Enjoy this free article courtesy of Choices, the health, social-emotional learning, and life-skills magazine for grades 7–12 

Go For #Goals

How can you turn your dreams into reality? How most people do: by setting realistic goals and breaking them down. Our gold-medal guide to going after what you want

Open up Instagram, and your feed is flooded with #hairgoals, #squadgoals, and #relationshipgoals. But what about the real-life ambitions you have for yourself? We’re not talking about having a mane like Kylie Jenner’s or an entourage like Aaron Rodgers’s—but the big-picture stuff you would love to accomplish. Now is the perfect time to name your goals and go after them. Not sure where to start? No worries—scientists have figured out exactly what steps will take you from “point A” to “nailed it!”

Get Set!

First, you need to figure out a goal—something that passes the S.M.A.R.T. test. Ask yourself: Is your goal. . .

“It should be really clear what you expect to accomplish,” says Bev Bachel, author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! “I want to record more of my music” is a bit woolly, but “I want to complete a four-song demo by the end of the summer” is crystal clear.

You should be able to measure your progress—and quantify your success. So stating, “I want to have more spending money” doesn’t pass the test, but “I want to earn $50 this month” does.

Can you envision the steps that will get you to your goal? If so, your goal passes this test. “The goal also needs to be something that’s in your control,” says Lisa M. Schab, author of The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens. Winning a giveaway to go to a Demi Lovato and DJ Khaled show isn’t an action-oriented goal, since it’s up to chance, but saving up for tix may be. 

If the last time a freshman got the lead in the school play was 2006, making it your goal could be aiming too high. A teacher, coach, or parent can help you determine if you’ve really got a shot or if you should adjust expectations. “Remember, what’s realistic for you is different from what’s doable for your best friend or older sister,” Bachel adds.

With no end date in mind, you may put off that big goal forever. While some goals have a deadline built in, you may have to set your own target date. “I’ll master playing that Sam Smith ballad by May 1” is more motivating than, “I’ll master it . . . someday.”

Make It Happen

Here’s your step-by-step playbook for tackling that goal and turning your dream into sweet reality.

“There’s something about the act of writing down your goal that helps you commit to it,” Schab says. She suggests jotting it somewhere where you’ll see it regularly, like on your phone, in your assignment book, or inside your locker, to help keep your eyes on the prize.

Tell your friends and parents what you’re up to so they can cheer you on and check on your progress. Talking to a teacher or coach can be helpful for advice, and to help you set realistic mini-goals, but choose wisely. “Don’t share it with a naysayer who’d bash your dream,” Bachel warns. 

About those mini-goals: Heading straight for The Big Goal can make you feel overwhelmed. “Trying to eat an apple in one bite is impossible, and that’s what going for your goals can feel like if you don’t think about them in bite-size pieces,” Bachel says. Brainstorm the steps that will get you there and write them down, putting dates to each one. If your goal is to run a 5K, maybe you buy sneakers by the end of week 1, run one mile three times a week during week 2, up it to 1.5 miles in week 3, and so on.

At the end of every week, ask yourself: Did I hit my mini-target? And if not, what kept me from doing so? “You might realize you’re trying to take on too much too fast,” Schab says. Stay flexible and rewrite those mini-goals as needed.

Like what you see? Then you'll love Choices, our health, social-emotional learning, and life-skills magazine for grades 7–12