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You customize your coffee — Now customize your goals!

By Kaitlin Pilarski, 2nd year Life Sciences student


Nowadays, everyone seems to make elaborate coffee orders. We stand in line between classes, watch as the barista inputs every detail right down to the caramel drizzle, and spell our name out letter by letter so they CAN’T get our name wrong – but what if we spent as much time caring about our goals as we did our coffee? Would our outlook change? Would the outcome be different? Let’s take a look…

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for goal-setting guidelines that stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely. Let’s break it down letter by letter:

S is for specific. Imagine with me for a second: you get to the front of the line and the barista asks what they can get you… you stare blankly into their eyes and mutter the word “coffee.” You might be thinking, “I would never do that,” or “that’s so vague,” and you are probably right! So why do so many of us do this with our goals? It is easy to say things like, “my academic goal is to do well in school” but those words don’t define what “well” is, or imply specific actions. Instead, let’s be specific. For example, we could perhaps look at where we struggle the most; it could be anything: essay writing, editing, multiple choice questions, application questions, memorization, etcetera! For this example, I am going to use a lab report. My specific goal to ultimately do better in school can be to improve my lab report writing skills.


M is for measurable. We can all set goals… but how do we know when we have accomplished them? When we order our coffee, we include what size we would like to indicate the measurable volume of coffee we are ordering. So, let’s do the same for our goals – we need to set objective ways of measuring our goals to avoid our own personal bias. For my lab report, I could say that I have achieved my goal when I improve my lab report grade by 5%.


A is for action-oriented. When we order coffee, we include details such as leaving room for milk or sugar. This provides an opportunity for both the barista and YOU to contribute to making your ideal coffee. Planning how you will accomplish your goal is very similar. For my lab report, I could decide to meet with a Peer Writing Assistant and/or my Teaching Assistant to receive feedback. To keep the momentum going, I must then work on my writing skills while incorporating suggestions I have received. It is important to remember that there may be times others can assist; however, it is ultimately up to you to make changes in your life to successfully complete your goals, and that is why having an action plan for your goal is so important!


R is for realistic. When you see all the possible flavours of coffee to choose from, if you are like me, you might want to try them all at once – but I never have because realistically I know I can’t drink that much coffee (not to mention it would probably be very unhealthy). Let’s apply this mindset to our goal setting. Perhaps from your action plan you have a lot of new ideas that you just can’t wait to apply. It is important, however, to be realistic and acknowledge how much time you can dedicate to your goal while keeping up with other academics, commitments, and your physical and mental health. Being realistic while believing in yourself will add a balance to your goal setting you never knew you needed – I promise!


T is for timely. With any goal you set it is best to create a timeline to help keep you on track. For example, while I have set my goal of improving my lab writing skills, does that mean I am going to accomplish it 65 years from now when I am 83? Or does it mean I am going to accomplish it two days from now? Neither one of those options sounds particularly appropriate for this goal, instead, a timeframe of 4 weeks might be more suitable. It is important to ensure that the actions necessary to complete your goal can be completed in a timely manner that works for you. Just remember, you wait in line for your coffee for only as long as you want to. Coffee lines may be long, but most people don’t walk away just because they are bored – so do the same for your goals! Create a timeline for your goal and remember: change is never instant and it can start with you.


Now that you know a little more about S.M.A.R.T. goal setting I encourage you to apply these techniques not just to your academic goals, but to absolutely anything you can think of! I hear your bucket list (and your midterms) calling your name!


Photo courtesy of rport under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.