Want to increase your motivation? Start by setting SMART goals!

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When I was 16, I started my first job hunt. I was eager to start working and earn my own money – and along with it, my independence. I followed a generic cover letter and resume template online to get myself started and felt proud that I was finally on my way.

Then I hit a dead-end. There was no template for applying to jobs in Winnipeg. Where would I start? Who was hiring, and how could I find out? Would employers want to hire a teenager with no prior experience? I suddenly felt very overwhelmed and started to lose motivation.

I realized that the big goal, finding a job, was so intimidating that I was getting stuck. In order to take the next step, I needed to break it down into one manageable step at a time. I had already made my cover letter and resume, which was a great place to start. I then began looking at job-hunting as a series of smaller, realistic goals rather than worrying about the finish line.

If I had not shifted my perspective, I would likely have remained stuck in a rut with no motivation to continue my search. Setting small, incremental goals is truly what propelled me forward towards motivation and success.

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What is motivation?

Motivation is what drives us forward and allows the actions needed to achieve success. There are many factors involved in building motivation, but it can generally be viewed in two main forms:

  • Extrinsic motivation is when an individual is motivated by outside forces such as rewards, obligations, or punishments.
  • Intrinsic motivation occurs within an individual when they wish to achieve internal satisfaction.

Although often harder to achieve, intrinsic motivation is the more powerful version. This is because it has longer-lasting effects compared to extrinsic motivation which only occurs when an external motivator is present.

How can we maintain our motivation?

All types of motivation help us to accomplish big and small tasks in our lives. However, while working towards these milestones, it can be easy to lose sight of where we are headed and diminish our motivation. There are several components to keeping our motivation high in order to be successful.

These include:

  • Inspiration. We must first feel inspired to move into action towards accomplishing a task. Once we have a strong idea of what we want to achieve, we can begin to work towards success.
  • Passion. No matter what we are trying to accomplish, it must be something we care about. Passion lights the fire of motivation.
  • Support. Having a support system is what allows many of us to continue forward when the going gets tough. Our support system is there to provide the encouragement we need to navigate around obstacles.
  • Challenge. We naturally strive to overcome challenges. If we wish to accomplish something, the challenge needs to be at the right level. Too high, and we lose motivation due to an unrealistic potential outcome. Too low, and we lose sight of the value, becoming indifferent towards the outcome.
  • Attitude. It may be tough but maintaining a positive outlook will help us to persist and have the patience to see the long-term effects of our efforts.

We can maintain these aspects of motivation by setting goals for our future. These goals need to have structure so that we can always keep our eye on the target outcome. An effective way to provide that structure and define your goals is called the “SMART” method.

What is a SMART goal?

The concept of SMART goals was created in 1981 by George T. Doran. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Based. Let’s break down each part of the acronym:

  • Specific: Your goal should include as much detail as possible while being narrowed down to one single task to accomplish. If there is more than one task involved, split them into multiple goals.
  • Measurable: Evidence of your accomplishments should be identifiable along the way. You should be able to measure your success based on criteria that indicate you are on the right track.
  • Attainable: Your goal should be realistic. If a goal we set out to achieve is not remotely possible for us, we will never be successful.
  • Relevant: Your goal should directly lead to milestones that are currently important in your life. You must decide if your goal is something that will enhance your life and is necessary to begin working towards.
  • Time-Based: Your goal should have a time limit. Setting deadlines for yourself will keep you on track and help you avoid a decrease in motivation.

How can we create short-term and long-term goals?

Now that we have looked deeper into the components of SMART goals, we can apply that framework to our own personal short- and long-term goals.

A short-term goal is one that has near-immediate effects. It can be worked towards fairly quickly and will be accomplished soon after it is set.

A long-term goal is one that will not be accomplished until further into the future. It requires the longest-lasting motivation to work towards and will probably involve several steps.

Short-term goals may be grouped together to help work towards a long-term goal. To illustrate this, let’s think about my past job-hunting challenges. My long-term goal was to obtain employment. Short and sweet, yet it was not a SMART goal. If I were to turn this into a long-term SMART goal, it may be re-worded to sound more like the following:

My goal is to obtain employment at a small business in my neighbourhood before the end of the school year by creating a cover letter and resume, visiting local businesses in person, and speaking with employers about potential opportunities.

This goal is as specific as possible, measurable because it includes indicators of success, attainable considering my skillset, relevant to my personal needs, and time-based because I set a strict deadline.

Once I created my long-term goal, I could have created many short-term goals for each step along the way. One example of this could be worded as:

My goal is to drive to at least three neighbourhood businesses on Saturday morning to speak with the managers about job opportunities and offer my cover letter and resume.

Again, this goal is specific and gives details about one task, measurable because I have committed to a certain number of businesses to visit, attainable given the time frame, relevant because it directly relates to my long-term employment goal, and time-based because I had set an exact time-frame in which I would achieve this task.

Motivation is a tricky door to unlock, but behind it lies a world of opportunity. We must work hard to maintain our motivation, and setting goals is key. The SMART goals method outlines the elements that our goals should include to keep us moving towards positive, meaningful changes. This template can be applied to any goal we want to achieve in our lives and should be an integral part of life planning. With SMART goal setting, we can make our goals more manageable by narrowing down our objectives and focusing primarily on what drives us forward.

Now, which goals are you going to turn into SMART goals?

Author: Chelsea Guindon

Works Cited

Kasschau, R.A.. (2008). Understanding Psychology. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill.

MindTools.com. (2019). SMART goals: How to make your goals achievable. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm

Motivation Ping. (n.d.). Short term vs long term goals. Retrieved from https://motivationping.com/short-term-long-term-goals/

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