Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Setting goals

Setting goalsFind out why setting goals is important, how to make your goals work, and how to stick to them.

Why set goals?

If there is something you want to change or achieve, it's easy to oversimplify the process. You might think, 'I just need to study harder', or 'I just need to get up earlier'.

This might work sometimes, for some people, but you are much more likely to succeed if you have something to aim for. Imagine running a race without knowing where the finish line was: you wouldn't know whether to sprint, jog or walk, and you might give up just before crossing the line. Setting goals gives you motivation, lets you work out the correct actions to take, and gives you a sense of achievement when you reach them.

What makes a good goal?

A badly-chosen goal can do more harm than good. It can encourage you to waste your time on things that won't help you, or leave you feeling demotivated when you can't achieve it.

One popular way of remembering what makes a good goal is the SMART system.

  • Specific: A vague goal like 'improve my grades' or 'eat healthily' doesn't give you something to aim for or tell you what you need to do to succeed. Try to identify what you want to achieve and why as specifically as you can.
  • Measurable: If a goal isn't measurable, you can't tell whether or not you are succeeding and you'll be more tempted to make excuses. Work out what you can usefully measure: this could be the number of practice papers you do each week when revising, for example.
  • Achievable: It's good for a goal to challenge you, but it has to be something that you can achieve. That doesn't just mean thinking about your own abilities: you should also think about which parts of what you want to achieve are beyond your control, and focus on what you do have control over.
  • Relevant: Your goal should be connected to something bigger that you care about, so that achieving it is worthwhile.
  • Time-limited: You should set a date for when you want to achieve the goal - this will help you to avoid putting off the work. You don't have to write down your goals using exactly this system, but it's useful to go through them with these criteria in mind to make sure that you have covered everything.

Making your goals stick

Make a plan

Once you know what you want to achieve, how you'll measure it, and when you'll do it by, you can make a plan for the action you'll take to get there. To do this:

  • Break your goal down into smaller sub-goals. You can use the SMART criteria for these, too.
  • Write down the actions you need to take to reach each sub-goal as specifically as possible.
  • If you're struggling to work out what actions you need to take, break your goals down even further. If this doesn't help, you might need to rethink your main goal.
  • Include a way to motivate yourself. This could be a reward when you meet a goal, or a list of the benefits you'll get from reaching each goal.

Track your progress

Tracking your progress doesn't just allow you to work out how well you're doing: it will also help to keep you motivated. Try to find a visual way of recording your progress, so that you only have to glance at it: this will help to keep your goal in your mind. For example, if you're trying to get into a new daily habit like getting up early, you could mark off every day you succeed on a wall calendar.

Related links