1.1: What is a goal?

A goal is defined simply as an aim or desired outcome. There are different types of goals to choose from based on the circumstance.

Types of a Goal

  • Short-term: less than 1 year
  • Long-term: 1 or more years away
  • Lifetime: timing varies

A series of short-term goals often help someone reach a long-term goal. Long-term goals are multi-step and can become lifetime things that are meant to help us self-actualize over time.

Parts of a Goal

There are multiple ways to work through developing a goal. One of the most popular approaches is to make what are called SMART goals (Doran, 1981). Many organizations use this type of method to help employees and advisees generate workable objectives.


Specific - Goals that are too vague are difficult to make a plan for, so you want it to be explicit.

Measurable - You need to be able to determine where you are on your goal. Lose weight vs Lose 3 pounds; Get better grades vs Raise math grade from C- to B; Speak at conferences vs Be a guest speaker at least 2 times

Attainable - You increase your odds of success when you set goals that are reachable. This is not the same as setting “easy” goals. On the contrary, a goal can be very difficult but still attainable.

For example, if you are embarking upon a new career, setting a goal to be an executive within one year is not attainable. Instead, your first goal might be acquiring a mid-management position after 12-18 months of successful tenure. This is a difficult task but depending on your work ethic, good fortune, and future opportunities, it is possible.

Now, there are people who believe that suggesting attainability means playing it safe. That’s a valid criticism, so I encourage my advisees to assess themselves and make a decision on whether to dismiss this particular part of the goal.

Relevant - How will your goal move you forward? There is a difference between “bucket list” goals and academic, professional, life, etc. goals and aspirations. I speak to relevance specifically when I’m working with clients on crafting their life visions. Rather than always moving through life haphazardly, it helps to have some 30,000-foot views of who you are and where you want to be. Knowing these things provides guidance when determining the relevance of your goals.

Don’t underestimate the value in spontaneity though. Everything you do doesn’t have to be connected. 

Time-bound - You need deadlines! Without deadlines, you have nothing to keep yourself accountable. How long will this goal take you to accomplish? When do you want to have it finished? Name it explicitly.

Workbook Task

Take a moment to reflect on your relationship or experience with goal development. How much do you know about the process? What do you do well? Where do you think you need more skill?

Complete and Continue