How to Set Realistic Goals (That You Can Actually Achieve)


By Staff Writer Published on November 2, 2013

What does this mean, unrealistic goals? Simply put, it means we bit off a goal bigger than we can chew. It means the goal is so big that we can’t possibly realize success quickly enough to sustain our courage and not give up.

So, how do we set realistic goals? It’s simple! I recommend using the acronym “SMART.” I’ll go ahead and walk you through what each letter stands for, as well as some tips for setting super-smart goals:

  • Specific

Don’t fall into the trap of setting vague goals. People often say they want to lose weight, but what does that mean? At what point have you reached your goal? When you’ve lost one pound? Fifty? Instead, set specific goals, such as, “I will lose five pounds a month for three months.”

    • TIPTo narrow down your goal and make it more specific, ask yourself “W” questions: Who, what, which, why, where, when?
  • Measurable

In the world of management we say, “If it cannot be measured, it cannot be done.” To achieve your goals, you need to establish metrics that make sense, e.g., “I will average two hours of uninterrupted study per day for each of my classes.”

    • TIP: To set a measurable goal, ask yourself a few questions: “How many or how much?” “How will I know I’ve completed the goal?” “What metrics should I use?”
  • Attainable

If you set a goal that requires a mammoth effort to achieve right at the start, then failure is assured. For instance, you could say, “I will get a perfect score on every assessment I take this year.” But, perhaps a better goal might be, “I will study and work to get 80% or better on every assessment I take this year.” Begin with attainable goals, and then as you achieve success, work to improve upon them.

    • TIP: Make sure your specific goal is something you can control (rather than something that is ultimately up to someone else, like your boss giving you a raise)
  • Realistic

Set goals for things you feel passionately about and that will hold your focus and attention for the duration. For example, if you struggle with math, it’s unrealistic to set a goal to become a nuclear physicist. Know where your strengths lie, what you have an aptitude for, and what you can realistically achieve in your program of study.

    • TIP: When setting realistic goals, do some soul-searching and don’t be afraid to abandon goals that aren’t relevant to your interests and where you want to go.
  • Time-bound

Make sure there is a time-oriented focus to your goals. Do not set a goal that has no set time frame for accomplishment. Your time frames must make sense and be realistic. For example, you can’t expect to finish your bachelor’s degree in six months. It’s just not possible.

    • TIP: Most people underestimate how long it will take them to complete a task (this phenomenon even has a name: it’s called The Planning Fallacy). Give yourself a little more time than you think you’ll need.

Get Help Setting Smart Goals

One more thing that will help you set SMART goals: meet with your Academic Adviser or your Program Coach to help you decide which goals are best for you. Independence University assigns every student excellent advisers and coaches. Tell them about your short-term and your long-term goals for your program of study, and then take their advice on how to make them SMART.


Author Bio
Ken Wallin is an instructor at Independence University. He teaches business and management courses. He spent fifteen years in the management consulting industry and was a small-business owner. He served a collective 21 years in the US Air Force and US Army. He was an Airborne Infantry Officer, Psychological Operations Officer, and a Civil Affairs Officer.

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