Goal Setting

The purpose of our Goal Setting unit is to develop in students the following skills:

  • Identify obstacles to making changes in one’s life
  • Plan for obstacles
  • Distinguish among and write different types of goals
  • Use the five-step approach to setting goals
  • Develop an action plan to enact a goal

Planning for obstacles

Optimism is a key ingredient in any recipe for success. Nobody plans for failure (not intentionally). You don’t start a project thinking that everything will go wrong. Otherwise, most likely you won’t start it. For every goal or plan we set, there’s an inherent hope for a successful outcome. But there is a thin line between being optimistic and being unrealistic. When you make a plan only considering the best-case scenario you engage in what Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky call the planning fallacy.

According to Kahneman, the planning fallacy is a manifestation of a pervasive optimistic bias. In other words, we think about some goals as more achievable than they really are. And because of that optimistic bias, we underestimate the time, effort or risks involved in completing a task or goal. We can foresee challenges, but rarely plan for the obstacles that could prevent us from achieving the goal.

Adversity can strike at any time or place and college is not the exception. Let me share a few examples of some common and uncommon challenges I’ve seen through my career:

  • A first-year student missed her first week of classes because she didn’t have transportation. She bought a car for college but her insurance paperwork was not ready on time. During her second week of classes she had a car accident and lost her car. She never returned to class.
  • A young man went back home during Spring break and found out his girlfriend was cheating with his best friend. He later returned to campus suffering from depression and with suicidal thoughts.
  • An adult learner and two-times cancer survivor had been working very hard for several semesters to build confidence and achieve good grades to enter a health-science program. After a bad performance on an exam, her confidence was destroyed by an instructor with just one single comment: “you don’t belong in college”.
  • A student starts hanging out with the “wrong” crowd and soon starts skipping classes and making other poor life decisions. Before he realizes, he’s addicted to alcohol and narcotics, fails most courses for two straight semesters and is dismissed from college.

While some of these examples might look extreme and depict situations out of the student’s control, transportation issues, financial struggles, physical or mental health challenges, poor academic performance, rude and hostile situations, and unhealthy relationships happen more often than you think (unfortunately). But some of these barriers are fully foreseeable and preventable. And others can be managed when you learn to plan for obstacles.

It’s critically important to be confident and optimistic. But it’s equally important to be ready for the unexpected as well. Here are some ideas to help you plan effectively:

  • Set goals that are realistic and meaningful to you
  • Create goals that are measurable (set specific performance standards) 
  • Connect your short-term goals with your long-term goals
  • Identify resources on your campus, community, and personal environment
  • Be resilient (persevere on your long-term goals)
  • Build strong and healthy relationships
  • Ask for help early on (don’t wait for a small rain to become a storm)

Why is so important to create goals?

Goals motivate us, direct our efforts, and help us improve performance. When we set goals we give simple tasks a purpose and a reason to perform.

Characteristics of effective goals

  • Self-chosen
  • Moderately challenging
  • Realistic
  • Measurable
  • Specific
  • Finite

Characteristics of SMART Goals

Smart Goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely

Setting goals and managing change

Setting goals is challenging because it requires us to make changes in our lives. And making changes make us feel uncomfortable. So, always remember the four step process to making changes:

  1. Be open to change and:
    1. Believe you can change (use a growth mindset)
    2. Learn What and HOW to change
    3. Implement strategies effectively
    4. Be patient
  2. Set (academic) priorities early and monitor your motivation
  3. Plan for early success (start with small achievements)
  4. Revise your goals (monitor , evaluate, and adapt)

Five step process to writing goals

  • Write what you want to accomplish
  • Write down any obstacles (learn how to plan for obstacles)
  • Write down any resources
  • List your motivation
  • Review and revise goal statements 

Develop and Action Plan

  • Set action tasks
    • break down into small pieces
  • List materials needed
  • Set time frames
  • Evaluate plan 

Execution is what matters

In the following TED Talk, John Doerr states that execution and setting the right goals is what truly matters to achieve success. He also shows us how we can get back on track with “Objectives and Key Results”.