Get SMART: How to Set Realistic Goals

Updated By Staff Writer on March 31, 2020


Nowadays, it’s easy to get caught up in our busy day-to-day routine which oftentimes leaves little time to work on the things that matter most. Sure, you work hard each day, but are life’s distractions keeping you from effectively working on—and achieving—your long-term goals?

Think about what is truly important to you ... what are your top priorities? Do your daily actions and your time spent reflect what you see as most important in your life? Everyone can benefit from setting goals because it keeps the things that really matter foremost in our minds. Setting goals and expectations leads to long-term vision and short-term motivation. By organizing your time and resources, you can make the very most of your time and life! Once you set your goals, it’s important to measure the steps you are taking so you can celebrate each achievement.

First things first. You need to write down your goals. Here’s a sobering fact: You are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Putting your goals down on paper starts the process of strategizing, questioning your current progress, and sorting out your plan of attack. Now, let’s focus on how to achieve those goals.


Have you ever heard of SMART goals? Simply put, it’s a goal-setting system that will enable you to be successful at achieving your goals. By utilizing this system, you can simplify your goals, and ensure that each goal is important and has value to you.

SMART is an acronym, and although there are several slight variations, it can be used to provide a comprehensive idea of what an achievable goal should be:


A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. To make sure your goal is specific, ask yourself the five “W” questions:

  • Who is involved?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where will this happen?
  • When will this happen?
  • Why should this happen?

For example, a general goal would be “Lose weight and get in shape.” But a specific goal would be “Sign up for an aerobics class at the local gym and participate at least three times a week for one month.”


It’s important to establish a way to measure your progress toward achieving your goal. This is where breaking your goals down into smaller, more bite-sized tasks can help you to ultimately feel greater success along the way. For example, if your goal is to get in shape, perhaps a method of measuring your progress would be to track how many pushups you can do in one session. Or, if you want to reorganize all your closets, start with one closet, set a deadline, and check it off when done. You’ll love the feeling of accomplishment as you successfully complete smaller tasks along the way.


No one likes to fail at a goal. It’s demoralizing and strips you of your confidence. Therefore, when setting a goal, ask yourself if there is anything outside of your realm of influence that could hinder your performance or stand in the way. For instance, if your goal is to have the members of your basketball team finish 50 pushups in a minute, make sure your team is equally committed to the goal. Secondly, make sure your goal requires you to “raise the bar” and even step out of your comfort zone, but is still reachable.


Set goals that you are able and willing to work toward. While you should always set goals that will challenge you to be better, it’s important to take a realistic approach. Too easy and you won’t feel a true sense of accomplishment. Too difficult and you set yourself up for failure. For example, if you don’t have any experience with long-distance running, it may not be wise to set a goal to complete a triathlon. That doesn’t mean you won’t complete a triathlon in the future. Try setting a goal to run a 5K first, and then build up to a more intense competition.


Give yourself a timeframe for accomplishing your goal. A timeline creates a measurable commitment to achieving your goal. Without it, there’s no sense of urgency and you’ll be less motivated to make it happen.

In setting a timeframe, there are a few things to consider. Does your goal need to be further broken down into sub-goals? In addition, you’ll need to figure out how much time you can commit each day/week in working toward your goal. For example, if you want to set a goal for running a 5K, your sub-goal may be to run for one-half hour five times a week for two weeks, then moving on to 45 minutes the next two weeks. In addition, make sure your current schedule allows for the time commitment needed to meet these goals.


Check in on your goals regularly. If you create sub-goals that are specific, measurable, and have a timeline, checking in should become a natural step of the process. This is the time to evaluate what’s working for you and what isn’t. You can readjust your goals if need be or create new ones. For example, if you’re overwhelmed with your goal to attend a fitness class three times a week because of your work schedule, adjust your goal to make it to class once a week. After you’ve successfully attended a class once a week for a month, adjust your goal again.

Once you have achieved your goals, make sure to enjoy this time, reward yourself, and continue to stay motivated for future goals. We want to challenge you to incorporate goal setting in to your day-to-day life. We believe that by following your SMART goals you can achieve success while navigating college and day-to-day life!

At Independence University, we are all about success and realizing your dreams. Kudos to our current students who work every day toward their goal of a better future. If you are not yet one of our awesome online students and would like to learn more about our career-focused degrees earned 100% online, Click Here.


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