How to Set Goals and Stick to Them in the New Year

The start of a new year or a new semester can often restore your sense of motivation, and many people take advantage of that time to set goals.

The start of a new year or a new semester can often restore your sense of motivation, and many people take advantage of that time to set goals for the year ahead. There is an art to effective goal-setting, however. While there’s no harm in challenging yourself, you’re more likely to stick to your goals when you know you can be successful.

Here are five tips for setting and sticking to your goals:


The key to sticking with your goals is to make them challenging, but achievable. The SMART goal framework helps you establish goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Each of these criteria helps you think through your goals so that it’s easier for you to be successful.

For example, “getting good grades” is too vague to be a SMART goal because you don’t have a specific outcome to work toward, or a time frame in which you must achieve it. A better goal would be: “I want to get As in all of my courses this semester.” This goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

2. Make a game plan

Once you’ve decided on your goals, create a game plan for how you intend to achieve them. For example, if you want to get all As next semester, you will need to make sure you’re on top of all your assignments and prepared for each exam. That might involve setting aside time to study each day, planning out all of your due dates ahead of time, or setting a standing appointment with a tutor for extra help.

“When you set a goal, you need to hold yourself accountable and commit to specific actions in order to get what you want,” says Tina Shanahan, an assistant professor of English at Herzing University. “Start out with a straightforward objective and then break it down into smaller steps.”

3. Set short-term benchmarks

It’s not always easy to stay motivated, especially when accomplishing your goals seems to be a long way off. If you’re working toward a long-term goal, like getting a promotion or graduating college, you might find it helpful to create short-term goals along the way. These goals can be a part of your larger game plan and they should also follow the SMART goal format.

For example, if your main goal is to graduate and get a job in two years, a short-term goal could be securing a relevant internship in your last semester, or meeting with a career coach to practice certain interview skills. These steps move you toward your ultimate goal and give you something to focus on in the moment.

4. Track your progress

Another great way to stay motivated is to keep track of your progress and celebrate your successes along the way. Keep a journal of the steps you’re taking to move closer to your goal and what worked or didn’t work along the way.

Let’s say you do well on an exam in one of your more difficult courses. Take a moment to reflect on the steps you took that helped you be successful. If you didn’t do so well, use that time to reflect on what you can do differently next time.

5. Adjust your goals as needed

Don’t get discouraged if you find it difficult to get the results you want. Life happens and sometimes you have to modify your goals along the way. Herzing University student Shenese Stewart learned that it’s OK to follow a different path than your peers and classmates.

“In order to be successful, you have to make realistic adjustments for your life,” she says. “Don’t compare yourself to what other people are doing. Everyone's situation is different. Keep your eye on the prize.”