Goal-setting, or planning, was a habit instilled in me from a very young age. My grandmother believed that you must “plan ahead or go behind.” It is that phrase that guided me throughout my schooling and enabled me to achieve many things.

Goal setting doesn’t just work with adults, however. Gifted children from elementary school through high school benefit from goal setting as a way to frame their actions and achieve their passions. Goal setting encourages focused effort and can prevent underachievement in gifted children (Morisano, D. & Shore, B.M., 2009). Additionally, goal setting helps develop purpose and meaning in a child’s life, as well as encouraging the development of internal motivation, both of which are part of the social-emotional landscape of gifted children (Fonseca, 2015)

Goal setting doesn’t have to be a difficult or arduous task. Below are five tips to get your child started with goal-setting. Try these yourself if you need a little refresher.

  1. Start small. Often intentions fail because we set the bar too high. Starting with a manageable goal, something we can achieve with a small amount of focused effort, or break a more substantial goal down into small chunks.
    Progress monitor. Determine how you’ll measure the goal. Goals do us no good if we can’t figure out how we’ve achieved it. If you want to change your eating habits, you need to define what that means. If you want to read more, you need to determine what “more” means measurably.
  2. Link emotions. Focus on what you want to FEEL when you achieve the goal. The emotional focus will connect the goal to the emotional parts of the brain, which then feeds motivation. Teach children to visualize the successful completion of the goal, down to the feeling solicited by that achievement. Then ask them to focus on that feeling any time they feel stuck or their motivation drops.
  3. Anticipate barriers. Achieving our dreams typically means confronting a few obstacles. Planning for those roadblocks can enable us to have a strategy to stay on track, or get back on track if we slip. This is what my grandmother meant by “plan ahead.” Recognize that life WILL throw a few curveballs. This is to be expected. But, when we can anticipate as many of these as possible, it is easier to stay focused on the goal to the accomplishment of it!
  4. Make a plan. Those who “fail to plan, plan to fail.” Once we establish a goal, how we’ll measure it, what we want to feel, and the potential problems we may face, it is time to set a specific plan for achieving the goal. This is a critical, often missing, aspect of goal setting. It isn’t enough to wish for a thing to happen – you have to take action. If, as you are traveling along the journey toward your goal, it is clear that you overreached with your goal, reset the goal. Remember, you want to achieve it. If you have to tweak things a bit, that is fine. Focus on successful action.

Bonus [Okay, so I have six tips. I think this is perhaps the most important one, actually]

  • Celebrate! Be sure to celebrate the victories you achieve, both along the journey of achieving the goal, and once you’ve reached it. Revel in the feelings. And then, once the success is acknowledged and appreciated, set a new goal.

These steps hardwire your brain for success.

Do you set goals? Do you teach your children how to do this as well? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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