“Set goals, and stick to them” – really common advice, and no doubt useful if you can pull it off. But that’s a big “if”. If you’re not sure how to set goals, or you’re not sure even what a good goal looks like, what chance do you have of successfully completing it?
It’s great to have goals and aspirations, but some may be more helpful to you than others. A goal like “get 100% in all of my assessments” is super, but then what? How are you actually going to do that? And what happens if you don’t?
In this article, I’m going to broadly separate concepts that people often conflate: aims, goals, and strategies. Let’s get started!
You can think of an aim as something quite general – ultimately what you want to achieve. For example, your aim might be something like:
“Get an 85+ ATAR without it negatively impacting health or relationships.”
“Complete the first semester of university without being late to any classes.”
Things like that – overarching desires. But we don’t just leave it there, as many people do. If you have a goal like that – let’s take the 85+ ATAR as an example – it can actually be quite overwhelming to consider without breaking down how you actually plan to achieve it. That’s where goals come in.
Goals are a little less broad – they’re sort of the level under the aim. The idea is that achieving each goal will set you up to achieve your aim, which is ultimately what you’re pushing for. Again taking the 85+ ATAR example, you might have goals like:
(1) Get to class on time each day so I don’t miss any class content.
(2) Cast a wide study net – don’t exclusively study for the subjects I enjoy and neglect the others.
(3) Start exam preparation early to avoid cramming.
(4) Don’t pull any all-nighters.
Now, you have more specific targets to hit. Instead of “get an 85 ATAR”, you’re now thinking about each of your goals and how to reach them on a day-to-day basis. But we can go further than that.
Thinking about your strategies can help you get on the right path early, or get back on the right path if you’re starting to go astray. Strategies are specific tasks you can complete in order to achieve your goals. Things like:
(1) Set an alarm 10 minutes earlier than usual so that I have enough time to get to school before the first bell.
(2) Each Monday, prioritise what subjects I feel I need to work on most throughout that week.
(3) Set up a regular time each fortnight throughout the year dedicated to exam revision.
(4) Tell my family early in the year that I want to sleep well, and get them to encourage me to go to bed when needed.
Things are starting to look more manageable, right? A lot easier than just the blanket “get an 85+ ATAR” statement!
Okay, so now we have standards. Standards will help you actually measure your progress. What we want are very clear benchmarks that you’re looking to hit. For example:
(1) Keep track of how many days I was late, make sure it’s no more than one per month.
(2) Study each subject at least one time per week.
(3) Set up a spreadsheet to detail exam revision throughout the year. Refer back to this at least once per fortnight to check progress.
(4) Set an alarm for 11pm each night, make sure I’m in bed by then.
Of course, different things will work for different people – and this more structured approach is simply one suggestion of something you can try. But irrespective of what method you use, it’s important to assess how you’re going throughout the year. It’s all well and good “having a goal”, but what happens if you get to December and then realise you’ve been nowhere near it all year?
It’s okay if you set aims, or goals, or strategies, or whatever else, and then realise they’re not achievable or just not working. It’s okay to re-assess. In all likelihood, different things will come up through the year, and you’ll have to be a bit flexible and adaptable. It’s all part of the journey!
With the system above, having standards means you can review your progress efficiently. So why not give it a crack?