Setting Mid and Long-Term Goals

by Dahlia Miller
September 2004

“Unless you change direction, you are likely to end up where you are headed.”
Chinese Proverb

I watched a ladybug as she walked across my deck the other day. She stood on a leaf, stretching her wings looking like she was about to fly away.

Then she began to walk. From my vantage point high above her, I could see that she was headed toward the north edge of the deck less than a meter from the leaf. I wondered where she was going. I guessed she was trying to reach the north edge of the deck. “Perhaps she couldn’t stretch her wings wide enough on the leaf to be able to take off from the deck,” I mused, “Perhaps she wants to take a running leap from the deck and head for the trees.”

Then she turned. And she turned again. It seemed that there were tiny obstacles in her path. She seemed to be making slower and slower progress: she was turning so often that she was hardly moving toward the north edge of the deck at all.

“This is a prime example of undirected goal-setting,” I judged, shaking my head. “Here is this little ladybug getting so caught up in the small obstacles that she is losing sight of her larger goal.” I had to laugh at myself then. How did I know what the ladybug’s goals were?

From my objective perspective, I could easily see the patterns in the ladybug’s behaviour. From a distance, it’s always easier to see patterns in behaviour. But objectivity is not enough. It’s necessary to know the goals of the one doing the action to see if the behaviour is matched to the goals.

Similarly, if we can step back from our own behaviour and view it objectively, it can be much easier to recognize patterns. That way we can have both objective and subjective viewpoints. When we consider ourselves as a laboratory to experiment with, we can try out new patterns and let go of old ones (without judgment).

Before setting goals, consider what is important to you. This will help you to understand your personal, subjective perspective.

To find out what really is important to you, ask yourself “why”: Why are you studying? Why are you attending school? Why do you want to learn? Why are you doing what you are doing? Why do you want to achieve? Why do you want to reach that goal? Why is it important to you to do your best?

If your goal matches with what is important to you (your beliefs and values), then it will be much easier for you to stay on track daily.

Goal Setting Tips

Step 1: Choose a Goal
Since you want to be able to reach this goal, make it something that you believe you can do. For example, if you are capable of getting a “B+” on all your exams, then that is a reachable goal. Also, make your goal something you can measure, that way you’ll be able to celebrate when you achieve it! For example, your goal could be to get 87% on your next math exam. If your goal is a long-term one, break it into shorter, one-year goals. Write a list of your goals for the up-coming year.

Step 2: Make a Vow to Reach Your Goal
Goals can be difficult to reach. You will not be able to reach all of your goals. If you decide to strive for a goal, then make a vow to do your best to achieve it. With commitment to your goal, you will stay more focused when obstacles present themselves. Also, if you don’t achieve your goal, you will feel no regrets because you’ll be confident that you made your best effort.

Step 3: Consider Where You Are Now in Relation to Your Goals
Think of yourself like an archer. Once you have chosen a target (i.e. goal), the next step is to assess your current position. How close are you to your target? What direction do you need to aim to reach your target? How much energy do you need to exert to hit your target? The answers to all of these questions begin with knowing your current position.

Assess your current grades, study habits, confidence and motivation. This is your current position.

Step 4: Make a Plan for How to Achieve Your Goals
What do you need to do between now and one year from now to achieve your one-year goals?

To answer this question, it can be really helpful to plan backwards from the future. For example, if you want an “A” in your chemistry class, you’ll need to schedule in time to study for your exams. You’ll also need to schedule time to keep up with your class work, homework and assignments. If you know the due dates for any assignments or the dates for exams, schedule those in now. As well, schedule in time to prepare for assignments and exams.

Step 5: Reflect on Your Actions
If your goals are important to you, stay committed to them. Do the tasks each day and each week that will bring you closer to your goals. Where you are walking is where you are headed. Be aware of what you are doing: is it moving you closer to your goals or further away? If you need to correct any study patterns, take control and do so.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Will Rogers