New Year . New Resolution (S.M.A.R.T Goals)

In the book “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School”, Mark McCormack spoke about a Harvard study on how 3% of the students was earning more than the remaining 97% of their peers. Higher aptitude, better family backgrounds, strong connections, better jobs or even luck are definitely some guesses that comes to mind. However, you’d be surprised that all these factors are not part of the formula. It turns out that this 3% simply had clear written goals, and after 10 years, they were earning 10 TIMES as much as the rest of their peers!

So, what exactly is the magic of clear written goals to be able to produce such an amazing outcome? Simply put, the essence of goals is to concentrate our attention to what it is that we seek to achieve, while penning these goals down helps us better visualize them to channel our motivation to achieve them. Similarly, effective goal setting can help your child better achieve in not only the upcoming exams, but also in the future, to be that distinguished 3%!

Then comes the million dollar question: How do we go about doing effective goal setting? The answer is simple: by using the S.M.A.R.T goal setting technique!

Specific – Know exactly what to achieve
The downfall of most goals is the lack of specificity. The more defined a goal is, the clearer the direction to concentrate efforts on to achieve it. Thus, the first consideration when setting goals is to ensure that the goal is as specific as possible. The following examples differentiates between a general and specific goal:

Example 1: I will improve and get good grades

Why this goal flops: “Improve” and “good grades” are very broad and subjective terms, depending on who is to define it. The meaning of “improve” may vary broadly between parent and the child, or even between two students. Similarly, what is the definition of “good grades” here? To one student, it could be a Pass grade; to another, it could be scoring an A*. Without a clear understanding of what is meant by ‘improve’ or ‘good’, there will not be a clear direction for students to thrive towards.

Example 2: I want to improve from fail to pass and score at least 55 marks

Why this goal rocks: In this case, standards are stated clearly and the student is clear on what is expected. There is no leeway for excuses as the goal is specific and targeted.

Measurable – How to know if goals are met?
If a goal is tangible, it would be simple to ascertain if the goal was met as shown from the results. Using the above example of improving from fail to pass and scoring at least 55 marks, we can check if the goal was achieved simply by looking at the result slips.
However, in the case where the goal is more intangible and uncountable in nature, we would have to design relative checkpoints to help us ascertain if the goals are met.

A case in point would be if the goal was to be less shy. Foremost, the goal becomes more specific after translating being less shy to being more open to people. Next, to measure the outcome of this intangible goal, we set some checkpoints, comparing the child’s current with past behaviour to measure the results. For instance, if we observe that the child is more outspoken by taking the initiative in conversations or if the child does not object to interaction with strangers as strongly as before , we can then tell that the child has achieved his/her goal.

Attainable – Ensure the goal is not out of reach, but far enough to be challenging

One way I would explain desirable goal setting to my students is to imagine shooting an arrow. The arrow shot out would always land slightly lower than targeted, meaning results would always be lower than expected. Therefore, always aim slightly higher so that the arrow can land nicely on the bullseye.

An effective goal should be one that challenges the child so as to motivate action. At the end of one spectrum, if a goal has standards that is way beyond the child’s current abilities, the perception of mission impossible would be etched in the child’s mind; the results would be an averse impact on morale and self-confidence, thereby diminishing motivation to strive towards the goal. Conversely, should the goal be too easily attainable, the maximum potential of the child will not be utilized and this would defeat the purpose of goal setting. Thus, to ensure that the goal is attainable yet challenging, a fair understanding of the child and his/her academic performance is required.

Relevant – Link the goal to something that motivates

Rewards makes up a great deal of the motivational aspect in goal setting and making sure that the reward is relevant to the child doubles the effectiveness of the reward.

During goal setting with one of my students in the previous term, I offered candy as a reward to achieving the goal. This reward had been effective with the other students, who would excitedly request the types of candy to be gifted. However, that particular student had been less than excited and I could clearly see the disappointment in her face. After some understanding, I realised that that particular student did not like candies and had cavity issues. If I had not found out, this reward would not only malfunction as a motivational push, but will even become a wet blanket as the child will feel that the potential fruit of labour is something undesired.

It is thus important to find out what really motivates and inspires your child to put in that extra effort to achieve the goal.

Set aside some time to communicate with your child to find a perfect reward; you’d be surprised at the amount of things you’ll learn about your child!

Timely – When is the goal to be met?

A goal should be tied to a time frame to instill a sense of urgency. When there is no sense of urgency, there will be no action taken. Hence, the goal should be attached to set time frames so that the child is aware of the deadline to which the goal should be achieved. The decision on the length of each time frame should be made with the child after proper communication on the goal that is set. Similar to effective goal setting, the time frame set should enable the achieving of the goal to be challenging but yet achievable to the child. However, do take care that the time frames set should not be spanned over a long period of time as this would not instil a sense of urgency and the child would lay back on the laurels.

Make use of the S.M.A.R.T goal setting technique today to practice effective goal setting with your child! Your child too can be that top 3% with effective goal setting!

Do share with us how the goal setting with your child went!