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Learning Portal - Learning Online: Setting Goals

Setting Goals 

Whether you’re trying to accomplish your greatest dream or just get off the couch, this module will help you to set and achieve your goals.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” -- Zig Ziglar

Top Tips 

 Write down your goals! The act of actually writing down your goals makes them more “real” and gives you something concrete to refer to.

✓ Get SMART. When goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Oriented, and Time-Based), you’ll have a better sense of how to tackle them.

✓  Follow your interests. Rather than setting goals that you think you “should” set, think about what you actually want for yourself and set goals around that. 

✓  Goal setting, not fretting. Figuring out your life goals can feel overwhelming. It’s important to think carefully about your goals, but remember that nothing is set in stone -- your plans are a work in progress because so are you.

✓  Start somewhere.  When you’re feeling defeated, completing short-term goals can give you experience, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment.

✓  Treat yo’self.  When you’re not seeing the results of all your hard work, create a positive, immediate consequence by giving yourself a small reward.

✓ Make time for your goals.  Keep an agenda and make sure you have specific times set aside to work towards your goals.

Reward Yourself to Improve Your Motivation 

There are two types of consequences:

  • Immediate consequence: A result of your goal that happens immediately. This can be natural (like when someone claps at your presentation), or a reward that you’ve created for yourself (like a treat after you go to the gym).
  • Delayed consequence: A result that may take days, weeks, months, or even years to happen, like graduating from a program.

It can be difficult to persist when you aren’t seeing the benefits of all your hard work. In fact, studies have shown that immediate consequences are better motivators than delayed consequences.

So if you find that you’re struggling to stay motivated, try tricking your brain by creating some immediate consequences for your goals.

Introduction to Setting Goals 

Watch the video (The Learning Portal Ontario, 2017) or follow the steps below to learn how to set goals.


You’ve been outside in the wilderness for hours. You’re hungry, tired, and wet -- you keep thinking the sun is going to appear, but then it starts to pour again. You’re starting to feel lost, but you know you’re headed towards food, shelter, and dry socks. You know this because you’re following your compass due north, towards the car.

You’re probably not navigating the woods right now, but you might be feeling just as overwhelmed.

[A man stands in a park and sighs in frustration.] A goal can act as a compass -- it can guide you.

Goals may be tiny in scale, like completing a reading for class, or they can be much more complex, like landing a job in your field. Achieving your goals -- big or small -- gives you experience as well as a sense of accomplishment, and provides you with the skills to deal with unexpected future roadblocks.  [The man leaps over a hurdle.] Plus, when problems arise, goals help us to remember why we need to push through. [The man pushes a large block in his path.]

This module will help you to set your compass: clear, realistic goals to help guide your journey through life.

[Thanks for watching. For more information, visit skills. This module was created by Algonquin College for use by The Learning Portal.]

How to write SMART goals

Unclear goals can be difficult to achieve since you can’t always tell how to accomplish them. SMART goals take away this confusion.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Results-Oriented
  • Time-Based


For example: 

Unclear goal: Work out more.

  • The unclear goal is difficult to achieve since you can’t really tell how to accomplish it. What does “more” mean? What does “work out” mean?

SMART goal: Run 3 kilometres on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week to improve my mood, energy, and cardiovascular health.

  • The SMART goal, on the other hand, lays out an action plan. You don’t need to make the decision every day of how to work out, and tracking your progress will be easy.


Step 1: 

  1. Check out our sections (tabs) on Writing SMART Goals, Long-Term Goals, and Short-Term Goals.
  2. Use the activities below to set a few goals for yourself:

Step 2:

  1. Check out our sections (tabs) on Fine-Tuning Your Motivation and Reframing Your Goals.
  2. Use the activities below to fine-tune or reframe your goals to improve your chances of success:

How to Set Long-Term Goals

Watch the video or follow the steps below to learn how to set long-term goals. Video by The Learning Portal and College Libraries Ontario, 2017. 

Long-term goals are goals that take a long time to accomplish -- perhaps several years, or even decades. Examples of long-term goals are things like becoming a carpenter, learning French, or starting a family.

These goals can be intimidating, so it can help to break them down into a series of short-term goals. This can make challenging long-term goals seem more do-able.


I have a question for you. “What are your lifetime goals?” No pressure.

You might be able to answer this right away [image of speech bubbles with people responding, “Raise a family!” “Own a business!” “Travel the world!”]  or you might find it a bit more challenging. That’s okay in fact, studies have shown that many people don’t know exactly what they want from life.

Still, it’s important to think about life goals. They help you to see the big picture and understand why you’re doing what you’re doing on a daily basis, especially when you’re struggling to remember why you ever thought this was a good idea.

So take a moment to consider what you really want to do over your lifetime. What do you love doing? What have you always dreamed of doing? Write it down. It’s okay if these goals seem far-off, you have years to achieve them, so make them lofty but reasonable. Maybe you won’t be Anderson Cooper himself, but you want to be a journalist, working on-air in television for a major news network.

So how do you achieve this goal? One helpful strategy is to work backwards, creating short-term goals that will help you to get you closer to these long-term, lifetime goals. Before you work at a major network, you’ll probably need to get some experience. A good goal for the next 3-5 years might be to work as a journalist for a smaller, local newscast.

Scale back from there. What do you need to do in order to get that job? These might be one or two year-goals, like graduating from a journalism program. What do you need to do to graduate? Well, you should probably finish that Photojournalism assignment that’s due on Thursday. When we align our short and long-term goals, not only do we have something to look forward to, we better understand the significance of things facing us right now that we either don’t want to do or are struggling with.

So try it out. Brainstorm some lifetime goals, and break them down into smaller, more actionable goals. The things you can do right now to help you someday achieve your greatest dreams.

How to Set Short-Term Goals 

Watch the video or follow the steps below to learn how to set short-term goals. Video by The Learning Portal and College Libraries Ontario, 2017. 

Short-term goals are things that you can accomplish in the near future -- maybe in the next year, month, week, day, or hour.

These goals can help you achieve your long-term goals, working as stepping stones to bigger accomplishments.

Sometimes, though, you will have short-term goals that don’t clearly fit into your long-term plans: for example, having a clean apartment. These goals aren’t exciting, but they’re a necessary part of life. When you feel overwhelmed, defeated, or unmotivated about daily tasks, a to-do list can help you break down these goals and develop an action plan.


While it's healthy and important to think about long-term plans, realistically there are going to be moments where you are simply struggling to stay afloat.

The key in these moments is to start somewhere creating short-term goals to get you through the semester, month, week, day, or even just the hour.

When you're facing a challenge or a setback, daily tasks that once felt easy might start to feel insurmountable.

Maybe you’re feeling extremely isolated and your goal is simply to make 3 new friends at school this year.

Consider what needs to be done to get there.

Break it down to the simplest of actions.

So maybe today, you're just going to say "Hi" to five people you don't know.

Then, next week, you'll ask one of these people to go for coffee after class and get to know them better.

You may also be facing the challenge of things you're suddenly expected to do but have never done before.

Creating a to-do list can help you to achieve these daunting, but sometimes boring, short-term goals, like filing your taxes for the first time.

Break it down into smaller steps--like Googling how to do your taxes, collecting your T4 and creating a CRA account.

Tackle these small tasks one at a time.

Interestingly, you may eventually find that your short-term goals align with your longer-term goals--

like, having friends at school actually helps you academically as well as emotionally.

But even if your short and long-term goals never fully match up, setting and achieving short-term goals can give you a sense of accomplishment and confidence as you build your skills... until you finally realize, you've handled this stuff before and you can do it again.

[Thanks for Watching! For more Info visit tlp-lpa/study-skills]

Fine-tune your motivation to reach your goals

Watch the video or follow the steps below to learn about different types of motivation. Video by The Learning Portal and College Libraries Ontario, 2017. 


If you have a goal that you are finding super hard to achieve, it might be time to take a hard look at what is motivating you. Why is this one of your goals? How is it going to help you in your life?

Let’s take a look at Christine. Christine is trying to find a job, but it’s just not happening. She’s tired and busy and it keeps plummeting to the bottom of her to-do list.

When Christine asks herself why she’s trying to find a job, the first thing that comes to mind is her parents. They’ve really been pressuring her lately to find part-time work. Of course, she wants her parents to stop bugging her, but chances are this is not going to spark the motivation she needs to turn on her computer and send out some resumes. Christine should instead think about how achieving this goal will make her feel. She’s applying for service jobs, which makes sense because she really likes helping people, so working this kind of a job would give her a feeling of enjoyment and purpose. Working on a team would also give her a sense of belonging. These internal rewards are extremely powerful motivators, so once Christine figures out what they are, she can focus on them to be more successful with her job finding.

Internal reasons for achieving a goal are called intrinsic motivators, and external reasons are called extrinsic motivators. So, in the example we just talked about, pressure from Christine’s parents is an extrinsic motivator, while feelings like enjoyment, purpose and belonging are intrinsic motivators. There is nothing wrong with the occasional extrinsic motivator. You can’t avoid them. But outside rewards like money, grades, or others’ approval shouldn’t be your only reason for wanting to achieve a goal. So if you examine your reasons and find that you are only extrinsically motivated, it may be time to seriously reconsider that goal. Maybe it’s not an appropriate goal for you, and you need to set a different one. On the other hand, if you find that you are both extrinsically and intrinsically motivated to complete your goal, it can help to simply shift your perspective. Focus on the intrinsic motivators, the rewards that come from inside yourself, to give you the extra push you need to finally complete tough goals.

Not Achieving Your Goals? Find the Right Motivation

There are two types of motivation:

  • Intrinsic motivation: motivation that comes from inside yourself (e.g, confidence, happiness)

  • Extrinsic motivation: motivation that comes from outside yourself (e.g. money, approval)

Extrinsic motivation is normal, but should not be your only reason. Intrinsic motivation has been proven to lead to stronger performance.

Ask yourself why you're trying to achieve a goal. If you are mostly extrinsically motivated, adjust your approach:

  • Try to find an intrinsic reason, and focus on that.

  • If you can’t, consider whether you may need to set some new goals.

How to Reframe Your Goals 

Watch the video or follow the steps below to learn how to reframe your goals. Video by The Learning Portal and College Libraries Ontario, 2017. 


If you’re struggling to achieve a goal, it can help to take a look at whether it’s about approaching something or avoiding something. Are you trying to achieve a good outcome, or are you trying to avoid a bad outcome? These are usually two sides of the same coin.

For example, Tony has been trying to raise his hand more in class. An approach goal might be to share your thoughts more often in class, [the words reward and improve appear on screen] while an avoidance goal would be to stop being so afraid to raise your hand. [The words fear and consequence appears on screen] Both of these goals move towards the same basic idea of communicating more often, but they are framed very differently. One works towards a good thing happening, while the other avoids a bad thing.

When we frame our goals as approach goals, we feel more positive and more likely to succeed. If you find that many of your goals are about avoiding something, take a few moments to write some new goals centred around positive outcomes.

[Three goals are written on a list. “Don’t get scared when speaking in public”, “Make fewer mistakes in my assignments”, and “Avoid getting spooked by ghosts”. They are replaced with “Improve public speaking skills”, “Become a better writer”, and “Befriend ghosts”]

Not Achieving Your Goals? Find the Right Approach

Approach goals work towards a good outcome, while avoidance goals work to keep something bad from happening.

Approach goals are generally more successful than avoidance goals, so consider whether your goals are approaching or avoiding something. Then, turn your avoidance goals into approach goals for better success.

For Example:

Avoidance goal: Exercise 3 times a week to avoid heart disease.

Approach goal: Exercise 3 times a week to feel more healthy and energetic.

The overall goal is the same, but while the avoidance goal centres on fears about illness, the approach goal focuses on how great it will feel to have more energy.