Dr. Martin McCracken: How to set and achieve goals

Do you know how to set and achieve goals? Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into visible. Dr. Martin McCracken explains what we need to do to set and achieve goals.

06 Jan 2021   2 min read

overlay graphic Dr. Martin McCracken: How to set and achieve goals

It’s the beginning of a new year and I’m sure many of us will have made New Year Resolutions.

Perhaps some are getting on well with these, but I’m sure others will have already floundered, even though we are not into the second week in January!!

So, we need to ask the question

Why do we fail with such resolutions and what can we do to achieve better success in Goal Setting and other life aspirations?

To do list

The biggest trap that we may face is setting goals that are too vague and overly ambitious - goals like:

  • “getting fit”
  • “eat healthy foods”
  • “do well in my course” or “play better golf”

By setting goals such as these we may set ourselves up to fail because they are too wide ranging and lack a truly concrete and objective route to success.

To remedy this, perhaps we should think about applying some logic from an old adage from Archbishop Desmond Tutu who noted that the only way to “eat an Elephant”, was to do it “a bite at a time”.

In other words, we need to break our goals down and think about them in a SMART way  using a combination of proximal (near to / bite at a time) goals to help us build towards more distal (far from / eating the elephant) goals.

SMART Objectives

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

Girl doing Yoga on a mat beside a dog

To be truly useful we need to think in a more dynamic way about the specific situation we find ourselves in and how different (proximal and distal) goals interact with each other.

So, if we take a broad goal such as “do well in my course”, we clearly need to break this down into component parts and specify elements of the goal that need to be achieved.  For example, a more specific, concrete target such as “achieve marks of over 65% in each assessment this semester” would be more effective.

In setting a tangible goal like this, as well as being specific it is now also measurable.

You can assess whether the goal is being achieved and, if so, you can reflect on what you did to get this mark and try to do more of it.

However, if you have not obtained that grade you might want to review your circumstances and ask yourself honestly “is 65% an achievable grade for me?”.

At this stage it may be logical to think about reassessing the goal and move towards something more realistic in nature.  To help with this you may also look at comparable others and establish what grades they achieved, identify the class average and rate your objectives against this grade.

Another key ingredient for setting successful SMART goals is to think realistically about the timeline you set to achieve your overall goal.


We engage in goal setting all the time, from our grand ambitious New Year Resolutions to our daily “to do” lists.

Often, we succeed with these, but all too often we fail because we have not thought about our goals in enough detail and how our contextual reality impacts upon them.

By employing a SMART methodology perhaps, we can begin to set better goals that are more sustainable and ultimately realistic.

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