Setting Summer Goals

Should I accomplish something during the summer? It's a question I ask myself every year. After what felt like a relatively unproductive summer last year, I felt that I needed to make a few changes and set a few goals in order to feel a bit better about myself when September inevitably rolls around again.

Goal #1: learn more about goal setting

I realized I don't know that much about setting goals (beyond "I want to do this)," so my first goal was to learn more about setting goals (meta!). I reached out to one of the psychologists at Counselling and Clinical Services, Becky Ponting, who has over a decade of counselling U of A students as part of her 18-year career. She had some great advice for me:

Why is goal setting important?

Becky: Goal-setting is a useful practice whether you want to make a small or big change in your life. Good goal-setting will help you create a concrete and doable plan, which ensures you will get to where you want to be.

How can goals help me?

Becky: Goals are useful for multiple reasons. When we set manageable goals and see ourselves achieving them, it creates a sense of confidence and satisfaction. As our sense of achievement grows, so does our motivation, leading to a positive feedback loop. Most large achievements in life must be broken down into smaller steps in order to accomplish them and move toward the final goal. So, for example, someone who wants to eventually get a university degree may start out by setting a very small goal of exploring the website of a university of interest or filling out an application form. Even when your real goal is to graduate, you have to start by taking that very first class.

What are some steps I can take to set good goals?

Becky: In my experience, many people who struggle to meet their goals fall into the trap of making their first goal too large and intimidating. For this reason, it's helpful to think of a big final achievement as a pinnacle goal, and the steps to get there can be called stepping-stone goals or mini-goals. Let's use the example of someone who wants to eat healthier foods. Maybe it would be a bit daunting to tell them that they must overhaul all their food habits in a single day and eat perfectly from that day forward. If a goal feels intimidating or overwhelming, it's understandable that we will avoid even starting it. With this example, instead of this person telling themselves they have to change all their eating patterns at once, they might benefit from setting a stepping-stone goal. Maybe for the first week, they could keep their meals and snacks the same but try adding in a bottle of water at some point in the afternoon to ensure better hydration. After a week of successfully doing that, they could consider adding in another stepping-stone goal, such as adding in a serving of fruit or vegetables to each meal and snack.  

Over time and with practice, you will begin to see that achieving a lot of small goals can eventually add up to making an important change in your life!

My takeaways

My goals need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound), and I need to break them down into reasonable steps (stepping-stone goals) so as not to get overwhelmed. The sense of accomplishment is real: I've already accomplished goal #1!

So, what are my summer goals?

There are a few things I'd like to accomplish: I'd like to run a faster half marathon, eat a bit better, sleep a bit better and make some real progress on finishing up my MACT degree. So, I'm going to list a few stepping-stone goals for each big goal:

  • Running faster: I'll need to train more (last week, I ran 48km, so that's my baseline for something I could reasonably improve upon) and do a few specific workouts. So I'll run a total of 225 km in May and do one workout of long repeats (running 1km really fast over and over) and one tempo workout (running quicker than normal for an hour) per week.
  • Eating better: I'm going to avoid buying sugary snacks and not have desserts five days a week (M to F). Hopefully, I'll save some money too!
  • Sleeping better: I think this one is all about sleep hygiene. So for five days a week, I'm going to turn my phone off at 9 p.m., leave all screen devices outside my bedroom and go to bed by 10:30 p.m.
  • Making degree progress: I'm going to meet with my capstone project supervisor by May 15 to discuss how I can have two major portions of the project completed by July 1.

I think I can do it!

I'll be keeping a journal of these goals in order to track my progress and get that oh-so-good feeling of accomplishment when I can check a box. Maybe I won't be able to complete everything because life does get in the way, but I'm going to give it my best efforts and see where I end up.

What are your summer goals?

Do you have anything you really want to accomplish this summer? If so, try some of the strategies Becky told me about and see if they work for you.

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