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Using SMART Goals to Achieve Your Dreams

Three adults gathered around a table having a work meeting.

By James Cleves, Autistic Self Advocate / Founder of CleverVA

As an autistic person, I have found setting and reaching goals quite challenging throughout my life.

Knowing I want to achieve something is very different from knowing how

to get there. And without guidance, I found making plans very difficult.

The first goal I ever set myself was to get my degree. This was back in

2007 not long after my list of diagnoses was extended to include dyslexia.

Even before then, I was told that I wasn’t able to go to university. So

when another, more severe, learning difficulty was added to the mix, my

dream seemed even more unattainable.

But I have also been blessed (or cursed!) with determination.

Without guidance, I had no idea how to achieve my dream, until one day

someone did see the potential in me and helped me make a plan. The

road was long and hard, with many ups and downs, and my degree took

longer to complete than your average student. But complete it, I jolly well


This taught me the big difference between a dream and a goal. A dream

is something you want or aspire to, but if you make a plan for how to

attain it, it becomes a goal. It starts sounding less like the proverbial pot

of gold at the end of the rainbow, and more like something you might

actually achieve.

And I’ve found that an effective way to make a goal - and a plan to reach

it - is to use SMART goals.

A SMART goal is one that is:


So instead of setting yourself a vague target, like “I want to get a

degree”, set a specific target. You probably have a particular course, even

a particular school in mind, so don’t be afraid to vocalise it. Because when

you have a specific result in mind, you can more easily see your progress

and know when you reach the finish line.


Make your goal something that you can track so you can measure your

progress. Because when you can see that you are making progress, no

matter how big or small that is, it’s easier to find the motivation to keep

on working towards that end result.


Choose a goal that you can realistically achieve, while still setting yourself

a challenge. You know your own limits and capabilities. So choose

something that will push you forwards and stretch your abilities, but not

set the bar so high that you get discouraged. Think, too, about what

support or resources you might need to help you; will you need to buy

tools or assistive techonolgy, or ask someone to help you?


Make sure the goal is something that is relevant and important to you, so

that you can stay motivated to work on it. Think about why it’s important

to you, why you want to achieve it and what kind of impact reaching it

will have on you. Because if you pick something you’re not very bothered

about, you could struggle to find the motivation to finish your plan. But if

it’s something you really care about, you’ll find a way to keep working

towards it.

Individual with brown straight hair looking at laptop. Notebook and pen to her left. Small plant and coffee on her workspace.


Set yourself a clear deadline to reach your goal. When you have that

finish line in mind, it’s easier to plan out each step of the journey so you

know what you need to be working on and when. And don’t be concerned

with how long other people take to reach similar goals. Everyone works at

their own pace, and if you're neurodivergeent it means you need to take your

time, do what works for you.

In the end, it took me 9 years to get my degree, working at it part-time

to accommodate my various disabilities. That’s over twice as long as the

average able-bodied student in Scotland, but that was the realistic

timescale for me to allow me to get the support I needed.

So it doesn’t matter how big or small your goal is, don’t let anyone stand

in the way of what you want to achieve. And why not try the SMART goal

system to see if it helps make your journey more manageable.

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