We know that youth are most motivated when they set their own goals based on what is important to them. But that doesn’t mean parents, teachers, and other adults don’t play important roles as well. Try these eight strategies to enhance young people’s abilities to set and reach goals.
- Connect with young people. Get to know what makes them tick and what motivates them. This knowledge will help you coach them on how to identify goals that are meaningful to them. It will also boost their self-confidence when they believe they matter to you.
- Coach them in setting goals. Goals tend to be most motivating when they are specific, challenging, and achievable. For example, a goal to “get better at” algebra is not terribly motivating. A goal to get 8 of 10 algebra problems correct instead of 5 out of 10 is easy to visualize.
- Think out loud about strategies to achieve goals. Encourage them to verbalize strategies for reaching their goals. Saying it out loud helps commit the strategies to memory.
- Give specific feedback. It shows that you are paying attention and that they are taking specific steps to make progress.
- Help them create positive habits. People are more likely to work on goals when there are cues in the environment that trigger the goal-related action. (A note on a mirror is a classic example.) This makes the actions more automatic or habitual–so you do them, even when you’re thinking about other things.
- Coach them in making plans and priorities. This planning includes not only what they intend to do, but also problems that might occur and ways of dealing with them. It also involves setting priorities for how to use their time so they can stay on track to reach their goal.
- Recalibrate when needed. Slip-ups will happen. They are part of the learning process. It’s important to help young people learn from mistakes and setbacks, and then work to get on track toward the goal.
- Celebrate milestones and achieved goals. Positive feedback and celebrations to mark goal achievement reinforce young people’s confidence and their motivation to pursue their next goals.
The Cognition category of the REACH Framework helps adults work with young people to defer gratification in order to achieve goals. 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.