Start Small: How Setting Achievable Goals is Key for Academic Success

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Every year, thousands of students return to school with grand promises they’ve made to themselves to up their work ethic and get some good grades. What a lot of them fail to realize is that life comes together not in grand overtures, but through a series of small symphonies.

People tend to go too grandiose and over the top with their wishes for the new school year and then find themselves stressed out when they aren’t achieving those goals. The brain is an imperfect machine and sometimes psychology needs to be abused if you’re going to go the whole nine yards when it comes to success in the world of academia. Our brains don’t really handle large abstract concepts very well, but breaking down your large goals into manageable chunks is a surefire way to stay motivated and actually achieve the results you want.

Having a large overarching goal that’ll take weeks or even the whole semester to materialize can result in you getting discouraged halfway through because of all the work you’ve put in without seeing the final result. Breaking the large task down into more manageable bits allows you to get a little ego boost every time you hit one of your milestones and it lets you see how the smaller bits are coming together to make a whole.

Here’s how to best weaponize this concept:

Visualize The End Goal And Work Backwards

Figure out what your main end goal is. Whether it be that you don’t hand in any assignments late or get a certain GPA, have a clear and defined end goal. If you’re trying to get a certain GPA and want to know what grade you need in each class to achieve said GPA, a GPA calculator will do the heavy lifting for you.

After you’ve made the end goal, begin reverse engineering the end goal back to where you are currently. For instance, achieving a certain GPA could mean getting at least an 80 in all of your classes, from there you can work your way back into understanding all of the assignments and tests you’ll need to do and what grades you can get on each of them to achieve that mark of 80. Anytime you go back a single step, see if it can be further broken down into even simpler steps. Eventually, you’ll understand all of the little goals you’ll need to achieve and the proper time frame in which to achieve them.

Eventually, you’ll make it back to where you are now in achieving the final goal and will have your first small goal already figured out.

Write Down Your Plan Of Action

The next step is to write down all of the smaller goals you’ve figured out from the earlier step and then begin grouping them up based on what kind of work it is. For instance, studying is distinct from test taking or completing assignments. This way, you can make sub-lists of all of the things you’ll need to do that are grouped based on by task type.

Build A Realistic Timeline

Now you need to figure out how much time you’ll have to budget to achieve each small task. Work in chronological order from the beginning going all the way to the very end. Budget time for classes, studying, leisure time, essentially everything that’ll go into accomplishing your goals. Give yourself enough padding to make things work feasibly and understand you might have to sacrifice some personal time in the pursuit of academic success. Ensure that no one step is too large or daunting that you’ll end up getting discouraged and falling behind, this is when you’ll know if you didn’t break up your tasks into sufficiently bite-sized undertakings.

Figure Out What You Need

Having the right tools to get the work done is necessary. By this I mean you should figure out what kind of things you’ll need like pencils, paper, access to a computer or printer, or specialized equipment/lab time to get assignments completed. Assign all of these materials to the tasks that’ll need them so you’re always ahead of the curve when it comes to being prepared. Taking time out of your day to go buy extra pencils and paper or to snatch an extra lab coat will put you behind schedule and put your goals at risk.

Take Things One Step At A Time

By this point, you should have a comprehensive plan of action and knowledge of all of the resources necessary to bring that plan into fruition. While you definitely should keep your end goal in mind, the trick to not become overwhelmed by all of these little tasks is to only focus on the task you’re on and the task that’ll be coming next. No matter how impossible or difficult your end goal might seem, as long as you’re only focused on the next small achievable goal you have to overcome you’ll never feel like there’s too much on your plate. The plate analogy is fantastic for this situation, actually. Instead of getting a massive plate full of food you’d never expect to finish, you’re getting snack-sized goals that go down easily one after another.

Each goal you complete will give you just a little more internal satisfaction & drive to complete the next and continue your positive streak. Before you know it, the semester will be half over and you’ll be able to look back at all of the little tasks you accomplished to keep you on track.

School is incredibly stressful for most people and not everyone knows how to best cope with all of the responsibility placed on the individual student. Simple tricks like setting achievable goals can separate the lackluster student from the student who makes the dean’s list year after year. This type of thinking doesn’t even necessarily have to be applied to school exclusively, any seemingly large undertaking can be broken down into manageable bits you can then tackle head-on without feeling like you’re up against an unstoppable enemy.

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