Being able to set and achieve goals is an important life skill needed in a variety of settings, from school to university and when you enter the world of work. Setting goals can be intimidating if you’re not sure where or how to start. In this guide, we take you through why goal setting is important, and how to set realistic goals for yourself.
Why is it important to set goals?
Setting goals is crucial to your success in different areas of your life, both inside and outside of the classroom. Goals can help you understand what level you are currently working at, identify what progress you’d like to make, and create a practical plan to get there. Goal-setting can help you learn really important life skills, like time management, organisation and confidence.
For example, setting revision goals when it comes to revising for your end of exams can help make sure you are well prepared for them. You may decide that you would like to get specific grades for your A-Levels or GCSEs that are above the level you are currently working at. Knowing this can help you figure out the practical steps you need to take to make this a reality, such as weekly revision sessions or completing bi-weekly practice examination papers.
There are many different ways to organise and execute your goals. In this guide, we’ll be going through two of our favourite, most effective methods to help you do this. Remember, you don’t have to choose both, or either – it may take a little bit of experimenting to figure out which one will work for you!
Goal-setting method 1: SMART goals
SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals. It is a system to help you ensure that the objectives you set yourself are attainable within a specific timeframe.
S for Specific
In order for a goal to be effective, it needs to be specific. This means that you need to identify key details to help make your goal more attainable and practical. You may want to ask yourself the following questions to do this:
- What is my key objective?
- What are the steps I intend to take to make this happen?
M for Measurable
Now that you’ve pinpointed exactly what you intend to achieve, you’ll need to crack out some numbers. Making sure your goals are measurable makes it easier for you to track progress and helps you define what success or completion looks like. You may also want to ask yourself the following questions to achieve this:
- What signs can I look for that I’m making progress?
- How will I know when I have achieved success?
A for Achievable
You need to ensure that your goals are achievable, which means they are realistic and practical given your current situation. As tempting as it is to set yourself lofty goals and be super ambitious, you risk putting yourself under lots of pressure, which may make it harder to achieve your goals in the first place.
- How much of a priority is this specific goal, in comparison to other goals I have?
- What does my current workload look like?
R for Relevant
The most effective goals are driven by purpose. You need to make sure there's a real purpose behind your objectives. What will you achieve, or succeed in doing, by creating and executing the goals you have in mind? Perhaps you need specific A-Level or IB grades to get onto a course at university. Or maybe you need work experience in the media industry before pursuing a full-time job there, due to your passion for television and film. Whatever the case may be for you, it’s crucial to identify why your goal matters and what the key benefits will be if you accomplish those goals. Think about some of these prompters when identifying whether or not your goals are relevant:
- Why does this goal matter to me?
- How will I feel once I have achieved this goal?
T for Time-bound
The last letter in the SMART acronym stands for ‘time-bound’. This means you have given yourself a deadline for completing your goals. The benefit of attaching clear deadlines is that they allow you to identify how long you have to achieve your goals, and ensures that your pursuit of your goals doesn’t stretch into infinity. Whether you give yourself a few days or a few months to achieve your goals, setting yourself up with a clearly defined timeline is crucial in helping you manage your time effectively.
- Do I have any external deadlines to take into consideration?
- How long will it realistically take me to achieve this goal?
Taking a SMART approach to goal-setting can set you up for success by ensuring your goals are achievable, realistic, timely and highly specific. It can help you organise your time effectively and give you a very targeted sense of direction.
Goal-setting method 2: Locke’s goal-setting theory
Another great method to setting goals is using the goal-setting theory by Dr Edwin Locke. The theory is based on the following five principles to setting effective goals: clarity, challenge, commitment, feedback, complexity.
Your goal needs to be clear, specific and measurable. This makes it easier for you to avoid vagueness and clearly define what success in that area will look like. For example, rather than setting the goal of ‘I want to be healthier’, a better expression of this might be ‘I want to incorporate a serving of vegetables with each meal I eat, every day.’ The second goal is much clearer, measurable and very specific.
Locke’s theory suggests that goals which are sufficiently tricky are more motivating. Now, this doesn’t mean you should set extremely unrealistic, high-pressured goals. However, your goals need to be challenging enough to motivate you to want to achieve them.
Think about what kind of goals you could set to stretch you. Rather than aiming to apply for one work experience placement a week, applying to two or three, given your time, may be more challenging but worthwhile. Or, aiming for an A rather than a B could be more satisfying if you’ve been working steadily at grade B.
Making sure that you believe in the goal is important. In a similar way to the SMART framework, identifying what motivates you, and why you want to achieve your goals, can go a long way towards helping you remain committed to seeing it through to the end.
A great way to map this out is making use of the visualisation technique. Spend a few minutes quietly visualising what achieving your goal looks like and feels like. Make a note of these details and keep it somewhere safe, so you can return to it regularly and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Feedback is a great way to track your progress with your goals. You can either do this alone or do it with other people around you.
When giving yourself feedback, you may want to set periodic reviews to assess your progress. For example, setting monthly reviews of your practice examination scores could help you identify the areas that you need to improve on.
When asking others for feedback, you can approach people who may be able to offer advice or guidance in very specific ways. You may ask your school careers adviser to give you feedback on your CV/resume when applying to job roles. Or you may ask your friends for feedback on your revision strategies for specific tests you have coming up.
Complexity refers to how difficult or complicated your goal might be. Goals that are clearly defined and straightforward are a lot easier to achieve than very complicated goals with lots of steps that need to be taken. Making sure that you break down your goals into manageable, practical steps is key to your success.
Locke’s goal-setting theory can help you create meaningful goals with a clear sense of direction and purpose.
We encourage you to experiment and find out which framework might work better for you. Once you’ve used one of these frameworks to create your action plan, you can always upload this to your Locker on the Unifrog platform. It'll be at the top of your screen after you’ve signed into your profile.