In Goal Setting Defined and Refined, you’ll see how to set yourself up for success, and crush those New Year’s Resolutions. With a little tweaking to turn your resolutions into goals, you’ll be better prepared to stick with them and reap the goal setting benefits from having a workable plan.

A woman writing and setting goals defined in a journal and a laptop to the left.

It’s the new year and time for resolutions, right? Wrong. Probably everyone has made New Year’s Resolutions in past years, and by the end of January, they’re history. That’s happened to me more times than I care to count. How about you? If you’re nodding your head in agreement, then read on to find out the difference between goal setting and resolutions. Plus, you’ll get tips on how to help your students write real, actionable goals that will help them pump up their academic performance.

 What’s Goal Setting?

First off, we need to have goal setting defined. It’s not simply a one and done type of activity. No, we need to come back and revisit our goals on a regular basis to make them actionable in our lives. So how do we set goals that are relevant and attainable? How do we set goals that reflect what we want in our lives?

The acronym SMART is well known in goal setting lingo. Don’t just set goals. Set SMART goals. How?

Goal setting defined by the SMART acronym in colored circles and bars.

Goal setting defined by the acronym SMART is:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Actionable

R – Realistic

T – Time adapted

Let’s look at each of these components one at a time.

Goals Should Be Specific

While it’s admirable for a person to say, “I have a goal to be healthy,” that’s just not going to cut it. What does it mean to be healthy? What do you have to do to be healthy? 

Likewise, if you say, “I have a goal to lose weight,” again, it’s not specific. How much weight are you going to lose? What habits or programs will you use to lose weight?

A better way to make this goal specific is, “I will lose _____ amount of pounds/kilos with the ______ program.

Goals Should Be Measurable

In the example about losing weight, by setting a goal of pounds or kilos, you’re setting yourself up for a target. Consider how you might run a race if you didn’t know where the finish line was, or how long the race was. You might wander off the track at some point. But with the finish line in sight, you can head toward it and run faster. 

It’s the same with your goals. If you know the end result you’re aiming for, you’re more likely to hit your target. Every week when you step on the scale, you’ll know if you’re making progress toward your goal. That’s what it means to have a measurable goal.

Goals Should Be Actionable

Some people use the word attainable here. However, I use actionable for this reason. In order to make a goal attainable, you need to take specific actions. These action steps should lead to good habit loops.

Let’s go back to the goal of weight loss. Let’s say you want to lose ten pounds in two months. Great! It sounds attainable. But what actions will you take to lose those ten pounds in the two months you’ve allowed yourself?

If you don’t take any action, you’re probably not going to lose the weight. But if you decide you’re going to cut 500 calories from your daily diet, or start a food diary and count carbs, these are actions you can take. By taking action, you’ll attain your goal.

Goals Should Be Realistic

There’s quite a bit of chatter online these days about realistic goals versus stretch goals. The realistic goal is the one you can see yourself attaining, given the amount of effort you can put into it.

The stretch goal is bigger. It’s the one you might attain if all the stars align, and everything goes your way perfectly.

It’s great to have stretch goals. They inspire us to do more, and try harder.

But don’t make stretch goals your only goals. Make sure you have relevant and realistic goals. That way you can celebrate twice! Once when you reach your realistic goal and again when you reach your stretch goal.

Notice I said, “When you reach your stretch goal,” not if? That’s because I have faith in you! You’re reading this article, so I know you’re serious about hitting those goals.

Goals Should Be Time Adapted

It’s not enough to say you’re going to lose ten pounds. When are you going to lose the weight? Next month? Next year? Or will it be next decade?

With a time frame, you can take incremental steps toward your goal, knowing you’re getting closer to the end time. If you’re the type of person who thrives under pressure and deadlines, the closer you get to the end time, the harder you’ll work toward the goal.

There’s another benefit of having your goals be time adapted. It’s purely psychological, but if you put a due date on something, it’s sending the message to your mind that this is something that has to get done. So go ahead. Set a due date for your goals.

Now that we’ve chatted about goal setting defined, let’s move on to goal setting benefits.

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Goal Setting Benefits

We’ve all heard the familiar aphorism, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” 

The whole benefit of goal setting is creating success for yourself or for your team. Whatever you want in life, or just this year, you can attain by setting goals.

Another benefit of goal setting is the ability to visualize. You can visualize yourself ten pounds lighter, wearing that perfect outfit you’ve had in your closet, and feeling great about yourself. This will help you reach your goal even faster.

A pretty desk with flowers and a pen and colored sticky notes and a journal with the word goals.

True story: My husband and I had a goal of getting out of debt in XXX number of months. So we created a budget. We listed all of our debts. We decided which actions to take and how we would attack each debt. 

To help us visualize, we posted our list of debts on the refrigerator. We also put a picture of a great vacation spot next to it. Every time we paid off a debt, we marked it off with a big red X. Every time we added a big red X, we could visualize ourselves in that vacation spot.

It finally came true. It was a long term goal, but we attacked it with the SMART system, and now we’re debt free. (Except for our mortgage.)  

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How Can Goal Setting Help with Academic Performance

I loved sharing a story about Michael Jordan with my students. He wasn’t born a phenomenal basketball player. He worked and practiced day in and day out to become the best player he could be.

As the story that I’ve heard goes, he didn’t make the basketball team at first. But he didn’t let that stop him. He went home, set a goal to become an excellent player. To do that, he practiced shooting hoops and playing basketball at home. Every day. For hours. 

As we all know, he went on to not only get onto the high school basketball team, but to become one of the greatest basketball players the sport has ever seen.

Students Choose Their Academic Goals

After teaching your students about SMART goal setting defined, have them brainstorm some academic goals for themselves. 

Teacher on a computer thinking and holding her glasses in her hands.

Let’s say you’re teaching third grade math. Students might decide they want to learn all their multiplication facts through tens or twelves. Have them answer the following questions:

  1. Which specific facts will I learn first? Twos, fives, tens?
  2. How will I measure my success? Will I be able to say them all in 60 seconds? Will I be able to pass a written mad minute math test? What is the time frame?
  3. Is it attainable? Can I devote time every day to practicing? How much time? Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen?
  4. Is it realistic? Can I memorize that many facts? If it’s too easy, should I add more?
  5. What is the time frame? How soon do I want to learn them all? Two weeks? One month? Longer?

After they’ve brainstormed their goals with a partner or team, they can write down those goals, using the SMART system. “I will learn all of my twos multiplication facts in one week by practicing every day for ten minutes. I will pass the mad minute test for twos next week.” 

Now that’s SMART.

If you’re teaching elementary, and you want to help your students learn how to write goals, my SMART Goals Worksheets might be something that will interest you. 

Child's hands holding a tablet with a goal setting worksheet on it.

Onward and upward, my friend! The new year has already begun, and you have a world of goals awaiting you! Now, with goal setting defined, you can write them down, put them in a visible place, and be reminded every day of little steps you can take to attain them.

Happy goal setting and happier goal achieving!