Monday, December 31, 2012

Be SMART in 2013

As we head into the new year, this is a time that many of us make resolutions to improve ourselves. Some people vow to lose weight or stop smoking, or make other changes to improve their health. Let's discuss some strategies and examples related to age appropriate New Years resolutions in high school.
There is a widely accepted principle to goal setting that you have already learned about in school counseling lessons since elementary school. We are more likely to find success with our goals if they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. It would also give us some focus if we relate these goals to the three domains of student development that school counselors support, namely, academic, career, and personal/social.
When goals are specific, we give them focus. "I'd like to lose weight" is not as specific as "I will lose 10 pounds." "I will improve my grades" is quite broad when compared to a long-term goal like "My quarter GPAs will be 1 grade point higher than the previous one" or a short-term goal like "I will spend 30 more minutes reviewing and rewriting my class notes, and start studying for exams two weeks before the tests are scheduled." A specific social goal would be to sit down and eat dinner with your parents at least three nights a week, or to not touch your phone while eating said dinner.
When we talk about goals being measurable, we add accountability. It is sensible to know how we did at meeting (or setting) our goals if we write them down (like a contract) and revisit our progress periodically. Such accountability will inevitably involve the use of data, like reducing your class tardies or increasing the number of homework assignments you turn in complete and on time. However, please don't punish yourself harshly if you come short of your goals. Nobody is perfect, especially not teenagers. Allow yourself the flexibility to make mistakes. Simply revise your goals over time to make them more attainable as measured by the data that makes sense for your situation.
Making goals attainable is a challenge for many teenagers, evidenced by popular plans to improve their cumulative GPAs from below 2.0 to above 3.0 in one year or making blanket and complicated intentions like getting into college. The actual admission is not in your control, but you can control your efforts, timeliness, and use of resources. Similarly, "making more friends" is not as simple as it sounds; it is more attainable to "join two student organizations" or "try out for an athletic team," which can put you in a position to establish meaningful relationships with peers who share your interests and values.
Making goals relevant addresses two areas: they should be related either to a clear need you have (it's more relevant to improve your grades if they are lower than B's, but maybe if you have a GPA higher than 3.0 you can plan to find time in your schedule for extracurricular enrichment or exploring possible careers) or pertinent to your long-term objectives (if you wish to attend college, it will help ensure personal and social acclimation to convince your parents to give you practice with more autonomy and independence, like applying to volunteer at a sleepover camp or attending a summer program on a college campus).
Committing your goals to time-bound parameters helps you maintain control of your goals. If you break your goals into smaller chunks, you can modify them every month or academic quarter to better address your actual life, beyond the lofty optimism that comes after being off school for a week. One time bound goal is to secure a summer internship by May. Another is to be academically eligible for fall sports, which requires a C average during fourth quarter. You can set yourself up to achieve that goal by working similar academic goals into your plans every five weeks between now and April, so that by the time the fourth quarter comes around, you'll be used to the habits that give you such a result.
Please discuss your resolutions with the important adults in your life, as they know you best - maybe even better than you know yourself. If you happen to have a family situation in which sharing your goals will result in your feeling worse about yourself than not saying anything at all, please come in and share your goals with your school counselor. We can empower you to meet your goals, and maybe even help you develop strategies for self preservation at home.
After all, the act of setting and assessing goals is intended to improve our lives. Failing once in a while is not necessarily terrible. It is okay to make mistakes. What matters is what you learn about those mistakes. Just keep moving onward and upward, and never settle for the status quo, and you'll be sure to have a happy and successful 2013, by whatever definition works for you as an individual.

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