Little Goals Today Lead to Big Success in the Future
Happy New Year! We have cruised through the holiday season and landed in January—goal-setting season! The new year is a time when people of all ages naturally reflect on the past and consider what they hope to accomplish in the coming months. In your work with young people this month, you may find yourself helping them set goals for themselves.
Whatever goal-setting system you use (see OTA’s own 7-Step RIPPLE Plan for Goal Setting if you want some guidance), follow one important rule: let the kid drive the process. It is imperative that their goals are their goals.
“But wait,” you say, “my young person sets terrible goals! If I don’t help them choose a task, their goal will not be connected to reality, and it certainly won’t be useful. They will set a goal to build a complete underwater replica of our hometown in Minecraft or to eat only marshmallows for a week! Shouldn’t goals at least be useful?”
We hear you, trusted adults. It is hard to sit back and let kids choose goals that seem so unproductive. But right now, the point is not to complete a useful task or even to learn to approach hard problems in a sensible way—that all comes later. Instead, goal setting at this age is a chance to teach young people how to self-assess, break large projects into smaller milestones, and evaluate outside factors that might impact success. These are vital skills with wide application, and they take time to learn. In fact, having a low-stakes goal like learning a new TikTok dance allows a young person to practice those key skills in a low-pressure context.
Kids sometimes protect themselves from failure by choosing goals that seem frivolous or mocking. Their choice is information for you. They may be afraid of the pressure of committing to a goal and being held accountable; pressing them will not help! Instead, take the process as seriously as if the goal they had chosen were truly substantial then, get curious:
- “Why marshmallows? Do you have any good all-marshmallow recipes? Tell me more about this goal...”
Be careful not to place judgment on their goal or answers, this is a great opportunity to practice your observing and describing skills.
- “That goal will require a lot of marshmallows” rather than “Marshmallows are full of sugar and you will get sick.”
Follow up with your accountability, even if they did not take the process seriously. As kids experience small wins through their goals, they will begin to trust the process. If we can offer young people the space to choose the goal that is at their level today, their success will encourage them to choose goals that have higher stakes in the future. Over time their progress will build on itself and your young person will become a champion goal setter.
Be well, and keep being who you needed!