Have you ever set a goal and not achieved it? Think of the last goal you set for yourself and think about the reasons you were not successful at it. Now, think of the last goal you set for yourself and achieved it? How did you feel?


Many youth are uncomfortable with setting goals because of the risk of failing. After observing workers in hundreds of situations, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that two goal conditions consistently lowered productivity and results: “low goals” and “no goals.”


While we may think we are avoiding disappointment or failure because we are not setting goals, the opposite is true. By not setting goals, we never experience success. Failure, in fact, provides the necessary feedback we need if we are ever to accomplish our goals.


SMART, is an acronym to help us remember what the necessary steps in creating a goal.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive.


To understand what a specific goal is let’s look at the opposite of specific: vague. An example of a vague goal is: To be happy. This might be very clear to you on what it means to be happy. But your idea of happiness and my idea of happiness is probably very different. To help this goal become specific, ask yourself some more questions. What do you think will make yourself happy? Is it playing more basketball? Is it journaling more? Is it playing less video games? When we can start focusing on what actually we can do to make ourselves “feel happy” it then becomes more specific. To play basketball 3x a week is very specific. It is also measurable.


 A measurable goal means we can measure whether we were successful or not. If my goal was to play basketball 3x last week and I only played it twice, then I didn’t meet my goal. If my goal was to smoke 5 cigarettes today and I smoked 6, then I was not successful. Now, we might say, but I was successful because I smoked ten the day before. Or, I didn’t play basketball at all last week, and I am proud of myself for playing twice. It is important that you hold yourself accountable for the goals you set for yourself, and do not lie to yourself about if you were successful or not. This can contribute to a false sense of self-esteem. While it may be true that that smoking less or playing any basketball are positive things, with measurable goals there are two options: you either met your goal, or you didn’t. Another question you should ask in regards to your goals is if they are attainable.


Is it possible to play basketball three times a week. Maybe, your work schedule only allows you to play twice a week. If your goal is to make a million dollars by your next birthday, while this might be possible, is it attainable? How are you planning on making the million dollars? Is it playing basketball? Is it rapping? These goals can be broken down into attainable goals. If your goal is to play in the NBA, maybe you should first try out for the community college team. If your goal is to become a rapper that makes money, an attainable goal might be to research online how other rappers were successful.


Is being a rapper or NBA player realistic? A great many people have been told that their goals were not realistic and went on to be successful. While it is important to believe in yourself, it is also important to not delude (or lie to) yourself. Sometimes, recruiting your friends and family to give you honest feedback can be invaluable. If your trusted friend tells you that you should try a different direction, then you might want to think if it is a realistic goal for you.


Time-sensitive means that if your goal needs to have a deadline attached to it. If you want to be a NBA player and you are a 37 year old YMCA weekend warrior, then you might want to think about a new goal. If your goal is to search the internet to see how your favorite rapper made his first million, then give yourself a week to have this done. If your goal is to decrease the cigarettes you smoke to two and you currently smoke five, maybe give yourself two weeks to taper down.


Other things to consider



If cutting down to 2 cigarettes a day from 5 cigarettes is a challenge to you, then it is a meaningful goal. If you don’t smoke cigarettes, and you make a goal avoid smoking cigarettes, than this goal isn’t challenging. Think of things that you have wanted to start, or have avoid doing because you don’t think you can do it. Don’t be afraid of what others might think of your goals to! Chances are if you keep thinking about learning to knit, baking a pie or bench pressing 150 pounds, then chances are these goals are personal to you.


Approach vs. Avoidance

Approach goals are goals that help you “approach” a goal: break 100 on your favorite golf course. An avoidance goal is to “avoid” something: To not be the worst player in our regular foursome by September 1st. Avoidance goals would be a goal to avoid a negative outcome. Approach goals are found to use less energy.


Value Driven

Goals that are attached to our values are the ones that we’re more likely to adopt and pursue as our own. If you value spending time with loved ones, make goals to hang out and go to the movies, or plan a special event somewhere.


Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

Goals that come from your own genuine desires, values, and interests are the goals that you will enjoy, pursue with vigor, and savor once they are accomplished. These are “intrinsic” goals.

Extrinsic goals are goals that people have set up for you, or that you pursue because you think you should pursue them. Extrinsic goals often revolve around the accumulation of possessions, money, or fame that you will believe will cause you to be admired by others.



Written goals produce better results than goals that aren’t written down. Writing goals in a place where you can easily see them has the effect of reminding you of your commitment to yourself, and it allows other people to add their support and ideas to the accomplishment of your goals.



  1. What was the last goal you set for yourself and failed to achieve it? Why do you think you failed at it?


  1. What is a current goal you have for yourself?


  1. What does SMART stand for?


  1. Give an example of a specific goal you can set for yourself.


  1. Give an example of a measurable goal.


  1. Give an example of an attainable goal you have in your life.


  1. Give an example of an unrealistic goal you have had yourself or that you have heard another person have. Explain why it was unrealistic.


  1. “Approach goals are goals that help you ‘approach’ a goal. Give an example of an “approach” goal you have for yourself.


  1. What is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic goals in your own words. Give an example of each and label them.


  1. “Writing goals in a place where you can easily see them has the effect of _____________________________, and it allows other people ________________________ to the accomplishment of your goals.”