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Setting Goals: sub-module 3 of 6 of learning online

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


  • 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 lifetime 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.


Fillable PDFs

Text versions of activities

Introduction to Setting Goals

Watch this video for an introduction to this module. 

We recommend that you move through this module in the following order:


  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:


  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:
Check out our section below on Maintaining and Increasing Your Motivation to learn how to keep yourself motivated with small rewards for your accomplishments.

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.

How to set long-term goals

Watch this video to learn how to set and achieve long-term goals.

What Are Long-Term Goals?

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.

For help with setting goals, complete the activity below or fill in the My Goals Map Fillable PDF - opens in a new window.

How to set short-term goals

Watch this video for help with setting and achieving short-term goals.

What Are Short-Term Goals?

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.

Fine-tune your motivation to reach your goals

Watch this video to learn about how different types of motivation can affect the way you reach your 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.

For help with fine-tuning your goals, check out the activity below or complete the Navigating Through Barriers Fillable PDF - opens in a new window.

How to reframe your goals

Watch this video to learn about how reframing your goals can help you achieve them.

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.

Maintaining & Increasing Your Motivation

Watch this video to learn how you can use small rewards to increase your motivation.

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 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.

For Example:

My goal: Study for 3 hours.

The delayed consequence: Get a good grade on the midterm.

It can take a few weeks to receive a grade on a midterm, so give yourself a small treat when you study -- like an hour with a favourite TV show.

New, immediate consequence: Watch an hour of your favourite TV show.