Happy New Year! 2021 was another chaotic and challenging year. Many folks have big plans to start the year strong and make hefty goals for their new year resolutions. French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote: “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” This is true for resolutions, just as it is for any goal. How can we help our young people change their wishes, visions, and dreams into goals? We teach them (and maybe ourselves while we’re at it) how to plan. One of my favorite strategies for both teaching and reaching goals is by creating SMART Goals. What is a Smart Goal?
Specific – The goal should be specific. I’ll increase the distance I run is vague. Will you increase the distance by 20 feet, 2 miles? Are you planning for a marathon? Instead, let’s take a look at step 2, making it measurable.
Measurable – There’s a good chance that if your goal is not specific enough, it will be hard to measure if you have succeeded in that goal. So, let’s make our exercise goal both specific and measurable. I’ll increase the distance I run from 1mile to 3.2 miles (5k).
Attainable – Attainable is the hard one for many students who are still building awareness of their strengths and challenges. Let’s say a person who has never run wants to run in the Boston Marathon. This is likely not an attainable goal, even if it is specific and measurable. While Couch to 5k training exists, I have not personally seen the couch to marathon training program. Having measurable steps also helps break down the goal into smaller pieces, which will be further discussed later.
Relevant – If I am trying to increase my social circle and group leisure skills, running is unlikely to get me there. However, if, like many people, we’re trying to improve our health in 2021 (or take off some of those quarantine pounds), increasing the distance we run certainly will help get us there. Many young adults may need to bounce ideas off someone to ensure the goal is relevant to the area at hand.
Time-bound – Attainable and time-based work tightly together. If you do not give yourself a deadline, the goal may still be there come December 2022. Humans work best with deadlines. We need the motivation to complete a plan, and often motivation needs a sense of urgency.
When students begin working on developing SMART goals, the hardest area for students to understand and develop is creating an ATTAINABLE goal. The goals are often too hefty and need to be broken into much smaller pieces. My clients who are meeting with me in person are greeted by a quote in my office from Dr. Glenn Doyle, offering my favorite way of looking at creating that attainable goal.
When in doubt, set the goal small.
Then chop it in half (½)
Then take the first part of that goal….
Figure out just what you’d need to do
to GET STARTED on it.
THAT’s your NEW GOAL.
~Dr. Glenn Doyle~
Okay, so what does our SMART goal look like for increased health and wellness? I will increase the distance I run from 1 mile to 3.2 miles (5k) in ¼ mile increments by June 30, 2022.
We have all the pieces. It is specific, and we know precisely what the end goal will be and how we will get there. It’s measurable; there is something we can check off as complete, like a to-do list. It’s attainable and seems realistic. We are not trying to run the Boston Marathon course after only running a mile. We will start as a beginning runner and work towards a 5k, and we are not trying to do it tomorrow with no steps in between. It’s relevant; we are working on bettering our health in 2022. And it is time-based. We want to meet our goal by the end of June.
Now that we’ve refreshed our minds on SMART goals, how do we build these skills in transition-aged youth? Ask them. Ask your child, your students, your clients what they want for themselves in education, employment, and independent living. We already have the starting points. We have their vision. We have the IEP TEAM’s goals and objectives.
The youth may have a far-reaching (and maybe seemingly unattainable) goal. Help them break that big goal down into smaller parts and work backward. Do they want to be an engineer? Engineers need a college degree. What does the student need to do to graduate college? They need to get into college. How do they get into college? They need to apply and graduate from high school. What do they need to do to graduate high school? They need to pass their science class. That seems like a reasonable starting place, and it is still related to the vision. What might a SMART goal look like for that student? I will receive a passing grade on my final exam by answering the end of chapter questions each week and asking for clarification from my teacher for any questions I got wrong by the end of the spring semester.
But how do we support them when they aren’t making progress? Many people have a hard time adjusting once they have made a plan. Whenever we set a goal, we need to look at our progress periodically. We need to check that the goal is still attainable by the deadline we gave ourselves. Are we making progress? If we are still running only a mile and it’s March, what adjustments do we need to make? Suppose a student is not finding answering the end of chapter questions helpful in confirming their knowledge of the material. What changes can they make to increase their understanding of the material? Maybe the student asks the teacher if they can work one on one twice a week to increase understanding? Frustration, when the plan doesn’t work, makes many give up on the goal. Learning how to adapt is just as essential as learning how to make a goal.
A person who has practiced SMART goals is a person who will have an increased understanding of the objectives and smaller steps they need to reach their vision. They will have more confidence in their abilities and more awareness of their challenges. A person who has goal-setting skills is a person who has control of their own life. What are your SMART goals for 2022?
About the Author
Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.
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Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.