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.
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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.