Setting and achieving goals is a complex challenge.

Success is shaped by who we are, the goals we set, the strategies we use, and people who support us. Educators, parents, and other adults can influence each of these elements to help young people take responsibility for their own growth and learning.

Personal Attitudes

For students to work hard on goals, two attitudes are important. First, they must value the goal. It must be something that’s important to them. If they don’t really value or see the benefit of the goal, they are much less likely to invest in it. Benefits may include positive feedback from others, prestige, as well as the intrinsic value of achieving the goal.

Second, they must believe they can achieve it. If they are not confident in themselves or if the goal is too challenging, they will not be motivated to reach it—even if they see value it in. Sometimes they may be blocked from believing they can achieve it based on stereotypes or gender roles.

Meaningful and Challenging Goals

Moderately difficult goals tend to evoke more effort than goals that are too easy or too hard. A young person’s goal should exceed her or his current ability enough to feel like it is doable with effort, and enough that it will be satisfying and reinforcing when accomplished. All truly motivating goals arise from some level of dissatisfaction with where one is currently. It is this dissatisfaction that creates energy for improvement, as long as the improvement goal is realistic.

Effective Strategies: The WOOP Approach

WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan) is a research-based goal-management process that helps people articulate their goals and the obstacles that stand in the way of their goals. It has been used in many areas of personal behavior change. The acronym WOOP stands for the major components:

    Wish: Think of a wish or goal that is important to you and possible to achieve.
    Outcome: Identify the benefits or best thing that could come from fulfilling the wish or goal.
    Obstacle: Identify things that you have control over that could prevent you from fulfilling the wish.
    Plan: Identify a step you could take to remove or overcome the obstacle. Adjust as needed.

In a small study, researchers found that using the WOOP approach significantly improved students’ grades, attendance, and conduct. In another, students who practiced writing WOOP exercises completed 60 percent more practice exam questions than control group students.

Supportive Relationships

Students don’t work on goals in a vacuum. The people around them—peers, parents, teachers—can either motivate or de-motivate them to work on and achieve goals. They do this by:

  1. Reinforcing or undermining students’ self-confidence;
  2. Increasing or decreasing the perceived value of achieving the goal (including disagreeing with a young person’s goal); or
  3. Placing obstacles or distractions in the way of achieving the goal.

Having friends, teachers, and family members who are reinforcing the goal can be a big help. In addition, maintaining relationships can increase young people’s self-confidence in general, freeing them to focus on achieving their goals, not worrying about their relationships.

The Cognition category of the REACH Framework helps students learn to think about their own thinking to defer gratification in order to achieve goals and complete tasks in the future. For more information on the REACH Framework, request “The REACH Resources Overview” White Paper and learn how schools can use REACH to strengthen students’ motivation to succeed in the classroom and beyond.