It’s the start of a new year and everyone, it seems, is making resolutions and setting goals. While many people are unable to maintain their resolutions beyond the first few months, there are ways to help make them stick. At Rock Point, we love helping our students set and achieve their personal goals. One way we are doing this, is through Personal Learning Plans, where each student outlines their long term and short term goals, with the steps required to achieve them along the way.
Setting goals and writing them down is a great way to help your teen stay motivated and on track. If your teen is interested in setting some goals for the new year, here are some ways to help them.
Many of our students start the year with big, bold goals! This can be everything from “I want to earn straight A’s” to “I want to run a marathon.” These goals are wonderful and they show the optimism and excitement that often come when you start something. However, before setting goals it is key to think about where you are starting, what your underlying reason for the goal might be, and if that goal is actually something you can control or achieve in the time you have or if you are you setting yourself up for disappointment.
For example, for a student who says “I want to earn straight A’s,” the first question might be, “What are your grades currently?” If the student is currently earning A’s and B’s, stepping up to earn straight A’s might not be too much of a stretch, depending on their course load. If the student is currently working in the C range, it may be more difficult. One thing to look at is the underlying reason for the goal. Does your teen want to improve their chances for going to college? Do they want to become a better student? A more attainable goal might be something like:
- I want to complete 90% of my assignments on time this month.
- I want to develop some study skills with my math teacher so I can improve my test scores.
- I want to learn how to write a research paper this semester.
Achieving any of these goals would result in improving a student’s GPA, but they are based on improving skills and doing something manageable. As a student makes smaller, more achievable goals, they stay motivated and may eventually add up to the bigger milestone they imagined.
The reason for helping your teen set a realistic goal is that it is easy to get discouraged quickly if you set a goal that is too difficult and doesn’t allow for mistakes. We all know how easy it is to scrap a diet after your first slice of pizza.
Break it Down
For many teens, it is hard to imagine the steps they need to take to get from where they are to where they want to be. Part of the reason teens struggle with this is that they do not have fully developed prefrontal cortexes, or planning centers, in their brains. The other reason teens may not be able to outline all the steps needed for a process is that they may be trying something completely new! Helping them outline the steps they will need to take along the way will make it easier for them to achieve their goals.
One way to do this is to make a list of the steps they may need to complete and add a time frame for each step. For something like training for a marathon or other athletic competition, there may be training schedules you can find online. For something like applying for and getting a job, you may need to generate a checklist with your teen (looking for jobs online, making a resumé and cover letter, checking in with references, etc.). Academic goals may require checklists for each week of the grading period.
The satisfying thing about breaking things down to a checklist is that even if you fall short of the ultimate goal, you can see all the steps you took along the way and the progress you have made. This can help teens from getting discouraged, because they benefit from the immediate reward of meeting short-term goals and have a harder time hanging on to long-term goals.
Use the SMART Goal Model
Each year our students and our staff use the S.M.A.R.T. goal model when creating their plans. This acronym can be really helpful for everyone as you begin your process. Each letter stands for:
S - Specific: The more well defined your goal is, the easier it is to see if you have achieved it. For example, if you say “I want to become a better friend.” this is a little too vague to know if you have actually achieved my goal. Whereas, if you say, “I want to set aside time each week to call or meet up with a friend just to see how they are doing.” This is a tangible, specific goal.
M - Measurable: With the above example “better” is not something we can measure, but “once a week” is a measurable. Getting “better” grades is not measurable, but “improving my average from a 3.0 to a 3.5” is measurable. This also fits in with breaking things down. If you are checking off the steps toward your goal, you are able to measure your progress.
A - Attainable: Is this something that is reasonable enough to be accomplished? Make sure the goal is not out of reach, but also don’t set the bar too low.
R - Relevant: Is this a worthwhile goal that will help you meet your needs? Does it fit with a longer term plan you have? Is it in conflict with other goals you have?
T - Timely: Give yourself a reasonable time frame to complete your goal. For example, if you want to train to run a marathon, but you haven’t run in a long time, it may take you 6 months or more to be ready. Conversely, if you give yourself too long to complete a goal, your motivation may dwindle.
Keep The Motivation GoingUltimately, however you and your teen set your goals, the most important thing is to check in on the progress. We all need reminders to stay on track and help keep our “big picture” in focus. Using the outline you create while setting your goals together can be a great way to approach keeping teens motivated in a nonconfrontational way. You can even encourage your teen to use technology, such as calendar reminders on their phone, to check on their goal progress. If your teen has a dip in motivation, reminding them of the reasons they set their goals in the first place can help them refocus.