New School Year, New Start

The start of a new school year often comes with its share of stresses and anxieties for both students and parents, but it doesn’t have to. Think of the back to school season as an opportunity to hit the reset button, try out some new strategies, and set some new goals. The key is to make sure that the goals are not too huge and not too small – you have to find the sweet spot, the “just right” challenge. What do I mean by just right? Well, that’s a bit of a personal question. What feels like a just right challenge to you or to me may or may not be the right level of challenge for someone else. So, I recommend starting small and getting a few victories under your belt. For example, if getting up when the alarm goes off in the morning is a struggle for you (as it is for me!) then you might set a goal of getting up without hitting the snooze button on Tuesdays and Thursdays all semester long. Then decide how you are going to measure your success and track your progress. Notice that the Tuesday/Thursday goal is specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-bound.

Specific: getting up without hitting snooze on Tuesdays & Thursdays

Measurable: it is possible to track how many days the goal was achieved

Assignable: it is assigned a specific person

Realistic: there is no logical reason why it can not be achieved

Time-bound:  it will be valid for the entire semester

This S.M.A.R.T framework was first developed in the early 80s by Doran, Miller, and Cunningham and published in “Management Review”. It has been adapted and tweaked over the years, but it remains the number one goal setting model used in corporate, academic, and coaching settings today. Why? Because it works!

I personally find that celebrating goal success keeps me motivated. In the example above, if it were my goal, I might decide that if I get up as soon as the alarm goes off every Tuesday and Thursday for an entire month I will celebrate by giving myself one morning off from going to the gym (that may not be a big reward for you but it definitely is for me 😀). Don’t rush the process but DO commit to the goal. Remember, the idea is to try something new for a while and establish a new habit. If, as time goes on, you are finding it difficult to stick to your goal then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why is this goal important to me? (Note: If you can’t answer this question honestly then it’s probably not a good goal for you at this time)
  • What is getting in the way?
  • What could I do differently?
  • Who can I recruit to help keep me on track?
One step at a time

What if you have some really big goals for this school year? Maybe you would like to ace you math class for the first time ever or get the lead in the spring play or get promoted to the varsity soccer team. Those could feel really intimidating and you might be tempted to categorize them as “huge” and therefore not “just right”. Here is the thing, a large, long-term goal can and should be broken down into smaller, bite-sized, achievable pieces. Think of these smaller goals as steps on a path toward a destination. Make each of the mini goals fit the just right S.M.A.R.T. model and you will be well on your way to achieving your huge goal! 

What if you fail? Fear of failure is often the reason why we don’t try new things, however, in reality, failures and mistakes are the things from which we learn the most. When I was teaching and students complained that something was too hard, I used to ask them if they remembered learning how to walk. I reminded them that they fell – A LOT – and that eventually they got the hang of it and it became a habit. Within a short span of time they were walking without even thinking about it. Doing something for the first time is hard and forming new habits takes time and practice. If things don’t work out with a particular goal, do not despair. Use it as an opportunity to identify your personal roadblocks, learn from the experience, reframe the goal and try again. I titled this blog entry “New School Year, New Start” because milestone dates remind us that a new chapter is starting, but the truth is that we can decide to start over anytime. It doesn’t have to be the first day of school or the first day of the new year, or the day after your birthday. You can decide to start over anytime you want!

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