How to set goals for kids?

Goals. We love to make them. We love for our kids to make them. And yet, statistics show, we almost never keep them. (For example, 80 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions abandon them by the second week of February.)

That’s the bad news.

But there’s also good news: Just taking a few simple steps can dramatically increase anyone’s odds of achieving a goal.

Researchers put together a diverse group of men and women from around the world, with ages ranging from early 20s to early 70s, and from a variety of fields: students, lawyers, bankers, teachers, health care professionals, artists, entrepreneurs….

Participants were then divided into one of two groups. One group wrote down their goals. The other did not.

What happened? People who wrote down their goals were 42 percent more likely to achieve those goals than those who did not. That probably comes as no surprise; after all, plenty of studies show that writing down goals makes a difference.

But the next two steps might.

Participants in the “write down your goals” group were broken down into several sub-groups:

One group was asked to also create action commitments. (A list of things they would do to achieve their goal.)

Another group was asked to create action commitments and also to share their goals and commitments with a supportive friend.

A third group was asked to create action commitments, share their goals with a supportive friend, and also send that friend weekly progress reports.

What happened?

  • The action commitment group was even more likely to achieve their goals than the group that only wrote down their goals.
  • The action commitment group that sent their goals and commitments to a supportive friend were even more likely to achieve their goals.
  • The action commitment, share with trusted friend, and share weekly progress reports group was the most likely to achieve their goals of all the groups.

In short:

  • Writing down a goal is a good goal achievement strategy.
  • Writing down a goal and creating an action plan is a really good goal achievement strategy.
  • Writing down a goal, creating an action plan, and sharing that plan with a friend is really, really good goal achievement strategy.
  • But writing down a goal, creating and sharing an action plan, and providing weekly progress reports is a great goal achievement strategy.

So how can you help your kids tap into the power of neuroscience to help them achieve their goals?

1. Write down an extremely specific goal.
Say your child wants to get better grades in math. “Do better in math” sounds great, but what does it mean in real-world terms? Nothing; it’s just a wish.

“Get an A in maths this semester” is a specific, measurable, objective goal. Not only does she know what she wants to accomplish, setting a goal that way also allows her to create a process more or less guaranteed to get her there.

An example for adults: “Grow our revenue” sounds great, but is also meaningless. “Land five new $5,000 customers a month,” on the other hand, allows you to figure out exactly who you’re looking for.

And what you need to do to land them.

2. Work backwards to create action commitments.
Now that your kid has set her long-term goal, help her work backwards to create a process designed to achieve that goal.

Break it down into concrete steps. She can set up homework and study schedules, create a plan to tap into online resources, set up weekly tutoring sessions… and then all she has to do is follow her plan.

Then make sure each step includes a timeline — because the plan needs to be a commitment, not just a plan.

3. Share the goal and action commitments with the right friend.
Sure, she could share her goal and plans with anyone. But as science shows, “The important thing is that you need to care [my italics] about the opinion of who you are telling.”

So make sure she shares her goal with someone she admires. Someone she doesn’t want to think less of her. Someone she would hate to have to tell, “I haven’t actually started.” Or, “I didn’t get very far.” Or, “I gave up.” Maybe that’s a friend. Or a teacher. Or a relative. Whoever it is, ensure it creates an aspirational form of peer pressure–that by accomplishing her goal, the person she respects will respect her more.

But don’t let her stop there.

4. Send weekly progress reports.
Have her list the commitments she achieved that week. And the commitments she didn’t achieve that week–and what she will do to make sure she does achieve them in the future.

Accountability buddies work best when they can help hold you to specific tasks, specific steps, and specific actions. That way, you’ll focus more on the day-to-day and less on the big picture.

Which is exactly what your child–and you–need, because every great accomplishment is the result of dozens, or even hundreds, of small accomplishments.

Check out my related post: Do schools kill creativity?

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