Goal setting plays a crucial role for anyone who wants to succeed in life.  Setting a goal helps provide direction to your effort.  There are very few people in this world who have achieved great success without first setting a goal.  Having goals can be even more important for individuals with disabilities because it allows them to see progress.

Seth Godin once said:

“Everybody has their own Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.”


I feel this quote explains life with a disability perfectly because, for these individuals, Mount Everest represents their disability(s). As any mountain climber, they know that they can’t tackle Everest on their first try and that it is best to practice on smaller mountains.  An individual with a reading disability hopefully understands that the first book they are going to read is not going to be Harry Potter.  They first need to learn how to read books intended for beginning readers and as their reading skills improve they should one day be able to read Harry Potter.


It is crucial to help individuals learn the importance of goal setting and provide them with the support they need to develop effective goal-setting abilities in all aspects of their life educationally, socially, physically, financially etc.  A common acronym for goal setting is SMART goals.

When you are introducing the concept of goal setting, you should emphasize the following points:

A goal is merely a statement (it is often written down) of a wish to accomplish.  Some goals have a timeline to them while others do not.

Goal setting helps provide individuals with direction and serves as a constant reminder of what they should do next in order to achieve the desired outcome.  Setting goals can give them the inspiration they need to get started.

Accomplishing a goal is an incredible feeling, and this feeling can help drive individuals forward to achieve their next goal. Failing to meet a goal make someone hold themselves accountable for their actions, and it can provide motivation to try harder next time. If individuals do not set goals for themselves, it can be tough to know what to do next and waste a lot of time. It also means they may miss out on many things they wanted to do because they lacked the direction to achieve these things.

Goal setting provides individuals with a road map to their life.  With specific, measurable goals a person knows what they need to do to accomplish the things that are important to them.  This means they will always know what to do next.

It is easy for an individual to get into ‘dreamer’ mode when setting goals and make a bunch of goals that are unattainable and not what they truly want.  It is essential to refocus someone by asking them how they plan on accomplishing the goals they set.

Setting a goal can be easy for some and difficult for others. Having an individual use the SMART acronym can assist them in coming up with Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound goals.

Specific goals mean the goals are clear in what the individual is trying to do. The more information that can be provided in the goal the better because, the more general the goal, the harder it is for an individual to accomplish.

Measurable goals provide a way to judge whether you on the way to achieving your goal and when you have completed the goal.

Achievable goals are ones that the individual has a chance at completing given the resources available to them, their knowledge and in the time frame, they wish to complete them.

Relevant goals are ones that actually matter given the individual’s values and needs.  Also completing a goal should provide benefits for the individual in the long run.

Time-Bound goals have a definitive timeline for completion to provide the motivation they need to complete the goal.  Without a timeline, it can be very easy to push off a task to a later date.


Once someone knows how to set goals, they need to find a way to set the goals out in a logical manner that gives priority to the more essential goals with an impending deadline as opposed to the fun goals that are individuals are often more motivated to work on.

This step fits so nicely with the old proverb “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It shows us that there is nothing wrong with having big long term goals (the elephant) if we realize there are many little steps along the way (one bite at a time) to reach the long term goal. It can be very helpful to come up with several short term goals to serve as milestones for progress towards your long term goal.

When an individual has come up with a new goal, it is crucial for them to take time to think about the challenges they may face trying to accomplish a goal. This serves two purposes, it reminds them that not everything always goes according to plan, and sometimes things take longer than you originally plan. Being aware of this when they make goals can also allow them to come up with ideas on how to solve these potential problems in advance.

It is critical to understand that a person’s goals can change as time passes, and needs and desires change.  There is nothing wrong with removing a goal that is no longer important for the individual or is no longer realistic given a change in circumstances.

Some goals individuals will accomplish on their own, but the majority of goals will need at least some form of outside help to achieve.  There is no shame in asking for someone to help you reach your goals, especially if they have experience in the area of the goal you are trying to achieve.

I personally find Bullet Journaling (to be a handy way to set goals and keep track of the tasks I need to do to reach my goals.  I find it helps me to track my progress and remind me of the step I plan to take to achieve my goals.  I also enjoy it as a creative outlet, but the beauty of bullet journaling is that it is entirely up to you to personalize it to what you need.

This post is based on a journal article by Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins & Herman’s qualitative analysis of 20 years of research published Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.