10 Tips to Help You Hit Your 2022 Goals
It’s a new year and a new semester – a great time to set goals. But what does it take to actually hit your goals? For two decades I’ve helped students attain specific and measurable academic goals. And, as an educational psychologist, I have studied the science behind motivation and goal attainment. Here are the steps that have helped my students hit their goals and can help you do the same.
1. Declare your intention and clearly state your goal
The first question is what do you want to accomplish, and why? It’s important to be very specific. One of the paradigms I prefer for goal-setting is that of SMART goals, those that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
Academic research makes it clear that short-term goals are much more motivating than long-term goals. We need to shoot for a specific and measurable outcome in the short term, which certainly may be in service of a longer-term goal. What is your goal? And when do you want to achieve it?
Don’t compare your goal to those of others. Focus on yourself and what success would look like in the context of your life and experience. For some students, a meaningful and measurable goal would be to pass all your classes. For others, a goal would be to attain a 4.3 GPA. Still others may have highly specific goals for classes or examinations or activities. Some of my students want more balance and less stress in their lives.
Make a commitment to accomplish your desired outcome and then write it down. I really like the language of “commitment.” A student may choose to write down the specific phrase, “I commit to ______” and then sign it. If you want to learn more about the power of written commitments, you can check out the research of Robert Cialdini, in his seminal work, Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion.
I also insist that students articulate their “Why?” Why do you want to attain this goal? Why would this be meaningful to you or beneficial in your life? How would this help you or others? A goal that is personally meaningful is more likely to influence and sustain desired behaviors.
Bottom line: the goals are yours. No one can tell you what you want to achieve or why. You own that. But a good coach, tutor, or mentor can help you articulate your desired outcome and how to know once you’ve arrived. You define the destination. We help you build the map to get there.
2. Commit to the cost of achieving your goals
Everything in life comes at a cost. If you want to achieve something, you will need to put in the work and make the necessary sacrifices.
Are you willing to pay the price to accomplish the goal you’ve set for yourself? Make an honest appraisal of what it will take to accomplish your goal. And if the cost is worth it, make the commitment to yourself that you will do what is necessary to accomplish your goal.
3. Share your goal with others and get the support you need
Tell people about your goal. Don’t keep it a secret. Enlist others – friends, parents, teachers – as cheerleaders, supporters, and accountability partners in the attainment of your goal. Ask this trusted group for help when you need it. Successful people get help and aren’t afraid to ask for it.
Ideally, you will think in advance about the support structure you will need to accomplish your goal. If you know you’re likely to procrastinate, maybe you can recruit a friend to remind you that you wanted to start your homework after school. This type of help can be mutual and you can encourage each other/hold each other accountable along the way. Help others, and let them help you.
4. Conduct an inventory, learning from yourself and others
Before you begin on this journey, conduct an inventory of your past efforts. What worked and what didn’t work? What can you bring forward from your past efforts, and what will you do differently this time? Beyond your own experience, are there others who have accomplished what you are attempting to accomplish? Can you learn from them, rather than reinventing this particular wheel? Can you ask them specifically what they do that works and how they approach the challenge you are undertaking?
5. Anticipate challenges and potential obstacles
Consider what might get in the way of attaining your goal and think about how you might address those issues/obstacles. You may want to set up a series of “If/Then” statements to help you, e.g., “if I can’t focus with my phone in my study space, then I will dock my phone in the kitchen/put it on airplane mode while I am working.”
6. Use your imagination to serve your goal attainment
Many of us misuse our imaginations and waste our mental energy by worrying about potential negative outcomes. Flip this. Harness the power of your mind and imagination. Vividly imagine how it will feel to attain the desired outcome. How will it feel in your body? Who will you want to share the success with? Imagine the feeling and imprint on it. Allow yourself to spend some time in that desired state: let your body and mind feel what it’s like to have achieved the goal. Prime your awareness and attention for this successful outcome.
7. Build habits, routines, and rituals to support your goal
Don’t rely on willpower. Willpower fails again and again. The key to achieving your goals is through structure, habit, routine. Doing things when you feel like doing them is not the recipe for success. Having structures and systems in place is far superior:
- “I use this free period to prepare for the next class.”
- “I review my Spanish vocabulary each day for 30 minutes.”
- “I begin studying three days in advance for my APUSH class.”
When you have systems and structures in place, it makes it significantly easier to follow through, especially on the days where you’re not feeling as naturally motivated.
8. Build an environment to facilitate the attainment of your goal
Focus on engineering your environment to facilitate the attainment of your goals. As mentioned above, willpower is a weak force which vacillates based upon the time of day, your level of hunger and stress, and how much cognitive effort you’ve already spent throughout the day.
Engineer an environment that minimizes distractions and maximizes focus and on-task behavior. You are the architect of your environment, which in turn drives your own behaviors and fuels goal attainment. Set yourself up for success with a thoughtfully engineered workspace. This might include managing the noise level- using music or establishing silence- controlling for unwanted distractions, ensuring the materials you need are easily accessible, keeping water nearby or healthy snacks if you need a boost, having digital timers available to help with breaks.
9. Calibrate/Track your progress and make adjustments as needed
Visual reinforcement matters a great deal in the service of your goals. Use visual systems to track and chart your progress. This regular, consistent feedback will allow you to identify whether you are on track and to course correct as needed.
Every session I have with a student, we review the current state of grades and compare them against the stated goals that were set early in our sessions. Are you on track? What subjects or projects need more attention? What adjustments must be made? Do you need to talk to a particular teacher or attend office hours? Do you need to modify how you are studying for a specific class?
The regular comparison of the current performance against the desired and stated outcomes keeps students on track to achieve their goals.
10. Harness the power of reflection and celebration
As you build a series of small successes, moments of mastery, take the time to reflect on them and draw them into your awareness. Explore how your behaviors have affected your outcomes. Never let even a “minor” success go by without attending to it and examining it and celebrating it. Never write a success off as luck or attribute it to something external. Let that feeling of accomplishment settle in. Reinforce the successful outcome. In life, you typically get more of what you reinforce.
If you follow these steps, you’ll be on your way to attaining your goals and becoming the kind of person who systematically sets and accomplishes goals. With every small success, you will begin to shift your self-concept and your belief in your ability to attain future goals.