After reading a lot of self-help and success books—as well as talking to my friends who have just made their college decisions—I had an epiphany: goal setting is exactly like applying to college. Only instead of having safety, target, and reach schools, you have safety, target, and reach goals. Whether you’ve already applied to college or are applying in the near future, you can utilize this simple concept for mastering the art of goal setting, a skill you’ll use in college and for the rest of your life. Let’s break down each type of goal so you can get started on organizing your own.
Everybody should have a few safety goals. These are the things that you know you can do because you’ve done them before or do them often—things like doing your chores, writing birthday cards to loved ones, practicing good hygiene, etc. That’s not to say they don’t require any effort, but they certainly require significantly less effort than other larger, long-term goals. Safety goals allow us to cross something off our to-do list every day, giving us a little boost of self-confidence that occurs when we get things done!
While it’s important to have safety goals, those shouldn’t be the only goals on your list; if they are, you’ll never find out just what you’re capable of. Many of the world's greatest thinkers and leaders never could have accomplished what they did if it weren’t for their willingness to dream big dreams and make them happen. You may fail sometimes, but it’s far better to fail and grow as a person than to never try at all and stay the same. However fanciful your reach goals may be, like becoming a rock star or appearing on Ellen, write them down. There’s absolutely no harm in reaching for the stars.
While it’s great to have big dreams, it’s not always wise to put everything you've got into those reach goals—because if they don't work out, you’ll likely feel dejected and hopeless. This is why the majority of your goals should be target goals; things like getting into college, exercising regularly, putting effort into your friendships and relationships, etc. You’ll definitely have to work hard to achieve your target goals, but they are doable—and they are, perhaps, the most important goals of them all.
Setting your goals
Goal setting may seem simple, but oftentimes people are on one extreme end of the spectrum or the other: either they only set goals that they absolutely know they can achieve (thus, they never grow) or they set goals that they have little to no chance of achieving (thus, they feel like a failure). The key to setting and achieving your goals is balance.
Applying the safety, target, and reach principle to your goals will allow you to categorize your goals and distribute your time, energy, and resources appropriately. It sounds counterintuitive, but the most important part of achieving you goals lies in setting them. This is the crucial moment when you decide where you want your life to go and how you're going to get there.
If you don’t know where to start, make a list of 10 goals, splitting them up however you’d like. Here are mine:
- Get eight hours of sleep each night
- Read every day
- Keep my room clean and organized
- Earn a cumulative 4.0 GPA my first year at college
- Make an effort to check in with my friends and family often
- Eat healthier and work out more
- Write for the student newspaper, the Daily Bruin
- Travel to Italy, France, and Spain
- Graduate from UCLA with a dual degree in Neuroscience and English
- Pursue my dreams of becoming an actress or a musician
Once you have your list of goals, the hardest part is over. Then the fun begins: all you have to do is go after those goals. Good luck and happy goal setting!
Looking for more advice from real students? Check out this video on setting goals for the school year!