One of the best ways to feel you have a healthy work-life balance is to feel you’re succeeding as a parent; to feel you’re helping your children grow up to be happy, fulfilled, independent and successful. After all, feeling successful – in whatever way you choose to define “success” – is a key factor in overall happiness and fulfillment.
But is it possible to help your kids learn to be more successful?
Turns out there is. In a study conducted by Gail Matthews of Dominican University, participants were assigned to one of five groups:
Group 1 thought about their goals.
Group 2 wrote down their goals. (Note it cascades from here).
Group 3 also created action commitments, listing things they would do to achieve their goals.
Group 4 also sent their goals and action commitments to a supportive friend. (More on “supportive friend” in a moment).
Group 5 also sent that friend weekly progress reports.
You can probably guess what happened:
Group 3, the action commitments folks, were even more likely to achieve their goals than people who only wrote down their goals, much less just thought about them.
Group 4, the send action commitments to a friend folks, were even more likely to achieve their goals than the “just” wrote down their action commitments group.
Group 5, the weekly progress reports folks, were the most likely to achieve their goals of all the groups.
Add it all up, and what do you get? Where achieving goals is concerned:
Writing goals down is good.
Writing goals down and also creating action plans is better.
Sharing action plans with someone whose opinion you value is even better. A series of studies reveal people have greater goal commitment and performance when they tell their goal to someone they believe has higher status than themselves.
(The phenomenon is called evaluation apprehension. As the researchers write, “The important thing is that you need to care about the opinion of who you are telling.” If nothing else, that may create an aspirational form of peer pressure; who doesn’t want to be respected by the people they respect?
Providing weekly progress reports – in addition to all of the above – is the best goal-achievement strategy of all.
So where should you start?
- Have your child write down a specific goal
Not a fuzzy goal. Not “be more popular”. Or “do better in school”. Or “do better in sports.”
Make sure the goal is specific. “Make a good friend”. “Get an A in earth science”. “Make the basketball team”.
Why? Because measurable, objective goals better lend themselves to action plans. For adults, “lose weight” is basically meaningless; “lose five pounds in two months” lets you do the math, determine the calories involved, create daily diet and exercise plans – you get the point.
The goal is to teach your kids to set measurable goals, a skill that will pay dividends for the rest of their lives.
- Create action plans.
A measurable, objective goal lets you start at the end and work backward. Want to get an A in earth science? That means turning all your homework in on time. That means studying for every quiz and test.
That means … again, you get the point. The goal is the “what”, the action plans are “how”.
Because a goal without a “how” is just a dream.
- Share the goal and action plan with someone whose opinion they respect
That’s probably not you. Sure, your kids respect you, but you’re their parent. You’re supposed to love them. You’re supposed to care about them, unconditionally.
Plus, they’re used to falling short on commitments with you. (I got really used to my mother telling me to turn my clothes right-side out before I put them in the hamper).
Instead, have them pick someone they don’t want to let down. Have them pick someone whose praise and regard they seek or even crave. Maybe that will turn out to be a relative, but in all likelihood will be a friend.
- Share weekly progress reports
Here’s where the goal-setting rubber really meets the goal-achievement road. The best way to use an accountability buddy is to have that person hold you accountable for your action plan, not your overall goal.
For example, “I read my earth science book every night this week for 20 minutes” is a lot more powerful than, “I’m still working hard to get an A in earth science”.
Sharing weekly progress reports won’t just make it more likely your child will achieve their goal. It also helps reinforce a perspective that will be critical to future success: While goals are important, actions generate results.
Because a goal without a plan is just a dream.
And without effort, no dream can come true.