Adulthood comes with a lot of freedom to make the decisions you want, and start living the life you always dreamed of. But it is also filled with a huge number of tasks, deadlines, and choices. With so many things pulling you in different directions, it’s easy to get discouraged, spend time working on tasks that won't ultimately benefit you, or lose track of what you were trying to achieve in the first place. That’s exactly why you need to set a goal before you start putting in the work. With a clear destination in mind, you can stay motivated and adjust your strategy on the go. Setting a SMART goal is a proven method to increase your chances of following through on important decisions. SMART is an acronym, with each letter standing for a quality that a well-designed goal should have: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timed. So how can you use this approach? Specific A goal needs to be specific to be effective. Saying “I need to save money” isn’t going to help you at all. How much do you want to save, and what is it for? When is the deadline? Get down to exact figures and dates. 5 small lifestyle habits that can have a big impact on your physical and mental health For example, if you want to save up US$500 for a graduation trip a year from now, you need to set aside US$42 every month from now until then. Having a specific number in your head can be the difference between randomly doing something when you remember to do it, and successfully reaching your destination. Measurable The next step in shaping your goal is to make sure it’s measurable. If you want to cut down on junk food, you need to make an effort to keep track of it. For the first week, every time you have a fizzy drink, grab McDonald’s, or eat a whole bag full of sweets, mark it down somewhere. You may end up writing down that you ate unhealthy food 10 times. For the next week, aim for only eight junk food indulgences, and keep track. In week number three, aim for six, and so on. Without a way to record your progress, a goal is just an empty promise to yourself. via GIPHY Achievable A good goal also has to be realistic. This isn’t to discourage you from aiming high. But setting a near-impossible task for yourself will only chip away at your willpower if you fail again and again. A useful tip is to use your current level to calibrate where your goal should be. Let’s say you want to volunteer more often. Setting a goal of five hours of community service a week may be too ambitious. Start smaller, maybe one hour per week. Gradually working your way up not only means you’re making progress, but that sense of achievement you get each time you hit a small goal will motivate you to keep going. Relevant Is the goal you’ve chosen meaningful to you? Is it the right type of goal for your current stage in life? Is it a worthwhile goal that will help you feel better about who you are? Choosing a relevant goal can be the hardest part of the SMART process. How to handle criticism and use it to improve your life Think about what matters to you. Sometimes, knowing what to work on is just as important as knowing how to work on it. Timed Finally, a goal must always be timed. With no time limit as to when you need to reach a certain stage, you won’t feel the good kind of pressure that pushes you to meet a deadline. Talk to someone who knows a lot about the area you want to improve in, and come up with a realistic date for a progress report. Then mark it on your calendar and fight hard to meet this challenge to yourself. Next time you need to set a goal, remember to check it against these benchmarks. It will go a long way towards successfully achieving them. This article was curated in conjunction with Young Post .