February 2006

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Dennis Congos

The Indispensable Importance of Setting Goals in College

By Dennis Congos, University of Central Florida

Setting and achieving goals are overall the most underestimated skills for success in college.
Often the results of poor goal setting and achievement skills are low motivation, lack of direction, and performance below one's potential. Other outcomes are often unnecessarily low grades, frustration, discouragement, and sometimes leaving college.

The ability to set and achieve goals in college is so important that without it, it's difficult, perhaps impossible, to feel motivated to learn what's necessary to succeed or excel. A major step in mastering the skill of setting and achieving goals is understanding the benefits of goalsetting:

1. It specifies clearly what is to be achieved. This is vital because it provides a target and a direction and permits students to see progress and degree of achievement. Without clearly defined educational goals, it is normal to experience feelings of stagnation, low motivation, and lack of purpose. Clearly defined goals identify something desired and provides direction toward a chosen target.

2. It defines a plan of action for the process of achieving. A plan of action provides a map, a guide, a visible pathway to goals. When there is no plan for achievement, it is normal to experience discouragement, succumb to distractions, or feel lost. It is very difficult to start or excel at something if there is no visible way to achieve it. A plan of action shows how to achieve what is desired.

3. It acts as a continuous progress report on how well you are doing as you move toward chosen goals. A progress report is vital because it provides immediate and regular feedback to help you discover if you are on or off course toward short and long-term goals. The more frequent the feedback, the sooner you discover when you have strayed from the chosen path, need to modify a plan, or are exactly on course. Without continuous feedback on progress towards goals, there is no way to know how you are doing in the process of achieving.

The definition of progress is "movement that increases the chances of achieving something desired".

If goals have not been defined and a plan of action developed, there can be no "going forward" because there is no way to tell which way is forward. Without goals, humans are like leaves blowing in the wind. Forward is whichever way the wind happens to blow. Like a leaf in the wind, people without goals are not in control of their destiny but someone or something else is.

4. It identifies exactly what achievement or success is for each person. Unless personal success or achievement in college is clearly identified in terms of goals, there is no way to tell if you are making progress, because without a target, there is no way to tell if you are moving toward anything, let alone toward something meaningful. Without defining what constitutes success and achievement, you can't experience either one.

5. It tells you when it is time to reset goals. One of the motivation-sapping things students can do is not to reset new goals after one or more has been achieved. Resetting is absolutely essential if motivation and momentum are to be sustained. If resetting doesn't take place, there emerges the risk of feeling aimless, stagnant, unmotivated, and directionless. Resetting goals maintains motivation.

If you have no goals, you are apt to feel like you aren't getting anywhere in college, and you are definitely not in control of your life's direction. There is much hope for students who choose to master the process of setting and achieving goals for college. The task is easy………….


The process for setting and achieving goals has 4 simple steps. First, what is a goal?

DEFINITION OF A GOAL - choosing something you desire. This means virtually anything you desire can be used as a goal and becomes achievable by following the steps below.

Step 1. Set a Goal - It identifies something you want. It may be pleasing parents, a new car, impressing friends, a personality trait, physical appearance, a college degree, a grade point average, a major field of study, etc. Setting a goal is also the first step in experiencing motivation.

Motivation comes from 1 source and 1 source only:

YOU going after something YOU want

Unless you identify what you want, you haven't done what's necessary to feel motivation.

Step 2. Devise a Plan of Action - It identify the steps or tasks that must be accomplished that lead to your goal. You must achieve these steps, or mini-goals, in order to reach a larger goal. Effective plans of action have completion dates for each mini-goal, which provides a timetable to determine how well you are progressing toward your larger goal.

Step 3. Follow Your Plan to Your Goal - As a rule; it is easier to modify something than to develop something altogether new. Follow your plan and ask, "Am I meeting my mini-goals on time?" Do not hesitate to add or modify mini-goals, dates, and times as you learn more about what it takes to reach your larger goal.

Much is learned after a journey begins.

Step 4. Reset Goals - You must reset your goals after they are achieved if you wish to stay motivated. Goal setting and achieving is a lifelong process for those wishing continuous success. When you do not reset goals, it is normal for feelings of achievement to stop. Stagnation, aimlessness, and frustration often take over as motivation fades.

Like anything that is repeated often enough, it becomes habitual. Setting, achieving, and resetting goals can become a habit, and so can experiencing success if you choose to do what is necessary to achieve goals and become successful.

This is why there are different degrees of success among people. If you are willing to master the process for setting and achieving goals, you are one of the few who chooses to do what it takes to be successful and to make success a habit. Don't underestimate this skill so vital to college success.

Questions or comments? Contact the author at dcongos@mail.ucf.edu.

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