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Valentine’s Day got you down? Set SMART goals

By Cristina Valeri, 4th-year English student

My feelings towards the Valentine’s Day holiday are kind of like my feelings for university life–it’s love/hate. Sure, it’s great that everyone’s in love, eating chocolate and going out for special dinners, but at this point in the semester, Valentine’s Day often represents a slouch where it’s hard to re-motivate yourself and keep the goals you made in September or early January in sight. Or maybe your Resolutions haven’t worked out as well as you had hoped. Either way, this is the time of year when I need a lot of chocolate—whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not—and some motivation to keep me going to April.

Luckily, our beautiful Queen’s campus is peppered with inspiration for those who are looking for it. Just the other day, in the Mac-Corry girls’ washroom, I read this line written in the stall: “Having a bad day? Remember up to this point, your record for getting through bad days is 100% and that’s pretty good!” That’s some pretty original bathroom graffiti.

For me, what keeps me focused and motivated is that list of goals I made back in September. I know I have to work through the chocolate coma and the pile of deadlines if I still want to achieve those goals. If you didn’t make goals in September or January, it’s never too late! You can start now. Write them down and keep them somewhere accessible, where you’ll see them every once in a while to remind yourself.

If you did make a list of goals, evaluate whether you’re on track to achieve them and re-adjust if necessary. Don’t feel guilty for doing so–you might have a better idea now of what’s attainable than you did in September and/or January when you were coming off summer and holiday mode.

Goal setting is vital in helping to maintain trajectory and motivation throughout the semester, so here are some things I’ve learned about setting reachable goals and using them to encourage yourself just in case you’re not a connoisseur of bathroom graffiti.

1. Make SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-oriented
  • Realistic
  • Time-oriented

If your goals are Specific, you’ll know what you’re working for. If they’re Measurable, you’ll be able to tell if you’re on the way to reaching them. Your goals should require Action and more specifically, action from you. You might not reach your goal if it’s for One Direction to release a Christmas album for 2015. This doesn’t require action from you, but rather from One Direction and you want to have control over your goals, no matter how badly you want that Christmas album. I know, trust me, I want it too! This is a nice segue way into Realistic goals. Make goals that you know are realistic that you can achieve. This will avoid undue or insurmountable pressure as well as disappointment if you set yourself up for failure. Lastly, Time-oriented means that your goals have a time by which you want or need to have them completed.

For example, instead of saying ‘I want to get an A+ in every single class this semester’, try: ‘I want to attend and stay awake for my 8:30 classes’, or ‘I want to be better prepared for my exams’, or maybe ‘I want to participate in more classroom discussions’.

Note that each of these goals has an action and/or plan attached to them. Attending and staying awake for your 8:30 class might mean sitting in the front row of the lecture hall or setting a reasonable bedtime. Being better prepared for your exams means that you might focus on taking good notes, staying organized and reviewing your notes weekly. Setting a goal to participate more in class discussion can be acted on by breaking it into a smaller step, such as ‘I will put my hand up to speak at least once a week’.


2. Keep an Agenda/ Term Calendar/Weekly Schedule:

Use of these options or a combination or all three (whatever works best for you!) to keep on track of due dates as well as to set dates that you would like to advance and/or complete your goals. So if your goal is to be better prepared for your exams, you could set aside an hour or two each week in your Weekly Schedule to review your notes. With an agenda and/or Term Calendar you could plot dates by which you would like to have something accomplished, i.e. by February 15th, I want to have the first draft of my essay done so that I have ample time for editing. Having that internal due date will motivate you to actually get ahead of your work, even if the actual due date is far away.

Come by the Learning Strategies office in Stauffer Room 143 for a Weekly Schedule template or stop by our volunteer-led Study Skills Coaching on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6-8pm for help making your schedule.


3. Positive Self-Talk:

The key to achieving any goal in life is believing that you can do it, as cliché as that may sound! It’s cliché because it’s true! Practice self-encouragement and self-confidence by talking nicely about yourself and focusing on what you’re doing positively, rather than dwelling on the negatives. You may stumble on the path to your goals but that doesn’t mean you won’t reach them. Pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

In the honour of the Oscars approaching, here’s my favourite quotation from the nominated film, The Imitation Game:

“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

See our online resources on Motivation and Procrastination for more information on this topic.

Photo courtesy of Randy Heinitz under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.