So, here we are, back in school, coronavirus and delta variants notwithstanding and with or without masks. Is this like any other school year? One where you enter the hallowed halls of academia full of excitement, curiosity and hope that this will be your best year yet?

We certainly wish that for you.

Or are you a bit wary of lingering COVID dangers, haunted by past episodes of bullying and just plain knackered by school and all that it entails?

Whether you're the first type of student - the joyful, optimistic one or the latter type who no longer sees the point of school, your situation and attitude could improve by setting goals for yourself.

Studies show that having a sense of purpose has a beneficial impact on our physical and mental health. We're not saying that achieving goals should be your purpose in life, we mean that they will keep you on track to find the purposeful life you want.

Have you ever thought of setting goals in that light?

Let's sit down together, and have a talk about goals.

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The Importance of Setting Goals

You can't get where you want to go without knowing how you'll get there; that's true in life and as a practical matter. Could you imagine trying to get somewhere without knowing where the destination is and which way to travel?

Don't be a graduate who doesn't know what they want
Alarmingly, over half of UK's graduating students have no idea what they want to do. Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

A revealing (and alarming!) study shows that a little over half of all UK students don't know which direction their lives should take after graduation. It's easy to understand why; for most of a typical student's life, someone else was in charge of their time and activities.

The law says you have to go to school and the school says you have to study these subjects, take that many classes and attend for so many years. Your parents may remind you it's bedtime, time to eat, time to clean up your room and time to put down the game controller.

In short, if you're like a typical kid, your life so far has been following orders/instructions. Is it any wonder that suddenly lacking anyone telling you what to do, you'd have no idea what comes next?

Setting goals is about taking control of your life. By setting targets to reach, you get to decide what you will accomplish and in what timeframe. Far more than simply choosing electives in school, choosing and setting goals contributes to your personal development and growth.

Taking control of your life and destiny, and ensuring your personal growth are very important reasons you should start setting goals for yourself but they are not the only ones, by far.

Discover other reasons why it's so important you get in the habit of setting goals for yourself.

Setting Personal Goals

In this article's introduction, we mentioned having a sense of purpose. Finding your purpose and setting goals are not the same - even though they both relate to your personal development plan. So let's spend a bit of time exploring both concepts.

You no doubt remember how you felt last year, during the first pandemic lockdown. The structures we used to rely on to give us a sense of order - school five days a week, set mealtimes and bedtimes, mum and dad going to work and going shopping and going out...

All of that went out the window when our lives were suddenly put on hold.

It might have felt deliciously naughty, at first, to wake up whenever you felt like it on a school day, lounge around the house in your jim-jams all day and eat whenever the mood struck, but the fun of it soon disappeared. For many, it was replaced by the feeling of having come unmoored.

With no structure to our days and nothing expected of us other than staying home and doing nothing, many grew untethered from normality. The longer it went on, the more surreal the situation became. Soon, it was untenable.

For those who maintained their purpose during that time - of being productive, of being active, of being engaged, their sense of dislocation was nowhere as severe. They kept their alarm clocks set, kept their eating habits and, every day, found something productive to do.

You might say that their lifetime personal goal of leading a purposeful life saved them from being set adrift when the tidal wave of lockdowns struck.

Do you see how setting personal goals can help you stay atop of your life and doings?

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Back to School Goals

As we are (or soon will be) back in the classroom, it might be comforting to assume that things will revert to normal. Our parents and teachers will tell us what to do; we'll comply, however happily or grudgingly.

But do we really want to go back to normal?

Set your goals at the beginning of the school year
The start of the school year is an excellent time to plan goals. Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Remember that more than half of the graduating students don't know what they want to do after they're done with school. Let's not follow in their footsteps; we'll change course by setting some goals.

If you're a first-year university student, you might set a goal of joining and participating in Student Union activities if you've so far avoided doing so. And, if you are a Student Union member, you might set a goal to chair a couple of activities per semester.

Such a goal could help you hone your people skills and develop your ability to organise a major undertaking. It can invest in you a sense of responsibility and challenge your communication skills. Giving effective directions is no small task, after all...

If you're further along in your university studies, you might aim to start researching your dissertation topic. Where are the gaps in the literature? Which ones do you want to fill?

And if you're in your last semester of university, make it your goal to research the job market. You don't have to limit yourself to fields related to your major; take a look around to see what's out there. You never know; something might spark your interest.

What about students who are still in secondary school and college? There are goal-setting ideas for you, too... lots of them! So many, in fact, that we had to write a whole article on the subject.

How to Track Your Goals

Are you feeling purposeful yet? Are you excited at the prospect of finally being master and commander of your own life's ship?

Hold on just a tick, we still need to fathom out how we're going to measure our progress.

Tracking your goals is as important as establishing them, if not more so. After all, no seafaring captain worth their salt would fail to chart their progress; why would you?

Keeping track of your progress as you move closer to accomplishing your goals can be as simple as keeping a journal. If you've set a short-term goal - say, something you will accomplish by the end of the semester, you might write a single sentence describing your progress at the end of each day's entry.

Or, if the day's main happening relates to your goal, the entry might talk about nothing but striving for your goal. For longer-term goals, you might consider spacing out your goal-related entries.

You need to track your goals so that they remain at the forefront of your mind because it's too easy to give up on something that does not show immediate results. That's no reflection on you; it's just human nature.

By actively tracking your progress toward achieving your goals, you stay invested in them. That's a sure way to see that they don't fall by the wayside.

If you're not into journaling or if you prefer a visual indicator of how well you're staying on track, there are many other ways to mark your progress. 

You can use a calendar to track you goals
Some goal-setters prefer to track their goals in a calendar. Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Reward Yourself for Achieving Goals

You stuck by your goals and worked hard until you accomplished them. Now, it's time to reward yourself. Ah, sweet reward!

There's just one question: what should that reward be?

If you're disgusted by today's rampant consumerism and materialism, don't worry; your reward need not be something tangible or bought. You might be happy with the gift of time; one day to yourself, wherein you do what you want to do. If the goal you achieved is of particular significance, you might ask your family for that keepsake or treasure you've long coveted.

Rewards should be equal to the magnitude of your accomplishment so, if you set yourself a goal of washing your own laundry for a semester, asking for a family heirloom as a reward would be a bit excessive. On the other hand, if you successfully defended your doctoral thesis, a piece of family treasure would suit you very well.

Whether you prefer store-bought rewards or something without a price tag, make sure you reward yourself with something meaningful, that is equal in magnitude to the goal you just met.

Just remember that getting accepted into the university degree programme you want is not a goal; earning marks high enough to qualify is.

The difference between the two is that one depends wholly on someone else making a decision while the other relies entirely on your hard work and dedication.

So feel free to celebrate your success in landing a spot in the study programme, but only after you reward yourself for achieving the goal of university-qualifying marks.

And what kind of reward should you receive for that?

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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.