What I Learned about Goal Setting from a High School Junior

Kevin Watson ·

At 9:04 pm last Wednesday, I received a text message from a high school Junior that inspired, and motivated me unlike any text message I have ever received. Before I get ahead of myself, it might help to give you a little bit of context. For the past three years, I have served as a mentor/advocate for a student at a local Prep School. The student that I mentor is attending school as part of a scholarship that is awarded each year to almost two dozen hardworking students from low-income families. The students crave the challenge of a top-notch, college-preparatory education and would not have the opportunity to attend this school without financial assistance.

Each summer, the students go through a formal interview/selection process and must earn the right to have their scholarship renewed. During the interview panel this past June, I asked my mentee what his academic goals were for 2014. Even though he is an extremely bright and talented student, I was somewhat surprised when he announced that his goal was to get a 3.8 GPA this year (an ambitious goal, especially in light of the fact that during his freshman and sophomore years his GPA typically fell somewhere in the 3.3 – 3.5 range).

During the interview, we asked him the following questions, and received the following responses:

  • Have you written your goal down? (not yet)
  • Have you shared your goal with anyone? (not yet)
  • What has prevented you from reaching your goal(s) in the past? (did not have a great system for taking notes or studying for tests)
  • Who is the best person you know at taking notes/studying? (a close friend of his)

During the interview, we gave him a mini “homework assignment.” We encouraged him to write down his goal and to share them with his parents, his brother, his friends and each of his teachers. We asked him to write down his goal on a post-it note and keep it next to his alarm clock so that it was the first thing he sees every morning. We also asked him to reach out to his friend to find out how he can improve his note taking/studying habits. Lastly, we asked him when he was going to accomplish all of these things.

So how did things play out? Listed below is the text message chain from last week.

Mentee: Hey Kevin, Sorry I couldn’t call today. I was on the road for robotics all the way from 4 today until just now. I currently have all A’s right now, and last semester I achieved my 3.9 GPA goal.

Me: That is AWESOME!! I am extremely proud of you! Make sure to write down your goals for the rest of your year, and share it with your family, friends, teachers, me, etc.

Mentee: It is kind of funny. When some of my friends ask me why there are a bunch of sticky notes around my room that say 3.8, I just tell them it’s my goal.

Me: That is great that you have your goals written down in visible places.

Mentee: Yes. It actually helps remind me.

I am not attributing 100% of his success to the fact that he had written and shared his goals, but it certainly did not hurt! Research conducted by noted social psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini has concluded that if people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image.

I was personally so inspired that I have written out all of my goals for 2014 and have laminated the list. I now carry the laminated list with me everywhere I go (along with my driver’s license, credit cards, etc.).

I am encouraging each of you to spend the next 15 minutes on this “homework assignment.” By completing this, you may just be amazed at what you accomplish before the end of the calendar year:

  • Write down personal and professional goals that you want to accomplish in 2014
  • Write down the names of 5 people that you are going to share your goals with
  • Write down any potential obstacles that are standing in your way
  • Write down the names of people that can help you side step these obstacles
  • Share your goals with these 5 people, and set up checkpoints throughout the year to provide them with status updates

Please share your success stories with me as you achieve your goals!