Bill Walther provides a recipe for getting students to set unforgettable goals with compelling outcomes.

Teachers are used to setting targets and goals with their pupils throughout the year. Many are aware of the need to make goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/Realistic, Timed), but these goals can still end up fuzzy and not fully thought through. More importantly, they are often not compelling enough. Targets for learning and achievement don’t loom very large in the lives of most learners. I think this is because something vital is missing and that goals tend to become more exciting when the focus is on the outcome.

A winning formula for success

Here’s a recipe, used by top sports and music professionals, for getting students to set goals and outcomes that are compelling and will not be forgotten. Teachers can also use this process after attending an INSET course, as a way of ensuring that the ideas they have been taught get translated into classroom practice.

1. State the outcome you’ll receive in positive terms, rather than just a goal, which is something you merely want.

This is important because when we use negative words in goal-setting, we end up getting what we don’t want. Our brain has to first form an image in our mind and then cancel it. ‘I don’t want to feel nervous in exams’ is better expressed as, ‘I want to feel confident in exams’.

Ask students to spend some time deciding on exactly what it is they want to achieve as an outcome and why. Tell the students that, ‘Where focus goes, energy flows!’ Their ‘why?’ needs to be big and powerful.

2. The outcome must be within your control, so that you are not totally dependent on other people and therefore have no excuses for not achieving it.

3. Keep adding details so that your outcome is really specific. Ask yourself what stops you having this outcome? Write details that include what you will see, hear and feel when you have achieved that goal. A great way to do this is to imagine that you have already achieved your outcome and to write down a detailed description (using lots of adjectives), so that it becomes real to you.

4 Think about where, when and with whom you want this outcome and add that to your description.

5 Ask what you’ll need in the way of resources. Will you need new skills and if so, which exactly? Do you need help from other people – who are they? Do you need any special equipment?

6. You need to face up to the costs of achieving your goal:

  • What will happen if you do achieve this?
  • What will not happen if you achieve this?
  • What will happen if you don’t achieve this?
  • What will it cost you?
  • What will not happen if you don’t achieve this outcome?
  • What would this outcome do for you?
  • What would you do next?

These are powerful questions that will lead students to powerful outcomes.

7 Turn all of the notes you’ve written into a sort of mental video in your head. Add colour, movement, sounds and feelings and pretend that you have achieved everything already. Make your mental video exciting and enticing. Play with the controls just as a film director would. Make the movie move close to you, colourful, bright, loud, clear and full of movement, until you feel excited by it! In this way you can really make your goal come alive for you. What pleasure will you get from this outcome?

8. Re-play your mental video a couple of times, until it’s really powerful. Next, think of a gesture to accompany it (such as a clenched fist) that will act as a sort of link or anchor. Make the gesture really strongly just as you’ve got the whole video playing in your head. Do this several times. Making the gesture should help bring the whole film and the accompanying feelings back to you, if you do it with total belief and strongly enough.

9. Re-play this mental track a couple of times every day. Doing this will encourage your unconscious mind to provide you with the inner resources that you need, whatever they may be. In this way you will be programming yourself to get used to the idea of achieving your goal.

10. Finally, it’s important that you remember to replay this goal daily. Make sure that you remind yourself at home by making yourself a note that you see every day. You could even create your own outcome screensaver, so that you are reminded every time you switch on your computer. TEX

Dr Bill Walther is currently Head of Learning Development for the newly-created Haberdashers’ Aske’s Federation. He has over 20 years of experience in helping students to reach their potential and is involved in bringing state-of-the-art learning strategies to all learners.

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise, July 2006.