new year

What Every SMART Goal Needs…An Action Plan

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CAGS, CRC
NESCA Transition Specialist/Counselor

It’s become somewhat of a New Year’s tradition for me to make my first blog of the year about goal setting. Last year, the blog focused on the creation of an attainable SMART goal and breaking up a larger goal or vision into smaller chunks. However, creating a SMART goal is just the first step. Once you have a goal, you need to create your action plan. Before sharing some of my favorite strategies for creating (and following through) on action plans, let’s refresh ourselves as to what SMART goals are:

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? How will you increase your distance? Will you increase it randomly? Will you increase the number of days you run each week, the length you run each time, or a combination of both?

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 1 mile 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.

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 at the beginning of the new year, 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 at the end of the year. Humans work best with deadlines. We need the motivation to complete a plan, and often motivation needs a sense of urgency. When determining a deadline, it is also important to circle back and ensure that the goal is still attainable given the end date. Increasing a person’s distance from 1 mile to 3.2 miles may not be reasonable in 2 weeks but may be attainable in 3 months.

So now that we have our SMART goal:

I will increase the distance I run from 1 mile to 3.2 miles in one setting by increasing the distance I run by ¼ mile each week by April 15, 2023.

Once my students have created their SMART goal, the next step I have them do is determine the “action steps” they need to achieve to make progress towards their goal. Before the students create their action steps, I ask them to list the strengths and challenges impacting their goal progress. Using their strengths and considering their challenges allows the student to build awareness of how to select action steps and determine their frequency. For some goals, the first action step may be gathering materials (i.e., if they want to get their driver’s permit) or benchmarks they should make along the way (i.e., trying to run a 5k). Each action step should have its own deadline and be similarly measurable as the original SMART goal.

The creation of action steps allows for one of the most important and challenging aspects of achieving one’s goal: the follow-up. Periodic follow-up is essential to ensure that one is progressing as needed to achieve the goal in time. The follow-up also provides the best opportunity for skill building for current and future success. When a person is checking the status of their goal, they are asking themselves:

  • What is going well?
  • What unexpected challenges have occurred?
  • Is there anything I should do differently?
  • Do I need to add or change any action steps?
  • Am I still on target to meet my goal deadline?

Being able to ask and answer these questions can make all the difference in goal achievement.


About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CAGS, 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.


To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists or neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form


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 info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


Approaching 2021 with Ease and Grace

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

I think we are all relieved that 2020 is behind us. All of us experienced a “mental health crisis” of some level of anxiety, depression and fear since March, 2020. As the pandemic spread across our globe, ravaged our lives, took loved ones from us, created economic upheaval, food insecurity and amplified the technological discrepancies that existed within our communities, we adapted and survived…we had to. And the Black Lives Matter movement gained strength also because it had to. From the crisis came opportunity.

Hopefully we learned something about ourselves and each other both across the globe and within our small circles. Now we know the unfathomable and unexpected can and does happen, and it upends our lives like we never expected. What we once thought was important doesn’t seem as important any more. Hopefully, as the months passed in 2020, we settled into the “new normal” and began to develop rhythms and beliefs that sustained us and fed our souls. Let’s hope that we developed a sense of what is truly important and can approach 2021 with new-found hope, resiliency, ease and grace. Approach 2021 by cultivating and remembering the bright spots of this past year, the surprises or treasures of 2020. They may help you think more clearly about 2021.

At the start of a new year, many people make New Year’s resolutions that are long-term goals. Some people manage to keep their resolutions while others aren’t able to sustain the motivation and commitment. Given this past year, it may be difficult to think about resolutions or even conceptualize what the future will look like. Even with vaccines on the horizon, our brains are not ready for long-term planning as our futures may still be a bit unclear. We can hope for a “return to normal,” but what will that “normal” look like?

There is still an uncertainty of what the future holds, so my thinking is to keep it simple. As we start 2021, remember what’s important. If you chose to make New Year’s resolutions, keep them manageable and small. Hopefully what you learned in 2020 can guide your thinking in 2021. Some everyday ideas might be to be kind and gentle with oneself and others. Don’t sweat the small stuff; most of it is small stuff. Smile and laugh every day. Promise yourself to go outside every day and breathe fresh air, be amazed at the glistening snow, the warmth of the sun, the flight of a bird. Take a walk. Three times a day, focus on your breath for at least three minutes. Before going to sleep, think of something to be thankful and grateful for. 2021 can be a year of hope, wonder and faith in a “newer normal” that will emerge, where each of us is responsible for creating a better day, world and a normal that may be even better than the normal of the past.

To everyone, peace, good health and Happy New Year!


About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.


To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.