With the arrival of the holiday season and extended time to relax away from the books, winter break is an excellent time for students to shape their goals for the upcoming year.
We all know how life (especially for students) can often feel like running on a hamster wheel. The days seem to blaze by as we jump from one commitment to another. While we may accomplish many important tasks, it’s not always easy to see how all of our hard work is advancing the vision we have for ourselves and our lives.
Goal-setting gives us a chance to pause and reexamine how we’re honoring God with our time and resources, while identifying opportunities for growth. When embraced full-heartedly, goal-setting and the resulting decisions can bring enormous focus to the weeks and months ahead.
If you’re a student thinking about setting goals for the new year or a parent wanting to give guidance, here are some practical tips to help identify and pursue meaningful goals.
#1. Identify your values: What’s important to you?
As a first step in the goal-setting process, it’s important to reevaluate your priorities. With 365 days in the year, you can devote your time to any number of activities, but which of those options really align with your core values? Take some time to journal, pray, and talk with friends, and then try to identify your top five values.
For example, you may discover that hospitality is a central value. Perhaps this year, you want to spend more time hosting people for meals or serving on a team at church. Once you’ve written down your values, keep them visible: As you identify possible goals for the year, use this list as a litmus test. Are the goals you’ve chosen well-aligned with your values?
#2. Focus on just a few categories at a time
Deciding which goals to focus on can be daunting. To make it more feasible, first focus on 3–5 life categories like spiritual growth, academics, fitness and finances. The categories may be different for each person, but the effect is the same: instead of trying to overhaul your entire life, focus on goals within just a few categories (or maybe even just one).
#3. Clearly identify outcomes and easy steps
Once you’ve identified your values and categories, describe the goals within each category with as much measurable specificity as possible. “Get better at saving” and “Read more” are too broad. “Save $500 by July 1” and “Read War and Peace,” are clear and achievable. Wanting to exercise more is great; deciding to run five miles a week is actionable. By identifying clear outcomes you will be able to identify action steps, which will help you decide if a goal is actually achievable.
#4. Identify ways to track progress
Once you establish your values, categories, specific goals and action steps, determine how you will track progress and hold yourself accountable. Perhaps you should buy a yearly calendar and write reminders throughout?
Maybe find a group of friends to share your goals with and give them permission to ask you about your progress and challenge you if you lose focus. Perhaps you download a few apps that provide reminders and help you visualize your progress. This is especially helpful for tracking running mileage or for saving money. Whatever you decide, find a way to visualize your goals, track progress and include trusted and supported friends to help you stick to your plan.
Pro-tip: Keep your goals agile and give yourself permission to make adjustments along the way. Learning from your goals is just as important as achieving them.
Setting New Year’s resolutions can often feel like an exercise in futility: Why declare resolutions if you’re likely to fail? But as Christians, setting meaningful goals is not about perfection. It’s about stewarding our time and resources while rejoicing that the ultimate value of our lives is not based on what we accomplish but on God’s love for us. Looking at goal-setting this way truly takes the pressure off, so…pull out your fancy new planner and have fun!