University College

University College

Goal Setting for a New Year

Another year has arrived, and maybe you've begun to ask yourself what you want to achieve this year.  Around the start of a new year or new semester, we often think about resolutions or goals, but, as you've probably already noticed, a lot of these thoughts never materialize into action.  So let's make this year different.  Let's turn our resolutions into SMART goals that we can actually achieve.

So what's the difference between a resolution and a goal?

A resolution is a something we feel that we should change. Maybe it is something we feel guilty about (like gaining weight or spending too much money). Maybe its something we just want to change about ourselves (like studying more or managing our time better).  Regardless of the thing we've identified, a resolution is often a wish or a hope about something made out of guilt, envy, or the feeling that we should be behaving differently.  At its core, however, a resolution is often vague and comes with no real plan to achieve the thing we've identified.  When we just want to change for the sake of change, it rarely ever happens. 

By contrast, a goal is something that is specific and measurable.  It can be broken down into smaller steps that allow for an action plan, rather than just a hope for things to be better.  To really enact meaningful change in our lives, we need a goal, a plan to achieve that goal, and a time frame to keep us moving in a positive direction.  And perhaps most importantly, we need to prepare ourselves to make real changes in the way we do things.  This isn't always easy, but if you follow some simple steps, you can turn your resolution into an actual goal.

Creating SMART Goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely.  These five traits are essential to creating a proper goal.  First, though, we must understand what these letters actually mean.  When we say "Specific", we are referring to what you want to accomplish using as much detail as possible.  By structuring your goals with specific components, as opposed to generalized ideas of what you might want to achieve, you can better hold yourself accountable for actually reaching your goals.  A statement with very few specifics easily slips back into being a resolution that we all eventually ignore of discard because it has no mechanisms for accountability. 

"Measurable" refers to describing your goal in a way that can be evaluated or measured.  This measurability should be very specific and serve as a benchmark against which your overall success is measured.  For instance, if you are going to study more during the semester, you should begin by considering how much time you really need to devote to your classwork.  At UT Arlington, most advisors will recommend a ratio of two-hours outside of class for each hour spent in class.  So if you are taking a full-time schedule of 12 credit hours, then you will need to set aside 24 hours of study time outside of class.  This 24 hours will be the criteria against which you will measure whether you are meeting your goals. 

"Action-Oriented" refers to identifying the actions that may be taken rather than just focusing on personal qualities.  To illustrate this point, think back to a time when you have made a New Year's Resolution to do something like "be nicer" to a sibling.  How did that work out for you?  If you are like most people, you probably didn't make much progress toward this goal.  Why?  The answer is because you have nothing to really work toward.  You are who you are.  It is nearly impossibly to change your personality.  However, it is possible to do engage in certain actions that achieve the results for which you are looking.  For instance, if you had instead resolved to "spend 10 minutes each day for the next three months checking in with my sibling to see how they are doing", you can easily determine whether you are actually doing what you set out to achieve.  In the end, your brother or sister may believe you are being nicer to them, and you can hold yourself accountable for actually engaging them in conversation.

"Realistic" is a reminder that we need to identify a goal that we are actually capable of obtaining.  While it is true that we always want our goals to challenge us to reach for higher feats of success, we need to make sure that we possess the capacity to attain what we set out to do.  A goal that is beyond our capacity for achievement may actually be de-motivating in the long term.

Finally, "Timely" refers to a clearly specified completion date for reaching your goal.  This part of the SMART system is one of the most important components for keeping us on track for success.  While the end date for reaching our goal is important, it also enables us set shorter-term goals that will help us assess our progress toward achieving our goals.

Tips for Staying On-Track for Success
  • Break down larger, longer-term goals into shorter-term benchmarks so that you know if you are on-track for success.  Then be sure to reward yourself for achieving your benchmarks along the way.  If you fail to reach a benchmark, don't abandon your goal.  Just figure out what went wrong and create a solution to move you forward.
  • Tell your friends and family about your goals.  If you tell others, they can help keep your accountable for achieving your goals and help you celebrate your success.
  • Write down your goals and post them somewhere that you will see them every single day.  A visual reminder will help you remember what you're working toward.
  • Before you start your new quest, make a list of the benefits that you can refer back to later.  As you feel yourself starting to lose momentum, pull out that list again and remind yourself why you are doing all this.
  • Map out your progress.  Keeping a visual reminder of how far you've come. This can be highly motivating.
  • Reward yourself frequently for success.  You'll have to figure out what type of reward best motivates you, but giving yourself some sort of reward will help you push through those difficult times to help you reach your next milestone.
Downloadable Resources

Below are some resources to help you set and stick to some common goals that college students might make.  This list represents only a small sample of the resources available across campus.  If you're looking for an ally to help you achieve your goals, consider making an appointment with your advisor or a counselor who can help you identify other great resources.

  • Creating a To-Do List
  • Calculating your GPA or GPD
  • Creating a Four-Year Academic Plan
  • Freshman to Senior Year Academic Checklist
  • Exploring Career Opportunities
  • Time Log Template -- to make the best use of this resource, first spend a week tracking how you actually use your time.  Once you've done that, you can consider if you are making the best use of your time.  Perhaps you are spending too much time procrastinating, working, or engaging in other activities that are keeping you from reaching your goals.  Once you know how you are using your time, build a new schedule that will help you focus on maximizing your time.
  • Five-Day Study Plan -- this form will help you build a cohesive plan for preparing for your next exam.  To learn more about an effective Five-Day Study Plan, talk to an advisor or do an Internet search for "Five-Day Study Plan".
Resources Available On-Campus
  • Counseling Services -- offering a wide array of workshops and confidential personal counseling, Counseling Services is an excellent place to start when you are working on building your goals and putting together a plan to achieve them.
  • The Career Center -- with career fairs, resume help, and opportunities to speak with Career Counselors about getting on-track to the career you are searching for, the Career Center is an excellent first step in putting together a plan for your next step after graduation.
  • University Advising Center -- perhaps your grades aren't exactly where you want them to be or perhaps you are considering a major change, talking to an advisor can help you better understand policies and procedures and provide you with valuable information to help you achieve your goals.
  • Maverick Activities Center -- the MAC is not only a place to workout.  It is also a place to go for advice on fitness and nutrition.  If losing weight, dealing with stress, or getting involved are part of your goals, then the MAC is an excellent resource for you.
  • Student Health Center -- by now, you may know that you can go to the Health Center when you're sick, but did you know that the Health Center also offers workshops to help you quit smoking or make healthier decisions?  Now you do.
  • Financial Resource Center -- maybe you have decided that you need a little help managing your money or understanding the complex world of loans, credit and debt.  UT Arlington now offers free, individual financial counseling with a Certified Consumer Credit Counselor through the Financial Resource Center in Ransom Hall.
  • Student Governance and Organizations -- if getting more involved on campus is one of your goals, check out the list of student organizations available across campus.  This is a great way to gain leadership experience and build your resume.
  • Maverick Resource Hotline -- these are just a small portion of the many resources available from UT Arlington.  Don't see what you're looking for here?  Then check out the Maverick Resources page.  And if you have specific questions about resources on campus, feel free to contact the Maverick Resource Hotline.

No Limits: Foundations and Strategies for College Success. University of Texas at Arlington, 1st ed.

"What's the Difference between a New Years Resolution and a SMART Goal?"

"Making and Keeping New Years Resolutions"

Goal Setting