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New year, new me (?): Setting SMART goals

By Sarah-Louise Ruder, 3rd-year Environmental Science and Philosophy student 

I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions, because honestly I find it hard to keep myself accountable for bettering myself in one way over 365 days. I’ve tried fitness goals which flop by February and vague ideas like being happier, but as the months go by and deadlines for other things creep up I seem to loose sight of them. Though I agree that the new year is a great opportunity to self-reflect, I prefer to take advantage of the new term to set some goals for myself–academic and otherwise.

Learning Strategies has some guidelines for setting and accomplishing SMART goals. By making sure that our goals are SMART, not only are we more likely to meet them, but they can also be much more effective at bringing us good things! Let’s work through this.

1. Make sure that your goals are Specific.

First, we need to pick the topic of the goal—let’s say academic. However, we would advise against setting goals like “doing well in school” because it is much more difficult to stay on track, and much less effective. For instance, one of my goals is to aim to maintain, or exceed, my average in each of my courses this term. Although I know this is going to take some time and energy devoted to each of my courses, setting a specific target gives me something concrete to work towards, and I‘ll have a better sense at the end of whether or not I attain it.

2. You can tell whether or not you accomplish your goals when they are Measurable.

Being able to tell whether or not the goal is accomplished is an important part of goal setting! I find it easiest to set goals when I envision what I would where I would like to be, but also when I have some sort of metric for which to measure the objective. This is easiest to see with quantifiable goals, such as only spending 10$ per week on campus coffee, or limiting Netflix time on weeknights. However, we can also measure the accomplishment in other ways, such as setting a total number of gym hours you want to log over the term and working toward the goal, or measuring a particular academic accomplishment with marks.

3. The best goals are Action-oriented.

Next, we need to make the distinction of goal orientation. I find this is easiest to illustrate with stress management or fitness, but it is also applicable to all aspects of our lives. Rather than saying “I want to be less stressed out this term,” align your objective with the actions which will get you there, for instance, “I am going to sleep at least 7 hours on weeknights, exercise at least twice a week, and have dinner with my housemates every Sunday” (if those are things that will make you less stresses). The key is to integrate the plan for accomplishing the goal within the goal itself.

4. Goals are much more achievable when they are Realistic.

Though I would encourage you to always shoot for the moon, setting goals is much more effective when we ensure that they are realistic. I try to dream big, but plan to succeed—so I need to pick things that I actually believe I can accomplish. When I consider my course load this term, my extracurricular commitments, my part-time job, the relationships in my life I want to maintain, and the time I need for myself, I don’t think it would be realistic to aim for an A+ in all five of my courses—and I am okay with that! (If you are one of those students with a 4.3 GPA, I applaud you! But that is not me.) There are tradeoffs in how I choose to spend my life and setting a goal I don’t think I can achieve wouldn’t be healthy for me.

5. Lastly, keep your goals Timely!

It’s important to set your goals on a timeline so that you can stay on track to accomplishing them. One of the benefits of setting goals for the term is that there is an embedded timeline! So, if your goal is to get an A in ENSC 321, the end time will be the end of term. But, it is also helpful to set the goal up in steps so that you arrive at your destination in time. If you are aiming to apply and secure a summer job, the timeline might be to start sending emails and applying in January and February, and then completing interviews for successful applications in March, and securing employment by the end of the term (very vague, but you get the idea).

I hope you find that breakdown helpful! If you are looking for some additional guidance on setting academic goals for the term, remember that all students are welcome to book 1:1 appointments with the lovely learning strategists in Stauffer.

I came across this quote over the break and found it really spoke to me:

“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.” —Melody Beattie

So if you are the protagonist of your own story, where do you want to be by the end of the chapter? We can never know what will come up over the course of the term, but you get to decide how you live it.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.