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Learning to Set Goals

Learning to Set Goals

Sit down and either decide on a goal you have or work with your child to set a goal for them to achieve. Write it down. If you have several, put them in order and note if they are for personal, school, family/home, sports, faith, etc. Here are some examples:

  • Personal: I will write a 100-word poem and submit it to at least three magazines within one month.
  • School: I will improve my math grade to a B+ and stop getting “needs improvement” for my handwriting during the next marking period.
  • Family: I will bring my dirty laundry to the laundry room every Friday after school and put away my clean laundry as soon as I know it is done.
  • Sports: I will do all the stretches and other exercises coach assigns me to do at home every night for at least one month.
  • Faith: I will pray before I go to bed every night, even when I am super tired.

If you re-read those, every goal starts with “I will”, not “I might” or “I’ll try to”. It is a promise to yourself that you will do what you are setting out to achieve. Each one also sets a time limit and has a specific, measurable aspect to it.

Breaking it Down

Sometimes the experiences along the journey are the reason for it. On a road trip, stopping and seeing whatever strikes your fancy may be the main purpose. This is the exact opposite of goal setting. (OK, technically it isn’t if the goal is to have no goal beyond the trip itself and experiencing new things, but I think you understand my point.)

If you do not know where you are going, you will never get there. Period. The first step is writing the steps you need to complete to reach your goal. They should be specific, clear, reachable, and measurable, just like the goal itself. They should also be possible. Some goals, like walking on the moon, are so large or complicated that they have to be broken down into many (many) smaller goals.

“Become an astronaut” is one step toward walking on the moon, but is that something you can just do the way you can just pick up a book and read for an hour, or becoming an astronaut more of a sub-goal under the larger goal to “walk on the moon”?

When you find a sub-goal, you will need to write the steps to reach that. For something as big as “walk on the moon,” there will be many sub-goals, including attending a top college, getting good grades, and not getting into trouble with the law. (A criminal record makes many goals impossible.)

Defining Success

If you have a clear, specific goal, then your success is probably already defined within it. If not, then go back and work on making it clearer and more specific. But remember to be flexible. Life changes. If we end up landing on Mars, your goal might change to “be in the first group of Mars settlers.” Or you might realize that you hate–truly *hate*–isolation of any kind, making space travel unappealing. In that case, perhaps working on designing space vehicles or studying objects brought back from the moon will be a better fit.

There is not a thing wrong with updating your goals when circumstances or information changes.

Understand Your Reasons

Be clear with yourself on why you want to reach this goal. Your reasons can affect how well you stay on track and how you work toward your goal. It is much easier to stay on track when you are doing things because you love them or are extremely interested in them than if you are doing it to make someone else happy. No matter how old you are, that never changes. But there will always be things you do to make the ones you love (or people with power over you, like bosses and teachers) happy.

Here is an example: There are many reasons to want to be an Eagle Scout/earn your Gold Award. If someone does it because of how much they love Scouting or because their whole patrol is working toward it together*, they are very internally motivated and it won’t take a lot to stay on track because it is fun. Internal motivation is very powerful.

*Each Scout has to earn their award on their own just like everyone has to get their own job and earn their own way into college, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s easier to stay motivated when you are part of a group who are all working toward the same goal.

When pleasing parents or grandparents or impressing someone else is the only motivation, it is much harder to stay on track because the goal is to make other people happy. It isn’t about the goal-setter themselves being happy or having fun. That doesn’t mean they won’t achieve their goal, simply that it will be easier for them to get distracted and off-track.

Understanding your reasons also makes it easier to set a deadline for achieving your goal. If you want to gain or lose weight to make a sports team you really want to be on, then the date tryouts start is your deadline. If you have the same goal but the motivation is to feel better about how you look, then you don’t have such a clear deadline.

Choosing Good Goals

What do you really want to do but can’t? What do your kids want to do? How much help do they need? This could be earning and saving money to buy something expensive. For kids, it might be earning permission to have something or do something; it could be earning better grades; or it could even relate to what they want to be when they grow up. Most of us have many goals at any time, but only a few we are really working on and even fewer that really matter. Right now, think about the goals you have that you care about achieving the most. Focus on those, and let the others wait. If you have a really long list, you could also tackle one or two that are either easy or almost done. For example, I have three books that need new covers and I can put them up for sale. While it isn’t a high priority, it would be nice to finally finish them, and it would probably take less time than writing this post.

Whatever it is, a goal should be something you really, truly want–not just a passing wish–and it needs to be specific. A lot of people choose “lose weight,” “eat healthy,” and “exercise” as New Year’s Resolutions (goals). These are terrible goals. “Lose 5 pounds by March,” “eat one serving of vegetables a day for three weeks,” and “exercise for ten minutes every day for a month” are all specific, measurable, reachable goals. Specific, measurable, reachable goals are good goals.

You can have very generic goals like “exercise more” in your head. You can also have very large goals that take a long time to reach like “start my own business” in your head. There is nothing wrong with that! It’s great to have HUGE goals! And sometimes thinking about generic goals gets you moving in the right direction. No one ever reaches a big goal without reaching smaller ones along the way. Big goals need broken down into smaller, easier steps.

Staying Motivated

Remaining motivated and helping those around us–at home, in clubs, and later at work–succeed while we work toward our goals are important. Without motivation, we simply stall and stop making progress toward our goals. And if we don’t help others, eventually no one will help us either, and we all need help to reach our goals. Being self-motivated is part of remaining motivated. This means doing the things we are supposed to do, such as chores and homework, without being reminded. Like so many things, all of this is far more easily said than done, but it can be done.

When we set goals, we have to work to achieve them and that forces us to act and to be accountable for our actions. If we do not complete a task, then we do not get closer to our goals. At the same time, most goals require help from others. If we do not work well with others and help them when they need it, then they will be unwilling to help us meet our goals.

It is only human to have trouble remaining motivated. Having a friend or partner is one way to remain motivated, and so is setting a deadline, as mentioned above. You can check in on each other to make sure you are meeting goals and sub-goals.  Sometimes just knowing you will have to tell someone else if you mess up is enough to stay motivated.

If you don’t already have a list of reasons you want to reach your goal, go back and create one. Then refer to it as needed. You can even post it somewhere you will see it all the time, including as the wallpaper when you open your tablet/phone/other device.

If you are having trouble staying motivated because you aren’t having any fun, rethink what you are doing and how you are doing it. Ask someone you trust for help. There should be a way to make it more fun for you. Life shouldn’t be miserable! Know in advance, though, that the answer may be a change in your attitude and how you are looking at the task. I avoided exercising for years. This year, I finally started it because my motivation changed from “because I should” to “because I have asthma and could die.” Clearly, one is a far more powerful motivator. (No, I don’t think I will die in the short-term from asthma, but I *do* need to massively improve my cardiovascular health to live to old age.)

Sometimes, the problem is pressure from others. If your teacher, project partner, friend, parent, or anyone else is, with the best of intentions, making it hard for you to stay motivated, try talking to them. Let them know what you have done recently and what you plan to do next, and when you plan to do it. They may have good feedback to help you move forward. Knowing that you have a plan and are still hard at work, assuming you are, usually makes other people feel less stressed about your ability to reach a goal, and that leads to them pressuring you less. If you aren’t actually all that hard at work, talking to them and talking through any obstacles you are currently facing is a good way to re-motivate yourself and get going again.

When you are working toward a big goal, it’s OK to give yourself little rewards along the way. That doesn’t mean asking for a big (or even little) present! It might mean asking to go hang out with a friend for a few hours during a time you could be working. It might be taking a break to go swing in a hammock in the yard. It might be baking brownies and eating them fresh from the oven. Whatever it is, small rewards when you finish a chunk of a big project can be great for staying motivated.

About

The Moderate Mom and the Wise Dad have two sons, who are currently in middle and high school. She has published half a dozen books including "The Constitution: It's the OS for the US", a YA zombie series, and a series on survival skills (including laundry, hygiene, and budgeting, as well as outdoor and emergency skills). She also blogs on TheModerateMom.com and contributes to TheSurvivalMom.com.

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