Starting Fresh — Setting Your Goals for 2021

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What is goal setting and why should you start doing it?

Goal setting, a powerful motivational tool, is a process that helps people achieve their goals; it is the act of consciously recognizing your goals and formulating strategies or plans to achieve them.¹ By bringing these goals into your consciousness, your behaviour and action can be purposefully controlled.²

  • Improved academic performance. In a study by Schippers et al., goal-setting cohorts showed a 22% increase in academic performance. It was seen that both academic and non-academic goals can ultimately improve academic performance.³
  • Positive “contagious” effect. Goal setting and goal-attainment plans can encourage individuals to continue setting and accomplishing goals over a long period of time, resulting in a self-reinforcing cycle.³
  • Greater capacity for self-regulation. Goal-setting techniques can help individuals discover and use more effective strategies of thought and perception.⁴
  • Increased feelings of well-being, such as enthusiasm, motivation, and persistence.⁴
  • Increased levels of perceived self-efficacy.
  • Reduced effect of negative emotions like anxiety, disappointment, and frustration.⁴
  • Widely applicable. Goal-setting interventions are very straightforward, easily administered, and inexpensive.⁴
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How to successfully set goals!

Properly setting your goals ultimately sets you up for success! Here are some guidelines to help set your goals strategically:

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Tips: How to stay motivated and achieve your goals!

Achieving your goals is a challenging task; negative emotions like procrastination, frustration, and burnout are some of the common obstacles that you may face along your goal-setting journey. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated and optimistic while accomplishing your goals:

  1. Chart your progress visually. Try using calendars, spreadsheets, online software, phone apps, and other visual tools to mark your accomplishments and next steps.⁷ Being able to see your progress is rewarding and can motivate you to continue your goal-achieving efforts.⁷
  2. Reward yourself. Celebrate the small victories along your goal-setting journey by rewarding yourself appropriately.⁷ Make sure that the reward you give yourself is positive, healthy, and proportionate to the size of the goal.⁷ For example, if your goal is to succeed in your courses, reward yourself after completing an assignment or acing a test. Do whatever makes you happy, in moderation: Eat your favourite snack, go on a well-deserved walk or even watch a movie!
  3. Visualize your success daily. In great detail, visualize what your successful outcome will be like: How will it look, feel, smell, taste, and sound?⁷ This is a powerful tool that can help keep you motivated long-term.
  4. Take care of your physical health. Unhealthy eating habits and lack of sleep contribute to a negative affect, making you feel tired, sluggish, and sick.⁹ To stay motivated, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, eat well, and exercise regularly.⁹
  5. Find inspiration. Media can be a powerful tool on your goal-achieving journey. You can always turn to books, articles, essays, videos, and even movies focused on self-improvement and achieving goals when you’re in need of inspiration.⁹
  6. Find someone to hold you accountable or commit publicly. Ask friends and family to check in on your progress.¹⁰ Finding like-minded friends with similar goals can also be helpful.⁷ For example, if your goal is to improve your academic performance, try teaming up with friends in your courses! You may also find it empowering to post about your goals and progress on social media as a public commitment.⁷
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  1. Locke EA, Latham GP. E. A. Locke & G. P. Latham (Eds.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall; 1984. Goal setting: A motivational technique that works!; p. 20–40.
  2. Ryan TA. Intentional Behaviour. New York, NY: Ronald Press; 1970. 575 p.
  3. Schippers MC, Morisano D, Locke EA, Scheepers AW, Latham GP, Jong EMD. Writing about personal goals and plans regardless of goal type boosts academic performance. Contemp Educ Psychol [Internet]. 2020 Jan [cited 2021 Jan 16];60:101823. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0361476X1930428X doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2019.101823.
  4. Morisano D, Hirsh JB, Peterson JB, Pihl RO, Shore BM. Setting, elaborating, and reflecting on personal goals improves academic performance. J Appl Psychol [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2021 Jan 16];95(2), 255–264. Available from: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-04488-003?doi=1 doi 10.1037/a0018478.
  5. Grantham University. Ensure Your Success: Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals [Internet]. [Place unknown]: Grantham University; 2019 [updated 2019 June 28; cited 2021 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.grantham.edu/in-the-news/ensure-your-success-set-smart-goals/.
  6. Clark D, Gill D, Prowse V, Rush M. Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence from Field Experiments. IZA [Internet]. 2016 Oct [cited 2021 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.iza.org/publications/dp/10283/using-goals-to-motivate-college-students-theory-and-evidence-from-field-experiments.
  7. Babauta L. The Ultimate Guide to Motivation — How to Achieve Any Goal [Internet]. Zen Habits. 2016 [updated 2016 May 27; cited 2021 Jan 16]. Available from: https://zenhabits.net/the-ultimate-guide-to-motivation-how-to-achieve-any-goal/.
  8. Gardner S, Albee D. Study focuses on strategies for achieving goals, resolutions. Dominican Scholar [Internet]. 2015 Feb 1 [cited 2021 Jan 16];Press Releases:266. Available from: https://scholar.dominican.edu/news-releases/266.
  9. Purdue University Global. 4 Goal Setting Strategies and Resources to Get You Motivated for the New Year [Internet]. [Place unknown]: Purdue University Global; 2020 [updated 2020 Dec 7; cited 2021 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.purdueglobal.edu/blog/student-life/goal-setting-worksheet/.
  10. Silverman R. Student Learning Commons: Goal Setting and Accountability [Internet]. [Place unknown]: Simon Fraser University; 2016 [updated 2016 April 25; cited 2021 Jan 16]. Available from: https://www.lib.sfu.ca/about/branches-depts/slc/learning/motivation/goal-setting-accountability.

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