Helping Young People Set and Achieve Goals

Every young person is unique, an amazing combination of both genetic data and experiences that shape who they are. Even among identical twins, vast differences are often observed in behavior, preference, and way of thought. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that every young person has something very special to share with the world. There truly is no one else exactly like them on the entire planet.

As parents, educators, and child-care providers, it is our duty to help these young people achieve success in life by accomplishing their goals and ultimately realizing their dreams. In order to do this, we must teach them the power of goal-setting for accomplishing difficult and complex tasks. Here are a few tips for getting started:

1. Be specific. “Get better at basketball” is a vague goal. Instead, try being as specific as possible. “Complete 25 free throws in a row, 3 times per day” is a much more specific goal. Specificity helps everyone establish where they stand in relation to the goal itself. At the end of the day, anyone should be able to look at what has been done in relation to the goal itself and determine whether or not it was accomplished.

2. Start small and work a plan to completion. We often teach our children to “reach for the stars.” While this is generally motivating and encouraging advice, it can become discouraging if a step-by-step plan for achievement has not been put into place. For example, if a young person desires to become better at a particular sport, break that sport down to its individual component parts and practice those parts individually. Set reasonable goals in one area, and do not move on to the next until the goal has been achieved.

3. Share rewards along the way. The human brain loves immediate gratification. Use this knowledge to your advantage by rewarding the young person for small steps in the right direction. Psychological studies continue to demonstrate that people are more motivated by rewards than punishments. Receiving a small reward on the way to achieving a larger goal will give the young person a strong sense of self-worth and respect.

Finally, be sure that the young person is intrinsically motivated to achieve their goals. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within a person, while extrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from somewhere else. For instance, the young person may be trying to please or impress someone else (a parent or mentor) by achieving a certain goal. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if the young person is motivated to win the approval of the other person. However, it is something to watch out for, as it may lead the young person down a path they later regret.

By Ian Humphrey


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