SMART Goal Setting for Teens

Turning over a new leaf doesn’t just belong to New Year’s Day.  Goal Setting and celebrating achievements are the markers of successful lives.  SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound. Here’s how to set SMART goals for yourself and make certain of your success.

We all have goals for our lives.  They are the things we want for ourselves that we don’t yet have.  Some of our goals are short term, we can get them quite quickly like eating less chocolate or going to bed by 10pm.  Other goals take more time and need to be broken down into smaller steps like improving a maths grade by 15% or getting a driver’s licence.  Goals are not the same as dreams for our life which tend to be much bigger and more general -like I want to be rich and famous and have my photo on the front of a major magazine.  Dreams involve a large dollop of wild imagination.  Goals balance imagination with careful planning.

Teens often find that other people also have goals for their lives.  Mom wants me to be a doctor, my maths teacher wants me to talk less in class, my boyfriend wants me to grow my hair long… There is only one thing to say about other people’s goals, they belong to other people.  Only you have the power to change you and that power comes from wanting it for yourself.  What do you want?

To understand more about goal setting the SMART way, let’s take the examples of Ruby who wants to do better at school and Mpho who wants to save up for a scooter.

Specific – A specific goal often has numbers attached to it.  When Ruby tells me “I want to do better at school”.  I will ask her, “By how much and by when?  If your goal isn’t specific, how will you know when you get there”?  Ruby tells me that she wants to win an award for being in the top 10.  That is specific!  Mpho tells me he wants to buy a second hand scooter that costs R5000.

Measurable – There is nothing quite so good as knowing you are on the way to attaining your goal.  But how will you know if you can’t measure it?  Where are you now?  What can you achieve?  Where would you like to be?  How will you know when you get there?  Ruby tells me she is ranked 23rd.  She gets a ranking on her report each term so she can see if she is improving compared to other people.  Mpho tells me that he has R500 in the bank already so he needs to save another R4500.

Attainable – Attainable means that it is within your ability.   If Ruby is already working as hard as she can with as many extra lessons as she can fit in to her week, then it is probably not attainable for her to improve her place.  When I ask her about this she tells me that she no one helps her with homework or extra lessons but her cousin has offered.  She also tells me that she only really studies for tests the night before but she could spend more time on studying.  In Ruby’s case, attainable applies to her academic ability but for Mpho I might be asking about his ability to earn the money needed.

Realistic – So Ruby COULD achieve this goal, but does she really want to?  Has she thought about what it will cost her to miss watching her favourite TV series whilst she has tutoring or what it will be like to turn off her phone so she can study?  Whilst Mpho might be able to earn R4500, has he thought about the costs he will have during that time?  Can he save all the money he earns?

Time Bound – By when does Ruby want to be in the top 10?  By when does Mpho want to have this scooter?  If they answer “one day” then they are back in the realm of imagination.  SMART goals have an end date that realistically takes into account the time that will be needed.  If the goal is going to take some time to reach then there might be smaller steps worked into the plan.  For example, Mpho might save up for a helmet and riding gear first, then pay for his licence, then learn to ride on a friend’s bike and finally save up for the actual scooter.

Now it’s your turn.  Get out a pen and commit your plan to paper.

  1. Write down a specific goal
  2. How will you measure your steps to success?
  3. Explain in detail how you will attain your goal. If you are breaking it down into steps, explain the steps.
  4. What will it cost you, what will you give up to attain your goal? Is this realistic for you?
  5. By when do you want this goal achieved?

Tell someone about the goal you are setting and take the first step towards success.  Focus on your achievements and look for reasons to celebrate.  Keep reminding yourself of where you are headed.  Write it up on your bedroom wall or on the screen saver of your phone.  You are your number one cheer squad so don’t get down on yourself if your plan needs adjusting.  Tell yourself that flexibility is a sign of emotional health and mistakes are all part of the learning process.

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