What is goal-directed behavior?

To be successful, productive, and happy, each of us needs to learn how to set and achieve goals. Achieving meaningful goals is what keeps us moving forward in our lives.

Without goals, our lives can become a hodge-podge of random activities that fill the day, but not our hearts and minds. As American businessperson, Jim Rohn said, "Success is steady progress towards one's personal goals."

Like all social and emotional skills, goal-directed behavior can be taught. The two strategies below can be used with students (and adults!) of all ages.


Activities to build goal-directed behavior

These practices can build Goal-Directed Behavior at any age.

Aperture 8_Goal Directed Behavior

smart goals

George Doran developed the SMART goals approach in 1981. Forty years later, the SMART goals approach is used everywhere. The acronym SMART identifies the key characteristics of a good goal: 

Specific - good goals identify a clear, specific goal. Rather than a vague statement like "I will work harder in school," a specific goal might be "I will complete my homework assignments."  

Measurable - We need to know when we have achieved our goal, so we need the goal to be measurable. Rather than, "I'll exercise more," it is better to state, "I will exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week." Then, we need to measure and track our progress.  

Achievable - We need to be realistic and set goals that we can actually achieve. It is better to have a series of small achievable goals that build your child's confidence then one giant goal that increases the chances of failure and builds pessimism.  

Relevant - Is the goal important to your child? If it is not relevant to them, they are less likely to achieve it. 

Time-Limited - It is important to set a time frame for completing the goal. Set a realistic time frame for meeting your goal. Having a specific time frame makes it harder to procrastinate.  

Helping children (or yourself) develop a habit of making SMART goals will help them be more successful. It is one of the most important skills we can teach and will benefit them and ourselves for decades to come.  

Aperture 8_Goal Directed Behavior

the Hemingway effect

No matter how SMART our goals are, we can still get tired, bored, or hit roadblocks that could keep us from reaching our goals. The famous author, Ernest Hemingway, developed a great and simple tool for helping us keep going until we achieve our goals. This technique has become known as The Hemingway Effect.

Think of a student working on a term paper. Often children will continue to work on the paper until they are tired, bored, or run out of ideas (writer's block). When they can't go any farther, they stop. This can leave them frustrated and makes it hard to return and finish the paper. Ernest Hemingway's great solution was to 1) stop writing while things are going well, and 2) write down the next step, or the next idea you want to discuss when you return.

Students will feel better and when they return, they will already know the next step and can get right back to being productive. Always knowing the next step to take when we return helps us keep going until we achieve our goal.  

Additional activities for students and families

Learn more about the rest of the skills measured by the DESSA and access activities that families or educators can use with students K-12 to build their skills.