How Not to Fail at Making Goals

The start of the school year is always filled with resolutions to make this year different, a desire to be better, and with the thought that when there is a will, there is a way. This time of year – the beginning of October – when you realize exactly how many assignments, readings, and deadlines are about to hit you, is when that intention wavers. And in most cases, you slip back into your usual routine of procrastination, speeding to get things done at the last minute, and vowing that the next assignment/reading/essay will be different.

I have seen a lot of people go through this, and suffered through this myself also. I have learned a few tips and tricks along the way though, which I hope will help you stick to your goals.

Planning Stage

This is where you must put in some time deciding exactly what the goals are that you are trying to meet. Have you decided that you’re going to attend all your classes this year? Are you aiming for a better GPA? Are you thinking about getting more from your University experience besides just school?

  1. Figure out exactly what it is that you want to achieve.
  2. Make sure it is something you actually can achieve.

Step 2 is important. If you spent most of last year skipping all of your classes, then do not put down as your goal “I will get a 4.0 GPA … even though I got a 2.0 last year”. Your first goal is to make sure you actually attend all your classes this semester. If you commute and tend to sleep in and miss your morning classes, then figure out other times that lecture is offered. Read the course outline to see what you will be covering next class, read it, and figure out the importance of getting to that lecture/tutorial/practical.

There aren’t methods set in stone which will help you get from a 2.0 to a 4.0. There are ways to work UP to a 4.0. Make a few small changes and stick to them, once you’ve stuck to them and accomplished something, make another small change. You will definitely improve this way.

    3. Action Plan

Relating back to step 2 – you have to figure out exactly what it is that will get you out of bed earlier, or how you will go to all your classes this year.

    4. Post it somewhere

As cheesy as it sounds, and as much as it reminds me of way too many cheesy movies where the protagonist is suddenly overcome with this desire to do better, it works. Post it somewhere you’ll see it. Post it somewhere you tend to slack off so you will see it and feel guilty enough to actually do something about it. And change the location every once in awhile, so it doesn’t blend in and become a part of the wall and you start to ignore it.

Implementation Stage

This is when you start to put your amazing plan into action. Organization is key in this stage and will be a life saver. There are probably two or three things you can do in this stage that will help you a lot.

    5. Set up a Google calendar. No, seriously!

A visual reminder that your essay is actually THIS Friday instead of the NEXT Friday is a huge panic-attack avoider. It’s also great for noting your friend’s birthday is coming up and the day right before a huge midterm, so you can plan ahead and not miss the celebration.

A whiteboard calendar, and the student planner work as well, but I feel that the google calendar keeps things far more organized and neat.

    6. The Cornell note-taking style. (Link here and here).

It’s supposed to be the best note taking style there is – so it might help you out in class!

    7. Make a chart to see your progress.

Your goals should be posted somewhere for you to see anyhow, so you know EXACTLY how much you are accomplishing.

Lose-Your-Motivation Stage

It happens. If you’re thinking the following thoughts:

  • “I’ll get to it later. There’s still time.”
  • “I only have an hour. It’s not enough time to get my work done anyhow.”
  • “I work better under pressure.”

STOP LYING TO YOURSELF. These are all signs of procrastination. I can suggest what has worked for me, and what experts have said:

  • Get your friend to kick your butt.
  • Guilt yourself back into studying. If you suck at it, get someone to guilt you back into shape.

(Experts say): First identify the negative thoughts you are having. Then you must challenge your unproductive thinking and then motivate change.

Challenge it:

  • “Will I be better off in the long run if I just do it now?”
  • “Maybe I can’t finish, but I can get a good start.”
  • “An hour is sufficient time to make good progress.”
  • “Do I really work better under pressure? What happened last time?”

Motivate change:

  • “How will it feel to be in control/take charge of myself and what I do?”
  • “How will it help me to achieve my course goal?”
  • “What would I like to do in my (guilt) free time when I stop procrastinating?”
    8. “I can’t do it…”

Don’t give up. Yes, I realize, it’s been said, and done fifty times over, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it! You have to NOT GIVE UP. You have to KEEP FIGHTING and play the Rocky theme song and think of every single person who has achieved greatness and … okay a bit much, but you MUST NOT GIVE UP!

Try the following:

  • If you’re like me, inspirational quotes and motivational movies usually work
  • Access your resources

Treat Yourself Right

After you feel like you’ve accomplished something, don’t run back home and hit the books again! Don’t spend Friday evening, Saturday, AND Sunday studying for your Monday midterm! Have some fun. Again, this is probably hitting you with the cheese overload, but it’s TRUE!

Celebrate when you feel you did well on a test/assignment. Go treat yourself to some ice cream if you got a good mark, IT’S OKAY to go out Friday evening if you have a test Monday. I’m not saying go out Friday evening and have a hangover all of Saturday, but you’re not doomed to not have a social life if you want to get good grades.


It’s important.

3 Replies to “How Not to Fail at Making Goals”

  1. I’ve gone back to U of T at age 51, after having failed thirty years ago.

    Why did I fail? First, I was over-involved in student life. It’s good to get involved, but I overdid it. Second, I back-loaded my schoolwork. By that, I mean that I expected to do my work in the latter half of the time allotted: if I had four days to study for a test, i expected to study in days 3 and 4. Naturally, this raised my stress level, leading me to procrastinate and leave the studying until day 4. This also led me to believe that I was more productive under stress — funny, since I didn’t give myself an alternative. And did I say that I passed with that strategy?

    Finally, I failed because I wasn’t interested in the program. Some students can slog it out in a program they hate, but I couldn’t, and I didn’t want to admit that, so I kept going until I finally got kicked out.

    If I could offer any advice, I’d say that you should front-load your studying. Do the assignment as soon as possible. This lowers your stress level immensely and allows you to review it later before it’s due. (One thing I’ve learned in work is that polishing can take as much time as creating.) It also allows you to reward yourself after a bit of work, which is sweeter than rewarding yourself before you do the work.

    In the same vein, look at the course material before class, during the lecture and after class. You can do it in a relaxed way, not as if you were cramming. The point is to see the material more than once, so it becomes familiar to you, allowing you to recall it more easily under the stress of an exam.

    Also, just as a child thinks of the number of “sleeps” before Christmas, you want to get as many sleeps in before the exam or the midterm. In other words, sleep consolidates memories. If you cram before the exam, you only allow one “sleep” (barely) to consolidate the memories of the material. Instead, if you start studying early, you allow the material to settle into your memory as you sleep each night before the exam.

    Finally, reviewing builds connections. Study and ingest, then review and familiarize, then recall without cues. Do test questions. Then do this again.

    Good luck!

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