Students who set meaningful goals are more likely to stay motivated and accomplish their objectives. But what exactly is a meaningful goal? In short, meaningful goals connect effort with a student’s values and long-term ambitions. Meaningful goals are personal and not written half-heartedly. In the three sections below, we’ll examine why goals matter, what it means to write meaningful goals, and the most often overlooked tactic to boost persistence.
Why Goals Matter
People often begin goal discussion by focusing on the question: what do you want? There’s a flaw there. It’s externally focused, making these goals extremely fragile to changing circumstances. Instead, goal-setting should begin with an inside-out approach. As we discussed in a previous post, finding meaning is half the battle for student engagement, and meaning comes from identity. The word ‘identity’ in Latin translates to repeated beingness, meaning our actions shape our identity. As Aristotle said, “we are what we repeatedly do.” This is why goals are so important. Writing goals and following through on them shapes who we are both internally and externally. Creating a plan for who we wish to become guides our focus, influences our behavior, and builds character. For goal setting to take effect, students must start with why rather than what.
Begin with the question “who do I want to be” rather than “what do I want to achieve.” This simple tweak is essential to writing meaningful, sustainable goals. By tying goals to a person’s root identity, motivation and persistence are mere byproducts. For example, a student could start with the identity statement, “I am a student who always tries my best.” Then, write goals that match that core identity, focusing on the inputs (maximizing effort, simple systems to increase success, etc.) that create the intended output (academic success).
Once we have our why, we need to start writing. One of the best frameworks for setting goals is the acronym SMART. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. This goal framework creates a pathway for success. We use this in our one-on-one sessions, in our group classes, and even in our company strategy meetings. SMART goals are firm contracts to help your student stay on track. Here are a few examples to help your student get started:
- I will stay organized by filing papers in the correct section of my binder as soon as I receive them. On Sunday night, I will make sure that there are no loose papers in my backpack, room, or car.
- I will write something for each class every day in my planner. “NONE” is an option, but only after I have confirmed that there is absolutely nothing I could do to get ahead in this class
- During class times, I will have only a notebook and a pen on my desk, so the teacher can see that I am on task and care about my success in his or her course.
SMART goals take the identity we discussed in section one and give it a face. We create clear targets to ensure adequate follow-through and a tangible finish line. Next, let’s talk about one critical method to help your child supercharge his or her goal-setting success.
An accountability partner is someone who is committed to helping a person achieve his or her goals. This accountability partner plays with the fine line between encouragement and brutal honesty. However, there’s one crucial thing to note; however, having an accountability buddy only works if he or she is reliable and genuinely committed. The accountability partner needs to provide sound guidance throughout each stage of the goal process: writing, planning, tweaking, and, finally, achieving. This is why our unique one-on-one academic coaching system works so well. We provide students with the tools they need to succeed and the iterative feedback to adapt to changing circumstances.