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Culture of Intention: Setting Goals

I can’t help it. I’m an Olympics junkie. Every stroke, every flip, every serve, every stride—there’s not a sport I won’t devour. But when I really think about it, I realize the reason this event appeals to me so much is because of the athletes’ storied journeys. Beyond their exceptional athleticism, I marvel at their path, at their mindset, and at the sheer number of hours they spend honing their craft. I find my mind wandering during each event. What I’m considering is just how dedicated, focused, and intentional each one is. How fearless and willing to embrace defeat and setbacks each one is. I’m thinking about what the rest of us can learn from them. I’m pondering just how many goals they’ve set then shattered.

And there it is: at its core, for me, the Olympics highlights the value of goals. True, the world stage is not the end game for most of us. I certainly don’t mean to say that we can all be Olympic athletes—not even close—but we can all take a critical lesson in goal setting from these extraordinary human beings.

Back-to-school goal setting

The Olympics directly precedes back to school, a time characterized by renewed focus, new beginnings, hope, and growth on the horizon. While the timing might be coincidental, it’s also fortuitous. It’s the perfect time for us to start thinking about our own goals. To help our school-aged kids to do the same ahead of the coming school year. Goals help us to set intentions, to think through what we want for ourselves, how we want to grow and stretch, and it helps us identify a roadmap to get there. In fact, the simple act of recording a goal on paper can be all the motivation we need to take the first step toward something we want to achieve.

What’s more, the work toward the goal is often more gratifying than the act of achieving the goal itself. The effort makes us feel productive, confident, even powerful. As adults, we may employ goal setting as a daily, quarterly, or yearly practice. It’s important to consider that school-aged kids can also learn to set age-appropriate goals and understand the value of living with intention.

Creating a culture of intention

As an educational consultant, part of my job is to help students focus on the year ahead. I encourage students to be intentional about how they want to grow by the end of the school year. Maybe it’s employing better time management, maybe it’s earning a certain grade in a challenging class, maybe it’s simply being nicer to a sibling. As parents, we can also encourage our kids to learn the value of setting goals to create a culture of intentional personal growth in our homes.

When the lazy days of summer start to morph into the structured days of fall, consider helping your child set a couple of goals for the year ahead. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Goal setting is personal. Remember that the goal of goals is to set intention. The goals that your child sets should reflect how he wants to grow, not what you want him to achieve. Your role is to support but not to dictate. Listen more than you speak. If your tween or teen understands how to set goals and objectives and prefers to do the exercise on his own, let him!
  • Include objectives with each goal. Teach your child that a goal is the big picture thing he wants to achieve or a way in which he wants to grow. For older kids, goals should be accompanied by objectives, measurable steps toward achieving each goal. If a goal is the destination, an objective is its map.
    • If setting objectives proves difficult, help your child approach them from the lens of what’s not working or what’s currently standing in the way.
  • Post goals somewhere you can see them. One of the most important aspects to goal-setting is to stay focused. Encourage your child to put her goals somewhere she can see them. She might also choose to print out inspiring quotes that spur her on when she’s struggling to stay motivated.
  • Normalize roadblocks and missteps. In the work toward a goal, we are all bound to hit some unexpected challenges. Support your child by normalizing any faltering and, more than that, by using mistakes as instruction for further growth. After all, these challenges are often where we recalibrate, learn a lesson or two, and forge ahead with renewed focus.

The Olympics sure is inspiring, but it’s the athletes’ collective journeys—the grit along the way—that make it interesting. Likewise, in navigating your goals, be sure to focus on enjoying your own journey and teach your kids to do the same. After all, that’s where the real growth happens!

Jenn Curtis is an educational consultant, author, and speaker. As the owner of FutureWise Consulting for the past 12 years, she has guided hundreds of high school students from throughout the United States through all aspects of the college admission process. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Honors College at UCLA and her master’s degree in social work from USC, where she was elected to the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and named Dean’s Scholar. Jenn earned her College Counseling Certificate from UCLA. She is a member of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC), and an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA).

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