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View From Vis: Goal-Setting in 2019

In this month's blog post, Visitation's Counseling Team offers practical and good advice on strategies for goal-setting.

Goal-Setting Strategies from Visitation's Counseling Team

Visitation Drive on a sunny day.

Happy 2019 from Visitation's counseling team -- a group of five counselors (Beth Carver, Jeanne Doyle, Anne Gimpl, Jules Nolan and Kelley Stoneburner) who serve students in Lower, Middle and Upper School and provide resources to Visitation's parents, faculty and staff.

For each month of the academic year, our team focuses on a theme -- such as gratitude or resilience -- and shares articles, lesson plans and ideas for incorporating that theme into our lives. Our counseling theme for January was healthy goal-setting -- a timely theme in light of New Year's resolutions and the sense of a fresh start that comes with beginning a new year.

Even though some time has passed since New Year's, we thought we would share some strategies for creating goals and resolutions that are healthy, achievable and personally rewarding. The system outlined below is one adults can use for their own habit forming; plus, it is a fun exercise to do with children. After all, it is never too early to learn to set healthy goals!

The first step in creating healthy goals is to reflect. Thoughtful reflection allows us to see patterns in our lives that have led to successful goals or that have left us falling short of desired outcomes. Here are some questions to ask as you reflect on your past goals:

  • What goal or resolution have I set in the past that felt easy to complete?
  • What goal or resolution have I left incomplete or chose to quit?
  • What did I achieve in the previous year that makes me most proud?
  • What habits or behaviors do I have that I want to leave behind?
  • What habits or behaviors do I have that I want to continue?

Once we spend time reflecting, we may see patterns in things that work for us in goal-setting and things that have worked against us.

SMART Strategies
Research on goals and habit formation encourages the use of the SMART formula. SMART stands for specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic and timely.

1. Specific. Goals that are specific are more likely to be accomplished because there is a clear outcome. For example, if your overarching goal is to improve organization, break that goal into a few specific goals, which might look like this: setting all your appointments in Google calendar, cleaning your desk at the end of each day and choosing a system for organizing mail at home. These goals are small and specific -- and they will contribute to the larger goal of improving organization.

2. Measurable. Reflection is key when considering the measurable nature of a goal. Give yourself a deadline for achieving your goal, and conduct frequent self-check-ins to ensure you are not slipping into old habits. As you track your progress, give yourself rewards for steps taken toward the end goal.

3. Appropriate. A goal is appropriate when it brings you long-term happiness, falls within your area of control, and reflects your likes, interests and personality type. We should not choose a goal for ourselves that is dependent on the actions of another. Furthermore, we should not choose goals that will require us to be miserable as we are less likely to achieve those goals. Focusing on adding joy increases the likelihood we will commit to positive change.

4. Realistic. We can determine how likely we are to complete something by looking at how we have succeeded in the past. It is better to set a small -- or even easy -- goal than to set a difficult, likely-to-fail goal. A small win will lead to another small win, and soon we will have completed a larger feat than we could have conceived. Plus, we likely will feel more joyful in the process. When analyzing whether a goal is realistic, choose the smallest steps possible with the awareness that you can add another challenge once the first goal is completed.

5. Timely. Committing to a deadline is important. Decide what your goal is, and establish both a deadline by which you will achieve your goal and an incremental plan that will help you accomplish that goal in steps.

Be Flexible
In all goal-setting, we encourage flexibility. We will not achieve our goals perfectly, and we should expect some setbacks. Goals, especially important ones, often require a shift in perspective, lifestyle and expectations. Some days will be hard, and some days we will not do what we planned. However, we can employ resilience and remember that micro failures are not truly failures but are actually data points to help us understand what works and what does not work for us.

We hope this post is helpful in supporting any positive change, goal or habit you hope to complete in 2019. We are grateful to be a part of this community, and we wish God's blessings on you and your family in this new year. Do not hesitate to reach out to our team for any additional information or resources.

Click here for more information on the SMART formula.