Goal-Setting and Motivation

Setting Goals

Goals can be big or small. A goal can range from I’m going to write one extra page tonight, to I’m going to work to get an A in this course, all the way to I’m going to graduate in the top of my class so I can start my career with a really good job. The great thing about goals is that they can include and influence a number of other things that all work toward a much bigger picture; for example, if your goal is to get an A in a certain course, all the reading, studying, and assignments you do for that course contribute to the larger goal. You have motivation to do each of those things and to do them well.

Setting goals is something that is frequently talked about, but it is often treated as something abstract. Like time management, goal-setting is best done with careful thought and planning. This next section will explain how you can apply tested techniques to goal-setting and what the benefits of each can be.


Goal setting by Vectors Market from Noun Project

Set Goals That Motivate You

The first thing to know about goal-setting is that a goal is a specific end result you desire. If the goal is not something you are really interested in, there is little motivational drive to achieve it. To get the most from the goals you set, make sure they are things that you are interested in achieving.

That is not to say you shouldn’t set goals that are supported by other motivations (such as, If I finish studying by Friday, I can go out on Saturday), but the idea is to be intellectually honest with your goals.

Set SMART Goals

Goals should also be SMART. In this case, the word smart is not only a clever description of the type of goal, but it is also an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. The reason these are all desirable traits for your goals is because they not only help you plan how to meet the goal, but they can also contribute to your decision-making processes during the planning stage.

The Meaning of SMART Goals

  • Specific: For a goal to be specific, it must be defined enough to actually determine the goal. A goal of get a good job when I graduate is too general. It doesn’t define what a good job is. In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily include a job in your chosen profession. A more specific goal would be something like be hired as a nurse in a place of employment where it is enjoyable to work and that has room for promotion.
  • Measurable: The concept of a measurable goal is one that is often overlooked. What this means is that the goal should have clearly defined outcomes that are detailed enough to measure and can be used for planning how you will achieve the goal. For example, setting a goal of doing well in school is undefined, but making a goal of graduating with a GPA above 3.0 is measurable and something you can work with. If your goal is measurable, you can know ahead of time how many points you will have to earn on a specific assignment to stay in that range or how many points you will need to make up in the next assignment if you do not do as well as you planned.
  • Attainable: Attainable or achievable goals are those that are reasonable and within your ability to accomplish. While a goal of make one million dollars by the end of the week is something that would be nice to achieve, the odds that you could make that happen in a single week are not very realistic.
  • Relevant: For goal-setting, relevant means it applies to the situation. In relation to college, a goal of getting a horse to ride to school is not very relevant, but getting dependable transportation is something that would contribute to your success in school.
  • Time-bound: Time-bound means you set a specific time frame to achieve the goal. I will get my paper written by Wednesday is time-bound. You know when you have to meet the goal. I will get my paper written sometime soon does not help you plan how and when you will accomplish the goal.

In the following table you can see some examples of goals that do and do not follow the SMART system. As you read each one, think about what elements make them SMART or how you might change those that are not.


Is it SMART?


I am going to be rich someday.


There is nothing really specific, measurable, or time-bound in this goal.

I am going to save enough money to buy a newer car by June.


All SMART attributes are covered in this goal.

I would like to do well in all my courses next semester.


While this is clearly time-bound and meets most of the SMART goal attributes, it is not specific or measurable without defining what “do well” means.

I am going to start being more organized.


While most of the SMART attributes are implied, there is nothing really measurable in this goal.

Make an Action Plan

Like anything else, making a step-by-step action plan of how you will attain your goals is the best way to make certain you achieve them.

The planning techniques you use for time management and achieving goals can be similar. In fact, accurate goal-setting is very much a part of time management if you treat the completion of each task as a goal.

What follows is an example of a simple action plan that lists the steps for writing a short paper. You can use something like this or modify it in a way that would better suit your own preferences.

Action Plan




Choose a topic.

Select something interesting.

Needs to be done by Monday!

Write an outline and look for references.

Create the structure of the paper and outline each part.

Monday, 6:00 p.m.

Research references to support the outline and look for good quotes.

Strengthen the paper and resources.

Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.

Write the introduction and first page draft.

Get the main ideas and thesis statement down.

Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.

Write the second page and closing draft.

Finish the main content and tie it all together.

Thursday, 6:00 p.m.

Rewrite and polish the final draft.

Clean up the writing for grammar, writing style, and effective communication.

Friday, 5:00 p.m.


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