How To Start A New Semester Right: Set Goals in Life and Achieve Them (For Students)

It’s a new semester and you want to start it off right… right? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right article. I believe that the best way to start off a new year and a new semester is by setting goals. However, you have to set goals properly unless you want to become just another statistic. Most students do not set goals at the beginning of each semester and I believe they are doing themselves a huge disservice. In this article I’ll go over why you should set goals, and how to set goals and achieve them. 

01 | Why You Should Set Goals

Study after study shows that setting personal goals improve our performance. Though, I don’t think we need studies to tell us that. Intuitively, we know that setting goals will help us accomplish more things. That’s the reason so many of us set goals for every new year. But, did you know that only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions?! We all want success in life and to be better than we were yesterday. Sadly, few of us actually make any immense progress year after year. Why is that? In my opinion, it’s due to a lack of PROPER goal setting. Think of setting goals like drawing a map. The more detailed your map is, the better you can navigate your way to your destination. Now, imagine if you're lazy and skip over details when creating the map. At the very best, you delay the amount of time it takes to get to your destination; at the very worst, you discourage yourself from going on the journey completely. Suppose I drew a map for you and the nearest town only appeared a few kilometres to the east. Little did you know, I didn’t draw all the rivers, mountains, and obstacles that make the journey 10 times longer than it appears! Even worse, imagine if the town you wanted to go to was to the west and not to the east! This may seem silly but this is what we do every new year. We make inaccurate or un-detailed maps for ourselves and sabotage our own success. The first time we come across an uncharted mountain, we decide to head back home. My hopes are that this article will help you construct a useful map to your destination in life.  

02 | Stretch Goals

The first exercise in goal setting is writing down stretch goals. There are only two steps: 

1. Choose several different categories that you want to set goals in, for your life. For example, mine would be:

  • health 
  • business 
  • relationships 

Yours may also include: 

  • travel 
  • personal 
  • volunteering 
  • hobby (music, sport, etc.) 
  • etc.  

2. Be bold with the goals that you write. 

They HAVE to seem out of reach or even unrealistic. Don’t pick goals that seem like you CAN achieve them. For example, one of my goals for 2017 is hitting 200k subscribers on YouTube. There’s definitely a possibility that I can hit 100k but 200k seems like a stretch.

I think Kanye said it best when he said,

“Shoot for the stars, so if you fall you land on a cloud.”

This step is about dreaming big and aiming high. Write down all the crazy, and amazing things that you want to accomplish in the year. Let go of your ego. Don’t tell yourself, “oh I can’t do this” or “how would I even accomplish that”? No. Just don’t think about it and write down everything as it comes to you. 

03 | SMART Goals

So, this is where things get a little more concrete. What are SMART goals? It’s an acronym that stands for: 

Specific: Make sure your goal is not overly vague or ambiguous. Get specific with the details! This means answering who, what, where, when, why, and how! 

Measurable: If you follow my work, you know how important I believe measurement is to developing good habits! In order to achieve our goals, we have to make them habits. That means quantifying and measuring our progress.  

Achievable: Can this goal actually be done? For example, jumping over a basketball hoop is not achievable. I can get specific about it, and measure how high I can jump but I will never be able to jump over a basketball hoop. This goal is unachievable.  

Realistic: Is the goal realistic for you? Improving your basketball skills, and going to the NBA may be achievable and realistic if you’re already a top-notch basketball player in college. However, if you’re just Joe-Shmo and have never played basketball before then this goal is unrealistic. 

Time-Based: Assign a timeline or a due date.  

Now, for each of our stretch goals we want to break them down into smaller sub-goals. Keep breaking your stretch goals down until it is something within your control. For example, I can’t say that my sub-goal is to get 20 000 subscribers by the end of March 2017 (Q1). The number of people who subscribe to me is out of my control. However, I can say that I will publish weekly videos that are of high quality. If I produce enough high-quality videos, I can expect a growth in my daily subscriber rate. After breaking your stretch goals down into sub-goals that are within your control, apply the SMART framework. The timeline for all of my goals will be the first quarter of 2017 (Q1) but you can use whatever timeline you want. Let’s take a look back at the YouTube example I used. 

Goal 1: Get 200 000 subscribers on YT by the end of the year.

Sub-Goal 1-1: Get 20 000 subscribers on YT

Sub-Goal 1-1-1: Publish weekly videos that are high of high quality and promote them through all social channels. 

Specific: Get 20 000 subscribers on YouTube, in Q1, by publishing high-quality videos every week. All videos will be focused on inspiring and helping the next generation of engineers. 

Measurable: I will be measuring my subscriber count and video count in order to meet this goal. Both quantities are easily measure on YouTube. By the end of Q1 I should have published around 12 more videos. 

Attainable: This goal is definitely attainable because there are hundreds of channels with more than 20K subscribers. I have also seen many channels get at least 20K subscribers in a very short period of time (less than a year). 

Realistic: I am already projected to have around 15K-16K subscribers near the end of March. I know that I can realistically publish a video each week because I have done it before. I believe that I can also land some collaborations because I have a sizeable and growing audience that others can tap into and I create quality content. 20K subscribers by the end of Q1 is definitely a realistic goal. 

Time-Based: This goal is set to be complete by the end of March (first quarter of 2017). At this point, I will gauge my progress and reevaluate my goals. 

That is how you properly set a goal. You aim high and then break it down into realistic and manageable chunks. You create a map for how you’re going to get to your destination. Using the same process, break down all of your stretch goals. This may take some time to complete. I wrote a total of 9 goals for 2017 and it took me 2-3 hours to complete the whole process. 

04 | Daily Review

Now, take a list of all your goals for Q1 - or whatever timeline you specified - and throw them into a single, printable document. Every morning when you wake up, take a look at your Q1 goals. This is to remind you of what you are trying to accomplish and to help reframe your mindset. Plan out what you want to do for the day, based on what will help you achieve your Q1 goals. This ensures that your daily actions reflect your values. 

05 | Quarterly Review

At the end of the quarter - or whatever time you specified - examine your progress. Did you meet your goals? Did you completely smash them? Did you fall short? Your progress will determine your future actions. 

If you smashed your goals: You didn’t aim high enough. Set higher stretch goals for the year and break them down into SMART goals again. 

If you fell short: You aimed way too high and run the risk of discouraging yourself. Lower your stretch goals a bit, and break them down using SMART goals. 

If you met your goals: You’re doing fantastic and on track to hitting your goals. Set new SMART goals for Q2 and carry on.  

At the end of every quarter, go through this process. 

That's how you set goals properly. Hopefully, this article has helped you out! Usually, I would end the article with a question. I might ask, "what are your goals for 2017”? But, in his insightful Ted Talk, Derek Sivers argued that sharing your goals makes it LESS likely that you will complete them. The simple act of sharing your goals gives you a dopamine rush. This makes you feel like you already made progress but makes you less likely to make real progress.

So, keep your goals to yourself and crush them this year!!