For years, there's been talk about goal-setting in business and competitive spheres; athletes always set goals for themselves, for instance.

'Goal-oriented' is a buzzword recommended for use during job interviews and those who work in a goal-oriented workplace likely have to submit to periodic performance reviews to see how closely their efforts track with their previously stated goals.

All of that makes the business world seem rather cut-throat, doesn't it? And doesn't it also make you wonder why students should have personal goals? It's not like you'll receive any hike in pay after your performance assessments.

If you're thinking "I'm just a kid, what do I need goals for, other than on the football pitch?", this article is for you.

Whether at uni or still in secondary school - with or without any desire for university courses, Superprof has some advice for you.

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Why You Need Personal Goals

When you were small, you probably said things like: "I'm gonna be a doctor when I grow up!" or "I want to be a police officer/firefighter/pilot!". Those are common childhood wishes; there wasn't any need to put great stock into them.

Kids often hero-worship but their dreams change as they grow up
It's not uncommon for young children to dream of fighting fires but that doesn't mean they're making a goal to fight fires. Photo by Hamza El-Falah on Unsplash

Still, a small percentage of people know, from an early age, what they want to do with their life. Acting on that conviction, those kids' caregivers, teachers and other concerned adults plot a course for them to follow so they can fulfil their ambition.

You'll note that other people are laying out the steps for the child to take. While the goal may have been the child's, adults took it over and strategized every stage. Would you consider that setting and achieving goals?

Well, somebody's achieving goals. The caregivers aim to provide support and pay for the child's development and, along the way, reward the child for achieving goals that the adults set for them. Has that ever happened to you?

Unfortunately, while paying for and rewarding their child's progress, they deprive the child of learning the goal-setting (and goal-attaining) process. That's really bad news, considering that personal goals serve personal growth.

So, based on the information we have, that child is just doing what they're told to do. Following orders, nothing more. Well-intentioned though they may be, the caregivers have done their child a huge disservice.

If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else. Lawrence J. Peter

Setting goals for yourself is how you take control of your life. If you're a student, you might not have the money or all the freedom you need to reach your goals just yet, but by setting goals for yourself, you will be taking your first steps towards defining who you are and how you want your life to be.

Different Types of Goals

Not every goal extends far into the future. You may, for instance, set a goal to read at least one work of classic literature each semester until you graduate. That would be considered a short-term goal. A long-term goal, by contrast, might show you fluent in a second language in three to five years.

To understand these and other different types of goals, we need to look at them a bit closer.

  • short-term goals: these are the things you want to accomplish in the next two years, tops.
  • mid-term goals: 'where do you see yourself in the next five years?' is a common job interview question meant to determine whether you are goal-oriented, a quality many employers look for in job candidates
  • long-term goals: these take 10 years or more to achieve
  • lifetime goals: marriage and raising a family, retiring abroad and starting your own company qualify
  • contextual goals: what aspect of your life the goal addresses, such as personal or professional
  • topical goals cover every other aspect of your life, from learning to leisure and from lifestyle to the spiritual

By no means are we saying that you should immediately formulate all of these goals as soon as you're finished with this article. As you're a student, for now, back to school goals would be enough to get your going in the right direction.

Fitness can be both a short-term and lifetime goal
Getting fit can be a short-term goal while staying fit should be a lifetime goal. Photo by Sushil Ghimire on Unsplash

You're likely pretty clear on what short-term goals feel like and we've explained a bit about what mid-term goals are, so let's dive into long-term goals.

If you're getting ready to sit A-Levels or are in your first year of university study, you might set a goal to complete your doctoral programme within 10 years. Yes, it could take that long! And if you're into your third year at uni and working towards your Master's degree, you might make a long-term goal to take an extended trip abroad before getting married or buying a house.

Some goals might be both topical and contextual and have a time limit, too.

Let's say you want to take better care of your health. You want to cut back on fast foods, trim off a few extra pounds and get fit.

Hopefully, this will be a lifetime goal, but it is certainly a contextual goal because it addresses a specific aspect of your life. It is also a topical goal because it touches on several different parts of life - health, activity and even spirituality, and it's also a short-term goal because, surely, you don't want to spend ten years losing those few pounds, right?

Some people disagree on the distinctions and divisions of goals but overwhelmingly agree that there are different types of goals. These are just a few of them. There are more.

But how would you track your progress toward reaching all those goals?

What Should Your Goals Include?

Simply saying you're going to accomplish something does not give you any investment towards your proposed accomplishment.

Indeed, Napoleon Hill said it well: "a goal is a dream with a deadline". Unless you put yourself on a deadline, you have nothing but desire driving you to your goal, and desire can be both fickle and fleeting.

So, the first thing you must consider, outside of the goal itself, is by when you will have achieved it.

Next, you must figure out what your goal entails. What stands in your way? What do you have to do to reach your goal? What advantages do you have that will make reaching this goal easier? Those advantages can be anything from money to experience and endurance.

Is the goal personal and meaningful? Did you set it or, like our child above, did someone decide for you that you should pursue that goal? If that path is not meaningful to you, you will be more likely to abandon it before you accomplish what you set out to do.

Does your goal have value? Or, better said: what value will you get from accomplishing this goal? It may be something actual, like moving to another country or, in the case of language learning, the value would be in the skills you will possess. Note: the rewards you treat yourself to are not a part of the value your goal represents.

In short, the importance of setting goals is second only to what those goals represent and what they contain.

You should set a few ambitious goals for yourself
Some people list challenging goals in their long-term goals plan. Photo by Stéphane Fellay on Unsplash

How to Set Personal Goals

There's no doubt you're clever but are you S.M.A.R.T.?

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that goal setters like to refer to when formulating their goals. Simply put, it's a formula for goal-setting. Let's see how easy it is to use this formula.

To start, goals must be specific. If you're not clear about what you're aiming for or hoping to accomplish, your results will be equally dubious.

Goals must also be measurable. You might want to study martial arts, but how long will you study and how fast do you plan to progress through ranks? If you can't measure it, your goal remains undefined.

Your goals must be achievable. It's always great to aim high but what's the point if you set yourself to something you have no hope of achieving - other than discouragement?

Note that some goal-setters prefer to use 'ambitious' instead of 'achievable' because an ambitious goal will be more challenging, and thus more rewarding to attain.

Your goals must be relevant to you. So often, we find ourselves working towards goals others have set for us; the children of 'chicken blood parents' are an extreme example of such.

A part of learning how to set personal goals is asking for help if you need it, but it's also about telling those who want to give you their two cents worth to let you find your own way. Remember that setting goals means taking control of your life.

Finally, goals must have a timeframe. As mentioned before, saying you'll do something and not assigning yourself a deadline to achieve it means you're possessed of wishes - maybe even intentions, but not goals.

Things can get a little tricky, here, especially with endeavours like language learning, practising yoga and other typically lifelong learning ventures. Don't hesitate to assign the same goal to different categories; as we saw in the previous segment, some goals may fit into several of them.

So there you have it; S.M.A.R.T. goals are the most effective for ensuring your personal growth.

That's the way I and my student friends set our goals at the beginning of the school year. Give it a try, why don't you?

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.