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The Complete Guide to Setting SMART Goals

When it comes to setting goals for school, work, or your personal life, people often use the SMART goals strategy. After all, writing down a few basic ideas of what you want to accomplish is not enough. They don’t provide enough context or direction to get you where you want to be. SMART goals, on the other hand, help you build meaningful long-term plans to set you on the path to success. For example, are you looking to improve your grades in school? Are you working towards a promotion or raise? Are you trying to improve your health or learn a new skill? Goal setting is a crucial step in personal, professional, and academic development. If you want your goals to be effective, they need to be SMART.

smart goals

The Basics of SMART Goals


People tend to set goals that are too vague and poorly defined to actually mean anything. As a result, they end up losing sight of what they really want and fail to achieve their goals. For example, people often make New Year’s resolutions about wanting to lose weight or get promoted at work, but what does it really mean? SMART goals need to be specific, meaning they need to answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. The more specific your goals are, the more likely you are to accomplish them. Instead of “I want to do better in school”, say “I’m going to study for two hours per day with a personal tutor so that my grades improve”. Rather than “I want to eat healthier”, try “I’m going to prepare meals ahead of time and only eat out twice per week”.


Goals are meaningless if you don’t set some guidelines for progress and growth ahead of time. Without some sort of criteria, it’ll be harder for you to know if you’re on the right track. SMART goals need parameters that help you measure your development and give you an idea of how well you’re doing. They can also give you an idea of whether you need to adjust your goals or not. For example, saying that you want to lose ten pounds or save up to buy a computer is a good start. However, both of these goals only specify the end result, not the steps you need to take in between. Instead, try saying “I want to lose two pounds per month” or “I’m going to set aside fifty dollars per week”.


As children, we often set goals that sound impressive but almost impossible, like becoming president or having a million dollars. However, we sometimes set improbable goals as teenagers and adults, too. As much as we want to get straight A’s in school or get promoted within the first three months of our new job, it might not be realistic. When creating SMART goals, ask yourself if it’s actually something you’re capable of accomplishing. To start, do you have the time, energy, and resources to achieve this goal? Is this goal something that other people have done before? And most importantly, can you commit to working towards this goal? If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, you may want to re-evaluate your goals first before moving forward.


People tend to model themselves after others when setting goals. If your friend signs up for a gym membership or starts pursuing a business degree, you might want to do it, too. However, before you start brainstorming and coming up with a plan, ask yourself – is it actually something you want to do? SMART goals are relevant to your own values, interests, and long-term goals. You’re more likely to accomplish your goals if you have a personal passion for them. For example, do you only want a promotion because you want to make more money, or because you’re actually interested in the job? Did you join student council because you want to make a difference, or because it’ll look good on your resume? Make sure your goals align with your beliefs and long-term objectives.


When people fail to accomplish their goals, it’s often because they didn’t feel a sense of urgency. Without a timeline, you might feel unmotivated to work towards what you want to achieve. SMART goals need to be timely in order to keep you on track; simply saying you want to get your driver’s license or learn how to code is not enough. Set a specific and realistic timeframe and deadline for working towards your goals. Having a clear beginning and end will keep you from procrastinating, though you may still need to readjust your timeline later on. For example, if you want to read more often, your goal might be to read two books per month or read twenty-four books in one year.

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Do’s and Don’ts of SMART Goals

There are some additional considerations that you need to keep in mind when setting, tracking, and working on your SMART goals:

  • Do be realistic and ambitious when deciding what you want
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t accomplish everything
  • Do make the distinction between dreams and goals
  • Don’t try to work on too many things at the same time
  • Do find ways to reward yourself for making progress
  • Don’t be afraid of failure and making mistakes

GetSet is a fully digital Canadian community of professional and student mentors who provide the advice, guidance, and support people need to achieve professional and academic development. To learn more, please watch our introductory video.

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