My mission at this momentous time of year should be to write a stirring tribute to goals, to outline the merits of setting and achieving goals, and to provide some quick easy-to-digest tips on how to set and meet your goals for the upcoming weeks, months, and year.
Instead I must admit I have a problem with goals. My experience has been that setting and achieving goals can be easy; but real change is hard. So sharing a stirring tribute to goals and offering practical encouragement for setting and achieving goals would be disingenuous. Let’s go deeper shall we?
In the last year or so I have set and achieved a number of what we would categorize as classic SMART goals in the area of physical fitness and diet/nutrition.
In the spring of this year I set a goal of completing a local triathlon (known as the “Tinman”) consisting of a 400 metre swim, followed by a 15 km bike, and finishing up with a 5 km run. I knew the distances. I knew the date of the event. I had an idea of how much advance preparation I would need to do to complete the race. I also had the added incentive of trying to finish ahead of my 3 high-school aged kids who were also registered for the event. My goal was Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented and Time Bound. And I am happy to say I put in the necessary training, completed the race, and did so in a time that was several minutes ahead of my kids! Goal set and achieved. A solid win-win.
Just this fall I set a goal of losing some pounds that had become a steady and unwanted companion. I had a target weight in mind. I knew the time I wanted to lose it by. I had an eating plan to get me there. And I knew what pants I wanted to fit into. Textbook SMART goal. And by early December I had lost the weight I wanted to and had myself some more pants to wear. Goal set and achieved. Another solid win-win.
So what is the problem?
The problem is that I had set, and achieved, all of these goals before. Multiple times. I had completed the Tinman Triathlon in 2007, 2009, and 2011. I had shed those same unwanted pounds using a variety of different methods more times than I care to count. I was stuck on what I call the “Goal Carousel”.
Setting and achieving these goals was relatively easy. What was hard was making the underlying changes in my life so that being fit and eating right were part of my daily life instead of goals that had to be set and achieved - repeatedly.
I have observed this same phenomenon in the classroom. Students learn SMART goals. Some may even go beyond SMART goals and learn how to set and achieve HARD goals (Heartfelt, Animated, Required, Difficult). Students will use these lessons and determine what they need to do on the next assignments and tests to get a desired mark on a course. And some will do just that. Then after the rush of setting and achieving the goal has worn off they find their grades settling back to where they were before. So they set new goals for the next report cycle, just as I did for the next triathlon or the next round of eating better, and the Goal Carousel continues.
Renowned improvement expert James Clear addresses this in his article (http://jamesclear.com/goals-systems) where he encourages people to look past goals to systems. He found that his experiences were similar to mine: that goals, even those that we set and achieve, can actually be counterproductive to the long-term structural changes that we are after and that will get us the true results we desire.
Setting up a training plan and achieving a goal of completing a triathlon, following a plan to shed some weight, or drawing up a homework schedule to get better marks are all well and good. When we do it we feel that we have accomplished something; and we have. Yet this sense of accomplishment can short circuit our desire to dig deeper, beneath the goal, to the fundamental lifestyle changes we are really after. We let up because we reached our goal. But if we haven’t changed our habits we will be back on the “Goal Carousel”: set goal, meet goal, relapse, set goal, meet goal, relapse, repeat.
So how do we get off the Goal Carousel? It takes long-term commitment to sustainable lifestyle changes. I have been on the Goal Carousel of fitness and nutrition instead of making physical activity and eating sensibly part of my enduring everyday routine. Changing our everyday routines in the service of incremental change is hard.
Telling someone I am at the pool swimming lengths for the upcoming triathlon with my kids is an interesting narrative. Going to the pool twice a week, every week, month after month, to be in better shape for the long haul is far more meaningful, but somehow less motivational. Cramming for an upcoming test is easy - most students do that. You can tweet about it and be in the same boat as your classmates. Doing review and extra work when the test is weeks away is hard. But it is the latter routine that will pay off.
Having the house clean to host family is a great goal. Tidying up every day is harder but more effective. Saving up for a family vacation is a great goal. Saving every week, week after week, to pay off a mortgage that comes due in 17 years or for a child’s college college education that is 10 years away is hard. But that is the point. The Goal Carousel can be a fun ride. But the real change you seek will only come through advance decision-making and changing your habits and routines over the long-term.
Instead of waiting for an upcoming race, running out of pants that fit, or some other momentous occasion, decide today what the long-term objectives are that you want to pursue. They can be career moves, financial objectives, fitness or nutrition decisions, or maybe you need to prioritize a person or relationship in your life. Decide in advance what you have to do to achieve your objectives. Understand the necessary changes that will affect your lifestyle and schedule them in. Write them down. Put them in your phone. And stick to the decisions you have already made.
For over a decade in our house we never missed a kids’ hockey game or practice. Sounds crazy to see it in print but it is true. Why? We decided in advance they were important commitments and scheduled other things around them. Treat your long-term objectives with the same respect. Make tucking in your kids, visiting the nursing home, cooking with real ingredients, your weekly savings deposit, time at the gym, or time for your key client your priorities. Schedule them in and stick to your schedule. For the long haul.
You may miss the thrill of the Goal Carousel but the the momentum of keeping promises to yourself will keep you going. And the incredible benefits over time will be worth it.
Upcoming and Recent Engagements
Assorted Past Engagements
Texas Association of Student Councils - Feb 9-11, 2024
Mo-Ranch Assembly, Hunt TX
Texas Association of Student Councils - Jan 27-29, 2024
Lakeview Conference Centre, Palestine TX
Nova Scotia Teachers Union - Oct 27, 2023
Canadian Student Leadership Conference - Oct 14-17, 2023
Saint John, NB
Lucas Secondary School - Sept. 28, 2023
West Shamokin Jr/Sr High - Sept 15, 2023
Rural Valley, PA
Armstrong Jr/Sr High - Sept 14, 2023
Mount Boucherie SS - Sept 12, 2023
Richland School District - Aug 22,23 2023
Greene County & Fort Madison Schools - Aug 16,17 2023
Jefferson & Fort Madison, IA*
Smoky Mountain High School - Aug 10, 2023
The Village School - Aug 4, 2023
Los Fresnos High School - Aug 2, 2023
Los Fresnos, TX*
Geneseo Central School District - June 21, 2023
Channelview ISD - June 6, 2023
Chaffey High School District - May 30, 2023
San Bernardino County, CA*
Southern Alberta Interscholastic Leaders Conference - May 9,10
Digby Regional High School - May 4, 2023
Lockview HS - May 3, 2023
Fall River, NS
Three Oaks High School - May 2, 2023
Global Student Leadership Summit - May 1, 2023
Waterloo Collegiate Institute - April 27, 2023
Swope Middle School - April 14, 2023
Horizons Tour - April 2-4, 2023
Edmonton, Lloydminster, Vermillion AB
Clayton Heights Secondary School - Mar 8, 2023
Fleetwood Secondary School - Mar 7, 2023
Rutland Senior Secondary School - Mar 6, 2023
California Association of Directors of Activities (CADA) - Mar 3, 2023
San Diego, CA
Western University Education Conference - Feb 22, 2023
Solon Middle School - Feb 20, 2023
Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute - Feb 9, 2023
Geneseo Central School District - Feb 1, 2023
Armstrong School District - Jan 16, 2023
Bridgeport School - Nov 16, 2022
Ontario Student Leadership Conference - Nov 6-8, 2022
Niagara Falls, ON
Hole in the Wall Gang Camp Staff Training - Nov 2, 2022
Stonewall Collegiate- Oct 14, 2022
MacGregor Collegiate - Oct. 13, 2022
Beaver Brae Secondary School - Oct 12, 2022
River Falls School District - Oct. 10, 2022
River Falls, WI*
Canadian Student Leadership Conference - Oct 6-8, 2022
Virbela Virtual Campus
AB Lucas Secondary School - Sep 21, 2022
Campbell County School District - Aug 15, 2022
Shasta County Office of Education - Aug 12, 2022
Livingston High School - Aug 9, 2022
Ripon Unified School District - Aug 8, 2022
Rockport-Fulton MS/HS - Aug 4, 2022
KIPP St Louis - Aug 3, 2022
St. Louis, MO*
Oak Ridge Schools - Jul 20, 2022
Oak Ridge, TN*
Arkansas City Public Schools - Jul 18, 2022
Arkansas City, KS*
Horizons Leadership Conference - May 24, 2022
Lockview HS, Fall River NS
CSLA Student Leadership MasterClass - May 12, 2022
MacLean Memorial School - May 2, 2022
Horizons Leadership Conference - Mar 8, 2022
Western University Education Conference - Feb. 22-25, 2022
London, ON (Virtual)
Avon Maitland DSB Remote Learning School - Jan 25, 2022
Canadian Student Leadership Conference - Oct 21-23, 2021
Global Student Leadership Days - May 18-19, 2021
Brock Student Leadership Summit - Mar 26, 2021
Brock University (Virtual)
Brant County Rec Staff Training, Dec. 21, 2020
High Performing Educator Podcast - Nov. 9, 2020
Global Student Leadership Days -May 6-7, 2020
Brock University ConEd, St Catherines ON - Mar 7, 2020
Saugeen DSS, Port Elgin, ON - Feb 18, 2020
CharacterStrong Podcast - Feb 3, 2020
Ridge High School, Basking Ridge, NJ - Jan 29, 2020*
CharacterStrong Podcast - Nov. 19, 2019
Decatur Public Schools, Decatur, IL - Nov. 6, 2019*
Ontario Student Leadership Conference, Niagara Falls, ON - Nov. 4, 2019
Ephrata High School, Ephrata WA - Oct. 11, 2019*
Canadian Student Leadership Conference - Sep 24-28, 2019
Camp Belwood Staff Training - Jun 26, 2019
Camp Wabanaki Leadership Staff Training - Jun 23, 2019
City of Kitchener Neighbourhood Camps Staff - Jun 9, 2019
Nova Scotia SSA, Antigonish, NS - May 17, 2019
Bluefield HS, North Wiltshire PEI - May 16, 2019
McKinnon Park SS, Caledonia ON - May 10, 2019
John G. Diefenbaker High School, Calgary AB - May 6, 2019 Cochrane High School, Cochrane AB - May 6, 2019
Columbia Basin Hospital - Ephrata, WA - TBA reschedule
Ephrata High School - Ephrata, WA- TBA reschedule
Thomas Jefferson High School - Auburn, WA - TBA reschedule
John Rennie High School -Point Claire, QC - TBA reschedule