What happens when you hear the term “goal setting”? Do you avoid thinking about it because it is too overwhelming? Or do you have flashbacks of failed New Year’s resolutions? Do you respond with the idea that only motivated people achieve goals and I am not one of them? Well, then it is time to flip the script!

Goal setting can be a powerful tool if used in the correct context, broken down into manageable steps, and built with positive intent. If goals are structured correctly, they can foster motivation, creativity, discipline, independence, and critical thinking skills… just to name a few. 

Positive Frame

Often goals are set in response to something that is not going well or that we are not doing – low grades, exercising, weight loss, etc. It is more meaningful and has a more successful outcome when a goal is set proactively rather than reactively.  Goals should be positive and are not intended to be a punishment or focused on failure. 

Understand Yourself – Can you answer the following questions? This can help you put things into a more positive light.

  • What do I do well? 
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What are the most important things in my life? 

Getting Started: 

Choosing a focus area can be a roadblock to setting an effective and appropriate goal. 

If you are unsure of what your goal should be, framing it this way could help. Make a list of your answers to these questions, and look for trends, themes, and overlaps.

Action: What do I want to be able to do?   OR  Reflection: What do I want to avoid? 

Writing Your Goal

Think CANDO 

Is your goal clear, appropriate, numerical, doable and were obstacles considered? 

When working with my clients, the CANDO method has been an extremely effective tool. The acronym is easy to remember, is positive in design, breaks down the components into understandable pieces, and considers the obstacles/barriers when setting the goals, providing an opportunity to brainstorm solutions at the beginning. This enables the client to engage in a proactive learning process and engage in conversation about how progress isn’t a straight line, but there are tools to use on the detours. 


If someone else read your goal, would they understand it? It is important to be specific and understandable. It is difficult to follow through on tasks that are unclear and you have questions about. Ambiguity does not hold us accountable, it supports the opposite, permitting for the “I’ll do it later” moments. 


Is the goal realistic? You should be challenged, but not set the bar out of reach. Reflect on your previous experiences to frame your thinking here. 


How will your goal be measured? Think about the timeline, grades, percentage, etc. Including a numerical component helps to create a clear, measurable goal. 


Can you break it down into steps? Consider what you need to do to achieve the goal. What tasks need to be followed on a daily, weekly, monthly, etc. basis? Your follow-through and “buy-in” is essential at this point in the process. 


Now, we all know that there are bumps along the way that can interrupt, delay or halt progress. Often when that happens, the default is to give up because “we will never reach the goal.” But! I am here to challenge that thought and by including the obstacles (and possible solutions) as part of the goal-setting process it shifts our thinking, allowing us to use a proactive approach and feel in control when things get messy (as life often does!) 

You’ve written your goal … Now what? 

Monitoring your progress is important once the momentum starts and you put those thoughts into action. To help you frame this part of the process, you can consider the following: 

  • Am I doing what needs to be done to meet my goal? 
  • If not, how can I get back on track? 

Another helpful tip is to keep your goal where you can see it. It is important to avoid “out of sight, out of mind” pitfalls here. Think about keeping it in a school folder, agenda, on the computer, on the home screen of your phone, or hanging up on the wall or mirror in your house. If you choose to hang it up, pieces of paper can often start to blend right into the background so to prevent that, you can move it around, print it, or write it on brightly colored paper – do something to make it stand out and catch your attention.

This is a template for you to use,  post in your room and track your progress.

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