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Set SMART Goals

Setting goals based on your dreams can help you face challenges and make changes in your life and career. Learn how to set SMART goals.

I’d love to own my own business…
I want to own my own home…
I want to complete my R.N.…

Your dreams or visions for your future can be powerful motivators. Setting goals based on your dreams will give you the strength and energy you’ll need to face challenges and make changes in your life and career. For example:

  • You'll know why you're struggling with high school math because you'll see how upgrading will help you move toward your dream.
  • You’ll have the patience to explain to your family why you’re staying late—again—at your job placement. An experienced co–worker is coaching you on the latest accounting software. This skill is vital to your vision of running your own bookkeeping business someday.

Making your dreams a reality starts when you set attainable goals and create a plan to reach them. Follow these suggestions for setting SMART Goals.

Many small steps

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. When you understand this, you can set goals and not feel overwhelmed by how far you have to go to reach them. Here’s how it works.

When your goals arise from your dreams, they're the right goals for you. They're connected to what you need and desire. Setting goals based on your dreams will give you the strength and energy you'll need to face challenges and move toward change in your life. For example:

  • Your long-term goal is your dream or vision—the general direction you want to move in.
  • Your short-term goals describe the smaller steps you take to get from where you are to where you want to be.
  • To move toward your dream, you divide the distance between you and your long-term goal into many smaller short–term goals.
  • You take steps to reach each of those smaller goals one by one, over a period of time.
  • By reaching each shortterm goal, you eventually reach your long-term goal.

For example, Patty’s longterm goal is to own a hairdressing business. She has set up a number of shortterm goals to help her realize her dream. One of them is to complete her upgrading. Another one is to get up half an hour earlier in the morning so she can get herself and her children out the door on time. Both of these goals are designed to help Patty reach her dream. Both of them are important.

SMART goals

Effective goals are SMART:

S= Specific 
M= Measurable 
A= Achievable 
R= Realistic 
T= Time-limited

When you’re setting your goals, make them:

  • Specific
    A goal like ”I want to work with animals” is too general to be useful. A goal like “I will take veterinary technology so I can work as a vet’s assistant” is specific and gives you something to aim for.
  • Measurable
    A goal like “I will do well in this course” doesn’t give you a way to assess your progress. A goal like “I will get at least 80% on each quiz and paper in this course” is a measurable goal.
  • Achievable
    “I will win the lottery” isn’t an effective goal because you have no control over whether or not you achieve it. “I will start my own online business by the time I’m 30” is effective because you can take steps to achieve it.
  • Realistic
    A realistic goal isn’t necessarily easy but it is something you stand a chance of doing. “I will not miss a class” is probably not a realistic goal for a single mom with school age children during flu season. “I will get the notes for any class I have to miss” is a realistic goal.
  • Time-related
    “I will apply to an upgrading program” does not commit you to a time frame—you could put this off indefinitely. A goal like “I will apply to the upgrading program at ABC College by June 15” is more likely to motivate you.

Setting goals

Follow these steps to set your goals:

  1. Write out your longterm goal. Make it SMART and make sure it is your dream or vision for your future, not anyone else’s.
  2. Identify your assets—the people and things that will help you reach your goal; for example, determination, a supportive family, friends, skills and volunteer experience.
  3. Look at the barriers—the things that stand between you and your goal; for example, lack of money, need for daycare, transportation problems, lack of skills and not enough experience. Make a list of these barriers.
  4. Brainstorm around the barriers. Be creative, be playful, be responsible. Come up with every idea you can think of that will get you around the barriers between you and your goal. Write your ideas down.
  5. Map out your short-term goals—the small steps you'll take to reach your long-term goal:
    • On the left side of a piece of paper, mark an X and label it "I am here." On the right side, write out your long-term goal.
    • Divide the distance between you and your goal into smaller goals. Write each one out. Make sure each one is a SMART goal.
    • Under each short-term goal, write out the steps you'll take to reach that goal.
  6. Share your thoughts and plans with the supportive people in your life. Ask for their help in reaching your goals.

Goals can change

As you continue to create positive change in your life, your dreams and goals may change, too. New experiences, skills and relationships may lead you in new directions. And that's okay.

When you base your goals on your dreams, you'll know when they're no longer working for you. Keep checking back on your dreams and goals every few months or so to see how you feel about them and to make adjustments as you go.

Set SMART Goals to achieve your dream

Working toward goals that are based on your dreams can be a nurturing, strengthening process. You'll feel a sense of direction in your life, as if you're finally becoming the person you were meant to be.

When it comes to creating change, nothing's more powerful than a dream with some goals attached to it.

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