The Benefits of Writing Down Goals

Blog · Jul 30, 2015

Children who set reachable goals for themselves make an investment in their future.  As a result, they are more likely to make responsible decisions that will keep them on track toward their goals and resist negative influences that would deter them from reaching their goals.

Six key steps can help students set and achieve their goals.  Students must begin by naming their goals. And when students write down their goals it concretizes them.  The results are so positive it is hard to believe something so simple can be so effective.  According to Forbes Magazine writer, Ashley Feinstein, a Harvard University study compared a body of students who had not set goals, students who had set goals but not written them down, and students who had set goals and written them down. They followed up with the class ten years later and found that the “3% who had written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% of the class combined!”

Furthermore, NPR recently featured a University of Toronto professor, Jordan Peterson, who conducted a classroom experiment with goal-setting and writing.  Peterson began with the “’goal-setting theory’ [which] holds that writing down concrete, specific goals and strategies can help people overcome obstacles and achieve.” He asserts writing positively influences students’ motivations to meet their goals.

Peterson designed an undergraduate course that moved students through a series of writing exercises related to their goals.  The results proved positive, especially with at-risk students, to increase student retention rates and overall academic achievement.  One student, formerly involved in drug use, even proclaimed it turned her life around.  Peterson’s process encouraged students to “reflect on important moments in their past, identify key personal motivations and create plans for the future, including specific goals and strategies to overcome obstacles."

Once students have chosen a goal, picturing the goal as it is reached will help students define what they are aiming for.  A positive attitude goes a long way toward helping students reach their goals, so the next step is for students to say “I Can” to their goals.  With goals in place, students must then think of how to do it. This, again, is a place where writing is beneficial.  Making a checklist can help students tangibly keep track of their action steps. Which brings us to the next step—Go for it! Well-planned goals are ready to be reached.

Once the goal is achieved, students can enjoy celebrating their success. Feinstein writes, “How will you celebrate once you’ve reached your goal?  As we journey to the realization of our goals, it’s important to remember our vision.”  Starting with a clear picture of the goal, as well as writing down the goal and writing the action steps in the process, keeps the vision alive.  Learning these best practices in school encourages students to aspire to academic success as learning becomes a means to a greater end.  Students not only have the satisfaction of meeting their goals but also the knowledge and confidence they need to keep setting and reaching increasingly complex goals as they grow older. With these goal-setting skills in place, students are emboldened to reach out to a galaxy of dreams.

Goal-Setting, Social Emotional Learning, Substance Abuse Prevention

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