Starting Fresh — Setting Your Goals for 2021
After a challenging year and in the face of continued uncertainty, it’s safe to say that the world is collectively yearning for a fresh start; a chance to wipe the slate clean of 2020’s scribbles and write a new and improved story. To help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions and carry positive energy into the coming months, we suggest adopting an organized and sustainable strategy: goal-setting!
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
In addition to helping you achieve your goals, goal setting has many other positive outcomes and benefits, such as:
- 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.⁴
- Reduced effect of negative emotions like anxiety, disappointment, and frustration.⁴
- Widely applicable. Goal-setting interventions are very straightforward, easily administered, and inexpensive.⁴
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:
Set SMART goals. This simple acronym can help guide the beginning of your goal-setting journey.
Specific → Clear, focused, and well-defined goals are more likely to be achieved.⁵
Measurable → Charting your progress can help you stay motivated.5 You can measure your progress in many ways, such as in the form of timelines, dates, dollar amounts, course grades, and more.⁵
Attainable → Your goals should stretch your abilities but remain possible or achievable.⁵ After setting a goal, make sure you formulate a plan and reflect upon the skills and materials required to achieve it.⁵
Realistic → Realistic goals are ones that you are willing and able to accomplish.⁵ These goals should be within reach and they should also be relevant to your desires and environment.
Timely → Your goals and goal-attainment plans should have a set time period; a specific starting and ending point.⁵
Break larger, performance-based goals into smaller, task-based goals. In a study by Clark et al., it was found that performance-based goals did not have a significant impact on course performance. On the other hand, task-based goals were seen to have great positive effects on the level of task completion and also increased course performance.⁶ For example, achieving a certain grade in a certain course is a performance-based goal. Try breaking up this larger goal into smaller, task-based ones, such as: Reviewing material for a certain amount of time weekly, completing a certain number of practice tests before a midterm or exam, etc.
Start small. At the beginning of the goal-setting process, it is natural to feel overly enthusiastic and ambitious, however, it is important to start small; do not set too many goals, especially large ones, at once.⁷ This can ultimately lead to burnout and prevent you from accomplishing your goals.
Examine your motivations. Give yourself some time to reflect on why you want to achieve the goals you have set, and write these motivations down.⁷ Consider who is motivating you to accomplish your goals: Are you doing it for yourself? Your loved ones? This information is powerful and can help ensure that the goals you set are what you really want to achieve.
Write your goals (and plans) down. Writing down your goals helps you visualize and keep them at the forefront of your mind, which can ultimately boost goal attainment.⁸ Fortunately, there are many accessible and inexpensive options, such as journaling, computer software, and phone apps.⁹ Explore different methods and choose whichever medium is best for you!
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:
- 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
- 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!
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
January always comes hand-in-hand with many strong emotions: hope, excitement, and even the urge to drastically change your lifestyle! It is perfectly normal to want to set resolutions and better yourself, but a solid strategy is needed to reduce the likelihood of negative emotions like burnout, frustration, and anxiety over “failed” goals. Goal setting is a straightforward and inexpensive technique that can help you accomplish your New Year’s resolutions. Best of all, goal setting is not a rule-filled, one-size-fits-all method; it allows you to personalize the experience and use the techniques how you see fit, encouraging self-direction and ultimately self-confidence as you progress through life.
Written by: Darleen Ha
- 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.
- Ryan TA. Intentional Behaviour. New York, NY: Ronald Press; 1970. 575 p.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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/.
- 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.
- 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/.
- 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.
- 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/.
- 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.