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Learning To Learn

How To Set Goals That Are Inspiring – and Attainable

Jovan MedfordLast Edited: 2021-03-11
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Goals are your guiding light.

They are your power source at the beginning of a new journey. More importantly, they are the fuel that recharges you after that initial rush goes away.

Unfortunately, setting goals properly is challenging. It takes a while for you to narrow down your thoughts to a couple of actionable ideas.

First, we’ll take a second to think about why you should set goals. Afterwards, we’ll dive into how to do it.

If you want, you can look at some examples of SMART goals.

Benefits of Putting Real Effort Into Setting A Goal

A properly set goal gives you direction, focus and a renewing motivation.

Additionally, a proper goal can:

Save You Time

When you only have an idea, it’s hard to decide what you need to do on a given day, to make that idea a reality. A clearly defined goal is easy to plan around, so you have to make less decisions in the long run.

Validate Your Dream

After you’ve committed to really nailing down all aspects of your goal, now it seems real.

The mental shift here is golden. Now you know within yourself that you are genuinely trying to achieve something. It’s hard to stop you from there.

Bless Your Future Self

Even if you don’t quite make it, your future self will thank you for the progress you’ve made. It’s almost impossible to take a genuine stab at achieving a goal and get nothing out of it.

How To Set a Structure For Your Goals

If you’ve never heard of it before, we’ll be walking through the S.M.A.R.T model of setting a goal. Really work through each step by writing your thoughts down.

Don’t do the whole thing at one time, do it in parts. Furthermore, you should feel free to change or refine your goal over time.

Here is the smart model of setting great goals:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Achievable
  4. Relevant
  5. Time-Bound

Set Specific Goals

The quickest way to end up demotivated is to set a really broad goal.

“I want to learn a new instrument” – right.

Learning an instrument is a tough thing to do.

Respecting the difficulty of the goal that you are setting will help you to align your expectations with reality. In order to be respectful, you need to be clear on exactly what you want to achieve.

While at first this may seem daunting, in the long run it helps you to be more patient with yourself when the going gets tough.

For example, it might be better to say:

“I want to learn to play limerick on guitar in the next 3 months” – now we’re talking.

A tip to help you narrow down your goal would be to use the 5 W’s.

Use the 5 W’s

Your goal should be specific enough to answer these questions:

  • What do I wish to achieve?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who else is involved?
  • Where do I need to be?
  • Which obstacles can I expect?

Example: I will lose 8 pounds in a month by running on the treadmill each day for an hour and a half.

This example might be a little extreme, but the idea is to really be specific.

Find Ways to Measure Your Progress

This is a tricky one. The main purpose of measuring your goals is to make sure you are heading in the right direction. A good measuring system will be able to let you know objectively if you are making progress.

Do not obsess over your measurements.

Sometimes it gets tough when the results aren’t showing. Naturally, we all get a little discouraged if we feel like we are stuck.

However, here’s a secret – it doesn’t matter very much if you are noticing a lot of progress. As long as you remain consistent the results will come.

It does matter however, in determining whether or not your approach is leading you towards your goal. When you measure a goal, you are trying to make sure that your process will eventually align with your outcome.

Be Careful What You Measure

In a worst case scenario, your measurement might suggest that you are making progress when that may not be the case.

For instance, many programmers fall into a trap called ‘Tutorial Hell.”

In this case they’ve taken lots of courses, but they are having trouble doing anything on their own.

If they were measuring their dream of becoming a professional programmer by the number of courses they took, then they would be inaccurately measuring their progress.


Here’s where you really want to splash some cold water on your face.

Usually goal setting can be exciting. It can cause us to rush into things without a good plan.

This is the stage that requires you to be realistic.

Notice that this is not the same as being pessimistic, in which case you are giving up on a dream without giving it a real thought.

Here are the factors you’ll want to consider:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Skills
  • Effort on your end
  • Requirements of other people

What To Do If My Goal Is Not ‘Achievable’?

If your goal is not achievable at a first glance, try it again.

Many times this is our fear of discomfort kicking in once we start to fill out the details.

The best thing to do, is to really consider why it’s not achievable. You should also try to talk it over with someone who you know will give you an honest opinion.

If it’s not currently attainable, think about what you need to do to make it attainable. Sometimes our constraints just require us to make a greater sacrifice or to get a little creative.

Never give up on a goal before giving a really serious thought as to why. Even then, I would much prefer you to defer your goal – with a date in mind on when to revisit.


Your goal needs to matter to you.

This may be an internal motivation – e.g wanting to achieve something.

Or it can be an external motivation in a case where someone else is depending on you.

The key here is that you cannot set a goal on something that you feel indifferent towards.

This is the big ‘WHY am I doing this?’ question.

For instance, a lot of students wonder why should they pursue an education when jobs are not guaranteed.

This is a legitimate concern and a major demotivator when it comes to getting students in a study rhythm.

This is why it’s so important for us to help students expand their understanding of education in itself.


The last and most important point. Your goals need a deadline.

As students, we all fall into the trap of doing it today if it’s due tomorrow.

But what happens if it isn’t due at all?

For most of the dreams that we want to achieve we fail to attach a reasonable timeline to them. So we are never able to gauge how much we need to do on a given day to keep those dreams alive. In the end we either burn out or just lose focus.

Step 1. Set a Deadline

With a deadline in place your goal has more urgency to you. This is important because now you’ll start to give it higher priority amongst all the hundreds of things that are going on in your life.

Example: “I want to be good at algebra in 4 months.”

Step 2. Work Backwards

After establishing your deadline, you’ll want to divide up the time you have left into periods.

Now you can roughly outline how much you need to do in each time period in order to reach your goal.

E.g: “I want to learn the basics of a new programming language.”

  • January: Learn basic syntax
  • February: Learn control flow and loops
  • March: Learn how to use functions
  • April: Complete a small self project

Furthermore, at the beginning of each month you would do a similar outline for weekly goals. Even daily and hourly goals if you so desire.

Step 3. Relax

If you miss a day, or you fall behind a week – don’t stress. You can always adjust your timelines as needed.

On the contrary, if you are having to adjust often, then you may need to assess whether you are giving yourself enough time to reach your goals.

If you are still having trouble, you may need to revisit the structure of your original goal and refine your process.


Goals are a real lifeforce. They can propel us to achieve things that we would otherwise barely attempt. Even in a case where you don’t make it, you’re almost always better off for trying.

Good luck!