Setting successful goals is not as easy as it looks and can easily be demotivating if not done properly. Many students give up on their university goals all together after failing to achieve unrealistic, even physically impossible learning-targets. Unfortunately, no one teaches us how to set motivating goals that will lead us towards success, so it is often a hit and miss mission. To help you, here are our top five tips for writing down a list that will lead you to success, rather than make you feel like a failure.
1. Set realistic goals in realistic time
When we set our goals, we often get carried away and then we feel bad about not achieving what we wrote down. In order for the goal to motivate us, they should be realistic. To begin with, be aware of the time you have in a day and your physical capabilities. ‘I will study every subject every day’ is rarely possible because there are only so many hours in a day, and you probably have other activities. ‘I will study for 7 hours without a break’ is rarely physically possible due to focus. For this reason, it is important to set goals early enough to have time to achieve them without stress or social isolation. Similarly, it is unrealistic to go from 0 to 100 in a short period, so even if setting ambitious
goals, aim for progress and not perfection. All goals should be realistic and achievable. Once you conquer this quest, you can go on another.
2. Set big goals, but also set sub-goal
As said before, we often write down the big goals but as the time needed to achieve them prolongs, we feel discouraged. There is something very satisfactory and motivational in crossing out achieved goals. For this reason, it is good to make smaller goals leading to the big goal, proving to you the progress you are making. Think of smaller goals as actual steps towards achieving a big goal: ‘I will read three sources a day’ can help with achieving a big goal like getting A3 on your course. Moreover, having smaller goals can help you see with which aspect you have a problem, giving you the opportunity and time to ask a friend or a tutor for help. Finally, it is good create smaller goals in a way that they can enter your daily to-do lists. For best efficiency, plan your day the evening before!
3. Use verb-noun structure
Words are powerful, and using the correct expression can go a long way in motivating us. Instead of just writing the project we have to work on, such as ‘homework’, ‘essay’ or ‘application’, we should aim to include verbs in writing down our goals: ‘do the homework’, ‘write the essay’ and ‘send in the application’. This type of wording focuses on the action, rather than the result, and is a good push to start the process. It might seem silly, but don’t disregard it until you’ve tried it. Many experts have testified about the importance of wording, and there is even a list of good action-words for setting goals.
4. Everyone should make their personal goal list
Goals can be made in class as a group, but it is generally better for every person to make their own list. Not only do different schedules ask for different time organisation, but the smaller goals for achieving the main ones can differ due to learning styles. Imagine is the class decided that everyone should prepare for the next biology exam. Some people might need to ‘draw mental maps’ while others will need to ‘make notes and flash cards’. Same goes to ‘reread the textbook’ or ‘watch videos on the topic’. The way to achieve good results in school is to use the methods best suited for you, which makes the smaller goals quite specific for each student.
5. Keep the list in plain sight
Having the list with your goals in plain sight is very motivating. ‘In plain sight’ does not necessarily mean having it someplace where everyone can see it, but somewhere you often look. Whether it’s on the wall next to your study desk or on your phone, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever works best for you is the go-to option. Keeping the goals written down and visible helps because you don’t need think about what you need to do. This way you can concentrate on achieving them rather than on remembering what they are. Most of the time we don’t even notice how much of our brain power is drained by thinking about what we need to do, rather than concentrating on what we are currently doing. Unfortunately, this can considerably hinder our performance, and consequently our achievements.
Hopefully these five tips will help you in creating goals that will drive you rather than bring you down. It is a shame that such an important skill as goal-setting is not taught in classes, both in high- school and university. Many teachers and lecturers, although admitting its crucial role in succeeding, think of goal-setting as simply scrabbling down in your journal – an important but self-evident skill in their eyes. Hopefully, this will change with time. Until then, there are articles like this to guide you.
We have picked our top five tricks, but there are many more out there. Remember that no one will ever have the perfect answers for you. In the sea of different advice, you should pick the ones that work best in your case. Good luck!
Annabelle Fee is part of the Content and Community team at SmileTutor, sharing valuable content to their own community and beyond.