Goal Setting for the New Year: Ask a 4‑H Member

Goal Setting is an Integral Part of 4‑H Projects

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Did you set goals for 2016, or were you too discouraged from past goal setting attempts to even try? Many people feel inspired around the New Year but feel puzzled about how to set clear and attainable goals. If you are confused about setting goals, ask a 4‑H member for help! 4‑H youth are leading the way in setting goals, working toward them, and evaluating their success.

4‑H empowers young people to choose a topic that interests them and set goals for completing a project. At the end of the project year, members look back and describe how they did or did not

meet their goals, providing an opportunity to reflect on what caused them to succeed or not. Yes, I’m talking about Record Books! The Record Book is where they document their goals and explain how they achieved – or didn’t achieve them. Junior members start by setting two goals. Older members are required to set more. That’s right – 4‑H’ers don’t just wish, they set goals.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Before my daughter Julia joined 4‑H as a third grader, she had never set goals. Luckily for us, that fall our county 4‑H office held a goal-setting workshop led by older youth members. The youth described the five elements of S.M.A.R.T. goals and defined them as:

S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Attainable (or actionable)
R – Relevant (or realistic)
T – Time-bound

The youth then led a game where they called out examples of goals and asked if they were S.M.A.R.T. or not. Some goals were missing one of the five criteria; others were complete. It was a fun way for the members to reinforce what they had just learned. We left the workshop with a solid understanding of what makes a goal S.M.A.R.T.

Achieving Goals Builds Confidence

Achieving goals is satisfying and builds confidence – a quality we all want to nourish in our children. Yet the process of working toward a goal is also a valuable part of the journey. My daughter hasn’t achieved her goals each year, and that’s OK. By setting goals and being accountable at the end of each project year, she is learning what she can realistically expect from herself. Sometimes the reason she hasn’t met her goals has been out of her control, but that’s OK too. Young people build resilience and grit when things don’t go their way but they don’t give up. And sometimes she has neglected to work on her projects, only to find that she did not achieve what she set out to accomplish. By taking responsibility for her own failure without blaming others, she’s taking a huge step toward maturity.

Looking Forward

Before the New Year fades into the distance, here are seven steps to setting and achieving goals:

1. Set written S.M.A.R.T. goals and post them where you will see them often.
2. Make a plan for how you will meet your goals.
3. Schedule time when you will work your plan.
4. Decide on milestones toward meeting your goals.
5. Work your plan. Ask yourself “What is the next step I need to take to accomplish my goal?”
6. Periodically review your progress to hold yourself accountable.
7. Celebrate that you achieved your goals – or reflect on why not.

Effective goal setting is a skill that will help youth succeed in all areas of their lives, now and in the future. Have your club members set S.M.A.R.T. goals for their projects this year? Why not sit down together and review the five components of S.M.A.R.T. goals with them. Help them decide on their goals and follow the seven steps as the year progresses.

Then when the project year ends, you’ll have two reasons to celebrate: that they achieved their goals, and perhaps more importantly, they learned the life skill of effective goal setting.

About the Author

Diana Hutchinson

Wisconsin 4‑H Co-Leader

Diana Hutchinson is a 4‑H co-leader who writes from Wisconsin, the heart of America’s Dairyland. She fully embraces the 4‑H mission of positive youth development and empowering tomorrow’s leaders.