Life On the Other Side

For the New Year, Let’s Resolve to Set Achievable Goals

The end of the year is a good time to both reflect and plan. There is much talk about resolutions and just as many jokes about how long these promises will last. We hear so much about New Year’s Resolutions that it sounds like making them something we must do, whether we want to or not. Perhaps this is why only 8% of the population actually achieves them. Personally, I don’t like the idea of resolutions. The word is too final and inflexible. Instead I prefer to set goals, which can change and bend as needed and ultimately achieve the same end.

Though it is usually adults making these resolutions, our kids can benefit from the concept as well. Over the years, I have come to realize how many things I do that seem intuitive, but instead are learned behavior and that I actually need to teach my kids to do these things, or at least guide them on their journey. Goal setting is one of these. New Year’s resolutions aside, the promise of a fresh calendar year seems to be a good time to work on this skill, as I can model the process and we can work alongside each other rather than them struggling alone.

Looking back to look forward

Before you can determine where you want to go, you need to determine where you are. The end of the year is a good time to reflect on what you have achieved thus far. I have found that social media is a good place to start. Most of us use Facebook like a living journal. We detail where we go, who we spend time with, and celebrate our achievements. In many cases, this review of our year can ease some of the “Facebook envy” that causes such angst throughout the year. Most of us carefully curate what we publish on social media, including the best of our life while downplaying the bad. In hindsight, our lives this year may not be as bad as we thought. (A bonus lesson of course is the realization that everyone else’s life is likely not all sunshine and roses either.)

Reflecting on what was good this year may reveal some new areas of interest and growth. As a scout leader working with teens to set annual goals, I have asked them to answer three questions: What is one thing you have done that you liked? What is one thing you would like to do?  What is something you would like to learn? There is the understanding that they are not locked into these things and that if new ideas present themselves, we can reevaluate and adjust the goals. Sometimes these three answers are linked, other times, they are unrelated. While my exercise was generally meant to be used to plan events, these questions can easily translate to academics or personal growth as well.

Since the New Year coincides with the middle of the academic year, it can be a good time for teens to evaluate where they are and to make changes in study habits if necessary. The teen years academically are more difficult; sometimes it is the first time classes are posing a challenge. Since they don’t share this information with their peers, they think they are alone in their struggle and may have decided it is too late and have resigned themselves to failure. This is where parents can step in and point out that we all have shortcomings and that failing means you have learned what doesn’t work. You can remind them that even the “experts” are constantly reading, researching and learning new things and no great scientific breakthrough has come about without some failure, that it is not too late to turn things around, success is still possible.

Making a plan

Deciding where you want to go is only part of the process. Having a plan to get there makes success more likely. Writing down your goals makes them concrete and more more likely to be realized. For some, making their goals public is helpful as it makes them feel accountable. Others prefer to keep their goals private, as going public creates stress and slows progress. It is also helpful to record the steps needed to reach the goal. These steps can be scheduled or simply itemized.

While some people can plan far in advance, creating a schedule for months at a time or even a year, others work better scheduling weeks or a month at a time. (If you are the latter, scheduling time to create a schedule can help keep you on track.) The plan can be flexible and change as needed as it is meant to be a tool to help you achieve your goal.

Celebrating milestones and evaluating progress

Celebrations are not only fun but are also inspiring. Every so often (or at scheduled times), revisit what you have accomplished. Don’t wait a full year to see how far you have come. Celebrate what you have achieved. Determine if the plan works or if it should be tweaked. If you have veered from the plan, determine whether you took a detour or perhaps should change the plan. Maybe you will discover a new goal, one even more interesting and fulfilling than the first.

Allowing others to share in your successes and failures can spark conversation and provide learning opportunities for all involved. Giving and receiving feedback and constructive criticism are necessary skills that are only learned through experience. Likewise listening to others’ suggestions and then evaluating whether they will work in your situation.

Sometimes goals need to be changed or even thrown out and replaced. Hopefully we are all constantly learning and growing. We may find that we have outgrown our goals or that they no longer hold the importance they once did. Things around us are constantly changing; there is no reason our goals can’t as well. No matter the specifics, shouldn’t our main goal simply be to learn and grow? I think if we do that, we have succeeded.