4 Smarter Ways for Students and Teachers to Set Goals

This is my 2014 New Year’s post. Making the switch from goals to habits really made a change in my life, and here is the reasoning behind it!

It’s the new year and just about everyone around me is setting goals. Or resolutions. Or making promises. Whatever you want to call those “goals”, stats show that just about 8% of goals set for the New Year are actually achieved. And we all know why…we lose momentum and fall back into old habits or patterns as the year moves along.

However, this year I’m challenging you to be “smarter” about setting goals. Last year was my most productive year ever. I did things differently and experimented a lot in terms of productivity, writing, and actually “finishing” what I started. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I learned. Here’s 4 smarter ways for you to achieve your goals:

1. Set up systems, and Develop new habits

James Clear wrote an amazing post about this, and it is very simple. Focus on creating new habits, systems, and processes “not” just goals.

What’s the difference between goals and systems?

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

This was huge for me last year as I started to write 1000 words a day. This led to more blog posts, guest posts, and a finished manuscript. I had always wanted to publish a book…but the goal never led to anything tangible. Instead, setting up a system of writing 1000 words a day (even though I didn’t do it every day throughout the year) led to over 400,000 written words and a process that made writing a book possible.

Make sure this year that you develop a system to help you achieve want you want. Then focus on the system not the end result.

2. Keep your goals personal

I love when research comes to the rescue! Here’s what a recent study had to say about “publicizing” your goals.

New research says that goals are better followed and achieved if you keep them private. I know. It didn’t make sense to me at first. But now I see the light.

Recent research by Gollwitzer et al. (2010) suggests that, in fact, making our goals public can have precisely the opposite effect from what we intend.

Across three experiments the link between making goals public and actually working towards them was tested. What they found in every study was that when participants had shared their goal with someone else, instead of increasing their commitment, it reduced it.

When they had shared their goals with another, participants put less effort into studying, trying to get a job and taking advantage of opportunities for advancement.

Via the PsyBlog

So what does this mean for us as educators? Well it’s quite simple:

  • We should continue the practice of setting goals for ourselves and our students. But more importantly we should allow students to set their own goals (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly).
  • Students should keep those goals private.
  • We should keep our personal goals private as well.
  • Class goals are different, and should continue to be displayed publicly.

It is important to distinguish between personal goals and group goals. The study looks at how an individual deals with goals, rather than a group. Keep making goals, but think about how you implement and share those goals within the context of a classroom!

3. Display them prominently (just for you)

I turned 30 this past July (now you are either thinking he’s younger or older than I thought ha). When I was still in college at 21 (another milestone year) I set some goals for myself by the time I reached 30. I’ve accomplished all but one of those goals. Why?

The simple truth: I kept looking at them.

I put those simple goals in places where I would see them, just for me. Think about where you could put your goals to consistently see them.

  • On your ceiling above your bed.
  • The background of your phone.
  • The background of your computer.
  • Inside a book or planner you constantly use.

That way, when you lose momentum, you can be reminded (even unconsciously) daily about what you really want to achieve.

4. Make a bet (seriously they work!)

It doesn’t have to be for money (and it probably shouldn’t) but making a bet is one of the easiest and smartest ways to achieve a goal. Having one person along for the ride with a similar goal can sometimes boost your momentum.

We actually do this all the time, but usually it is in the form of rewards:

“If we get to this amount of _____ then we’ll all _____”.

Or, “Once I finish _____ then I’ll get _____”.

These simple, “if-then” statements are small bets. But betting with a group or another person is a lot of fun. And that is the whole point – make the goal process fun and exciting instead of something you dread and will eventually give up on.

Here’s to making it into the 8% this year and in the future. Good luck!

Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc

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