “I want to review Spanish notes, grammar and concepts after class. I want to test myself with flashcards and online grammar quizzes to make sure I can fully grasp the concept and apply it to a variety of sentence structures and contexts.”

M stands for measurable

How can I tell if I am succeeding? I could attach my goal to a grade. I could study to get an A on my midterms and finals. That’s one possibility. Or, I could pace myself against the textbook; i.e. rereading and reworking each chapter after each class. That way, I can measure how far ahead or behind I am in comparison with the class itself.

A stands for attainable

Is this a goal I can actually attain? Am I setting acceptable (another A option in some SMART versions) and realistic expectations for myself? The best goals should be challenging, but not out of reach.

To make this goal attainable, I’ll say that I want to study and review after every class for forty minutes. Now, I understand that sometimes that forty minutes might have to be spent on assignments if I’m truly pressed for time; however, for now, I feel confident to prescribe 120 minutes of studying to myself during the school week.

R stands for relevant

Sometimes, the goals that we set for ourselves aren’t relevant. Yes, I’ve always wanted to learn how to paint with oils like Velazquez or ice climb, but are those goals pertinent to my life? I don’t think so.

To make your goals relevant, ask if the resolution fits into your life right now. Where could it take you? What kind of meaning does it offer you? And are you truly passionate about it? I know that I want to live abroad in a Spanish-speaking country after I graduate, so I know building my language skills is a relevant undertaking.

T stands for time-bound

You know those goals that never get done? Those are goals unrestricted by deadlines. Lofty pipe-dreams and “I’ll do it next year” plans will never be completed without a set time to complete them.

Give your goal checkpoints and allow yourself to evaluate your progress. Studying Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday already puts a time slot on my goal, but to further elaborate on the point, let’s say I want to, by April, get a grade I can feel proud of on my final. April is still a ways off, but adding a time constraint to your goal creates an obligation to actually complete it.

Checking in

It may sound intimidating, but the SMART method is a great way to actualize your goals and make your aspirations a reality. Don’t forget to check in monthly with your goals and reward yourself when you’ve really stuck to your goal of putting your phone down an hour before bed or making biweekly plans with friends. And remember–even if you briefly fall off the wagon, you’re doing oh so much better than last year.


For more examples on creating your action plans, check out WholeHappyLife’s workbook and step by step guide to SMART goal-setting

For more information, check out these links:

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2 Responses

  1. Niels Melis-De Lamper says:

    Hello Lindsey,

    I am preparing a Work Term Resource Hub for CanWork a pilot program in collaboration between CanAssist at the University of Victoria and Co-op + Career Services to support students that identify as having a disability to participate in Work Integrated Learning.

    I was wondering if you are agreeing that I can share this blog with our students. I think it provides a valuable perspective on how to set your goals SMART from a students perspective, which might be more valuable for our participants than having it brought by our instructors. Thank you for confirming,

    • MyUVicLife says:

      Hi Niels,

      Lindsey has graduated, but I’m sure she’d love to have her post shared with your students. I’m glad you found it useful!