Every August, my family takes a trip to Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Growing up we would use the final two days of the vacation to begin school-supplies shopping on the mainland. To this day, the third week of August still smells like freshly sharpened pencils. As we got older, the trips to Walmart and Staples were replaced with a new tradition. We trace our hands on the backs of paper plates and label each finger with an avenue to focus on as fall approaches. More often than not, this exercise resulted in five dreams. Five hopes for what the fall season might bring.
As we’re about to begin 2020, I am thinking about the year ahead and what I hope to achieve. With this simple lesson (adapted from my years at Salisbury Summer School), I will provide you with the tools for creating S.M.A.R.T goals.
Step One: Make a list.
What do you want to achieve this year? Consider all aspects of your life (school, athletics, music, etc.), and don’t be afraid to think both short-term and long-term. Write them down. Create a list.
Step Two: Break it down.
Select one dream from your list. We’ll focus on one at a time. Which dream stands out to you as one that you’d like to focus on right away? Which one is the most urgent or immediate?
Step Three: Make it S.M.A.R.T
S.M.A.R.T is an acronym to ensure that your dream doesn’t remain a dream but rather takes the form of an attainable goal. Use the following acronym to rewrite your dream as a goal.
S: Specific, Simple, Significant, and Strategic
Is your goal specific? How can you rewrite your goal in more precise, simple, and meaningful terms? If you wrote, “I want to do well in school,” consider homing in on one class and a specific letter-grade you’d like to achieve. Or, perhaps, you’d like to receive positive comments on your report-card; can you create a series of steps to make that possible?
Is your goal measurable? How will you know if you are getting closer or farther away from making your goal a reality? If you want to “be a better soccer player”, can you rewrite your goal in such a way that makes that more quantifiable? Perhaps you want to practice an extra hour every week. Maybe you want to track the number of assists you make per game.
Is your goal attainable? We are all about shooting for the stars. But let’s be sure to set ourselves up for success by creating goals that are a reach but possible. There’s nothing wrong with holding yourself to a high standard; but when we set goals that are too ambitious, we might find ourselves discouraged and therefore less likely to follow through. Be sure to set challenging yet attainable standards.
Is your goal relevant? Make sure that your goal pertains to an aspect of your life that is important and immediate. Sure, it’s great if you want to get into graduate school, but if you’re fifteen years old, there’s plenty of time for that. What’s affecting you now?
T: Time Requirement
Does your goal have a time requirement? Working toward a goal is far more enjoyable and rewarding when you know how long you have to complete it. When times get tough, it’s useful to be able to remind yourself how much time you’ve put in and how much time you have left. Having a set time-frame also allows you to set up check-in points with yourself, mentors, teachers, coaches, and parents along the way to discuss your progress.
Step Four: Rewrite your goal.
Now that you’ve assessed if your goal is S.M.A.R.T, rewrite it in such a way that reflects its simplicity, measurability, attainability, relevance, and time-requirement. This will allow you to break your goal down into clear and fruitful steps toward making it a reality.
Step Five: Repeat and thrive.
Go back to your list of goals and repeat Steps 3 and 4 to create an entire list of S.M.A.R.T goals. Once you have that, you’ve got the tools to make the most out of your future plans.
My last bits of advice? Share the list with people who will support your goals and hold you accountable. Hang the list in a place where you can see it daily. And keep reassessing whether your goals remain S.M.A.R.T—as our lives change, so do our hopes for what we’d like to accomplish. Go get smart!
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