Erik Hansen is a graduate student pursuing a master of public policy and Mustang Daily graduate columnist.

If you have ever watched Sunday morning soccer on Telemundo, then you know how exciting goals can be. And, there is no better time than the start of the school year to establish and/or adjust your long- and short-term goals. Exciting stuff, right?

When establishing your goals, writing them down is extremely important. Not only does a written goal stare you in the face — mocking you until you conquer it — it can actually increase your chances of accomplishing the goal.

A recent study out of Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., found those who wrote down their goals accomplished, on average, approximately 64 percent of them. Those who simply thought about their goals only ended up accomplishing, on average, approximately 43 percent of their goals.

Because you are an overachiever and want to accomplish your goals before moving on to accomplishing your friends’ goals, the following are some ideas on how to successfully establish and track goals.

Establish short and long term goals. Just like short and long term relationships, the phrases “short-term” and “long-term” can mean different things to different people.

Regardless of your interpretation, try to establish long term goals that describe where you ultimately want to end up, and short-term goals that will either directly or indirectly help you achieve your long-term goals.

For example, say you are helplessly out of shape and want to run a marathon. Establishing a goal of running a marathon in under three hours might be a good long-term goal; a goal that you might be able to accomplish in five years. Establishing a goal of just finishing a marathon might be a better short-term goal; a goal that you might be able to accomplish in one year.

Establish objectives. Your objectives should be “little wins,” designed to help build your confidence and be directly related to your short term goals.

Using the previous example, an objective to accomplishing your short-term goal of finishing a marathon could be to run to the top of Madonna Mountain in less than 20 minutes. Though not as impressive as finishing a marathon, it is a little win that helps build your confidence and ability to accomplish your short-term goal.

Set SMART goals and objectives. SMART is an acronym for a group of parameters that are generally accepted as being the “rules” for creating good goals and objectives. When creating your long and short term goals and objectives, make sure that they are:

  • Specific — Ask yourself: If someone else were to read your goals, would there be any ambiguity about what you are trying to accomplish?
  • Measurable — In order for you to evaluate your progress toward achieving your goals, they need to be measurable in some way.
  • Achievable — Setting unachievable goals is not only a waste of time and energy, it can also be discouraging.
  • Realistic — Related to setting achievable goals, set realistic goals and adjust the bar higher if needed later on down the road.
  • Time Related — Related to setting measurable goals, so that you can track and measure your progress toward achieving your goals, always set a timeframe for completing your goals.

Keep your goals somewhere visible. One of the easiest ways to write down — and adjust — your goals is to create a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel for them. Keeping this spreadsheet saved on your desktop is one of the easiest ways to keep your goals visible.

Of course, if you’re old school, writing goals down on a piece of paper and putting it up on your wall or refrigerator not only keeps your goals visible, but also lets everyone else see your goals, creating a layer of accountability.

Set goals for different areas of your life. Breaking down your life into different areas can help you organize and think harder about the person you want to become; no one is one-dimensional. Sure, you might be a Cal Poly student, but you might also be a stellar athlete, budding derivatives trader or perhaps so good at Modern Warfare that no one even wants to play with you anymore.

Try to create categories that will help you compartmentalize your goals without getting painstakingly detailed. For example, you could establish goals in such areas of your life as: education, exercise, finance and career.

Evaluate your progress. This is part of why you should set SMART goals; your goals should be measurable and time related, so you can evaluate your progress.

Consider taking a few minutes once a week to evaluate your progress. This will allow you to balance your efforts among the many, lofty goals that you have set for yourself. This will also give you an idea, over time, if you need to adjust your goals.

Revisit and adjust your goals. Did you set the bar a little too high or low? Your first shot at goal-setting is likely to be a learning experience. It is OK to adjust your goals once reality sets in.

As an example, if you are setting one year, short-term goals, and five year, long-term goals, consider revisiting your short-term goals every two months and your long-term goals every six months. Allow for enough time to make progress toward your goals without constantly adjusting your aim.

Tell a friend or family member. Depending on the type of person you are, adding this layer of accountability can increase your chances of accomplishing your goals.

Are you the type of person who needs a buddy to push them at the gym, library or bar? Then telling a friend or family member about your goals might provide that little extra push you need to accomplish them.

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