Management + Leadership

Setting SMART goals for the New Year

The phrase “crushing goals” is something that is heard a lot when it comes to any journey you take in life. This is for a good reason — whenever you set goals, you’re more likely to accomplish what you want.

While pursuing my master’s in public health, I came across a 1979 study by Harvard Business School on goal setting. This study discussed how goal-setting for graduating MBA students would help in their advancement toward becoming professionals. In this study, each student was asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future? If so, how do you plan to accomplish them?”

Only 3% had written down their goals, including action plans; 13% had goals that weren’t written down, and 84% had no specific goals. These students were interviewed again 10 years later, and the results were astounding. The 84% who had no goals were earning half as much as the 13% who had goals in mind but were not written down.

The 3% who wrote their goals and action plans down? They were earning 10 times more than the rest.

I wasn’t sure what surprised me more: the earning potential of goal setters or the large amount of people who don’t practice goal-setting at all. I recently graduated from my IDP program, which means I’ll be practicing dentistry in the real world. It’s bittersweet to close this chapter of my life, but all the hard work I’ve done and my experience in various fields will absolutely be worth it. Recently, I remembered my personal statement when I went into dentistry: “to achieve my dream goals.” Now I know that dream goals can be more than just dreams. With the right plan of action, they can be SMART goals.

Unsure of what this means? Here’s a breakdown of the acronym here:

Specific: Make sure that when you’re writing out your goal, you make it as detailed as possible. This way, your chance of success increases (not to mention, it’ll be easier to understand exactly what the goal is). Ask yourself:

  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What specific knowledge or skills do I need to do so?

With these guiding questions, it’ll be much easier for you to come up with your final goal, along with the steps you’ll need to accomplish in between.

Measurable: This is how you’ll determine if you’ve reached the end of your goal. Figuring out if and how you can track your progress will make it easier to give you a clear view of the path to the finish line. Ask yourself:

  • How much?
  • How often?
  • How many?
  • What will signify that I have accomplished my goal?

Achievable: Now that you have a clear vision of your goal, along with how you’ll know when you’ve accomplished it, you’ll need to determine if the goal is achievable in your current situation. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have the resources and capabilities to achieve this goal?
  • What am I missing?
  • How have others achieved this goal?

Looking for inspiration and mentors is a great way to figure out just what it will take.

Realistic: Be honest with yourself when setting goals. Will you be able to accomplish it in the time you’ve given yourself? While it’s great to finish goals sooner than you expected, you also don’t want to risk burning yourself out or abandoning your goal altogether because you weren’t realistic enough about your expectations. You’ll also want to make sure your goal aligns with your learning requirements — will this goal help you in your dentistry journey? Ask yourself:

  • Is it attainable?
  • What can I do to make it realistic?
  • Have I selected the appropriate educational strategies to help me achieve my learning goals?

Timely: Now you have the path planned out, but it’s no good if you have no idea how long it will take or when you should be done. Getting a tangible deadline in your mind and on your calendar is a great motivational tool to get the work done when you find yourself struggling. Select your timeline based on the above. Ask yourself:

  • When will I achieve this?
  • Have I established realistic deadlines to achieve my goals and action plan items?

Don’t worry if you don’t have any goals set yet — it’s never too late to start planning. While you’ll want a clear picture of your goals five years from now, if you find that too daunting, it’s OK to start with three months or less.

If, however, you already know the joys of writing down and accomplishing goals, encourage your friends to give it a try. Perhaps take time during a study session to talk about your goals for 10 minutes. It’ll motivate the group to stay on task, and you can celebrate each other’s successes together.

~Mohlab Al Sammarraie, International Student, Universidad de La Salle Bajío, Mexico ’19

Mohlab Al Sammarraie

Mohlab Al Sammarraie has taken on extensive leadership on setting two successful projects with CDA and WREB advocating for students. His projects resulted in having the WREB exam taken outside the United States for the first time. He is now a site dental director for AltaMed community health in L.A.

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