Goal-Setting: 5 Ways You Know You’re Doing It Right

Goal-Setting: 5 Ways You Know You’re Doing It Right

The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.

Bill Copeland

In high school, I took a weight-training class to fulfill a needed gym credit. My goal was to do the bare minimum to get an A, and I did just that. Looking back, I realize my goal of getting an A was good, but had my goal been to improve my fitness, I would have approached the course differently.

For the busy parent, goal-setting is everything. Not only does it help with the day-to-day craze of work, meals, cleaning, shopping, and a million other things to do, but it can also be a great tool for our children to help them accomplish more.  The types of goals you set matters.

There are two types of goals you can make: mastery goals and performance goals.  Mastery goals focus on increasing competence, whereas performance goals focus on demonstrating skill and ability. In the case of my gym class, I had a performance goal of getting an A, rather than a mastery goal of improving my fitness.  Your greatest strides come when your goals are mastery based rather than performance. The shift in your approach can benefit you, but also your children. 

Here are 5 ways to check that your goals a

re mastery and how to encourage it with your kids:

1.You actively seek feedback.

When I took the weights class, I felt that the teacher giving me correction was a sign I was incompetent, and I worried that it would bring down my grade. Had I been focused on improving my fitness, I would have welcomed his advice on how to improve my strength-training exercises.

What it looks like for you:

  • When a boss or coworker corrects you at work, see it as an opportunity to improve, rather than a reflection of your abilities.
  • If you get stumped on a problem, seek others for help rather than avoid help in fear of looking inadequate. The more you fear looking incompetent, the less opportunities you have to gain competency

What it looks like for your child:


  • Answer your child’s questions about their behavior honestly.  When you correct your child, be warm and encouraging. Let him know you are trying to help him improve, not shame or condemn him.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions in his school classes if he is confused. Help him view his teacher as a mentor who is there to help him learn, not to judge or punish him.

2. You use self-comparison to gauge success.

In my gym class, I was more concerned about looking like I knew what I was doing than actually knowing what I was doing. When you compare yourself to others who are much more advanced than you, it can be discouraging. This can lead you to believe that you don’t have what it takes or you don’t have the right genes.  If the goal is to be more advanced than others, once the goal is met, there is nothing pushing you to become better. This can also lead to the goal shifting from improving yourself to instead sabotaging others.

What it looks like in you:

  • As you work on a new goal, whether it be having healthier meals, greater confidence at work, or a clean house, focus on where you stand in relation to the past. If you are consistently looking to the Super Parent next door who can do it all, your goal may seem further and further out of reach.
  • When a new task or skill looks daunting, remind yourself you will not be perfect in the beginning and that’s okay. Reflect on a time you pushed through the initial growing pains and made progress. This new task is the same process.

What it looks like for your child:

  • Rather than praising your child for getting the top score in their class, congratulate her on how hard she worked and the progress she made. It may sound something like, “Wow! On Monday you couldn’t spell any of these words and now you can spell all 10! It looks like that studying really paid off.”
  • If you have more than one child, be sure not to compare them against each other but focus on their individual strengths and progress.

3. You interpret setbacks and failures as learning tools on how to improve next time.

It’s fun to practice the piano song you know well or write in the computer programming language you always use, but staying in your comfort zone doesn’t lead to progress.  How often has the fear of failure kept you from trying something new?  Failure is simply feedback on what to do differently next time, not an indication to drop the goal altogether.  Perfectionism is the enemy here. Strive for progress over perfect.

What it looks like in you:

  • Recognize where the fear of failure is holding you back. Perhaps you are afraid of asking your boss for a raise, applying for a management position, trying out a new idea you’ve been too afraid to share, or even quitting your job to start your own company.
  • Pay close attention to when your inner voice says that you can’t do it and question that voice.
  • Try to make small steps outside of your comfort zone and revaluate your progress.

What it looks like for your child:

  • When your child has setbacks, be sure you encourage him with growth-mindset phrases, which focus on intelligence being incremental. For example, “It looks like your approach this time didn’t work. What do you think you can change next time?” This is in contrast with fixed-mindset phrases such as, “It looks like this isn’t your subject,” or “You must not have gotten the math gene.” Having a fixed mindset means that no matter the amount of effort given, he cannot succeed in that area.
  • Let him know that mistakes are ok. If he answered a question wrong in class, praise him for having the courage to try.
  • Recognize effort more than results.

4. You have an intrinsic motivation.

You work harder on things you are interested in than on things you aren’t or on things you feel forced into.

What it looks like in you:

  • Find something you have a true passion for. If waking up each day for work fills you with dread, it’s a sign that you have not yet found your calling in life or meaning in your work.
  • I understand that there are clear times when it is important to do things you don’t want to do. Work on tasks that allow you to have some autonomy and choice. You will care more about personalized projects over ones that give little room for your own ideas.

What it looks like for your child:

  • Allow your child to pursue their own interests. If the activity or goal is self-directed, she will be much more motivated to grow in that area.
  • There will be times when she needs to be directed away from the activity she chooses. For example, my little girl can watch hours and hours of mindless YouTube videos. When this is the case, give your child options on what is acceptable. Every time your child has a voice and can choose her behavior, she will feel more empowered. You may have your own goal of getting your child to bed at a certain time, but she resists. The choice may be as simple as, “It is time for bed. Would you like to walk up the stairs, or would you like me to carry you?”

5. You accept new challenges that stretch you.

When you go to the doctor, do you want her to have selected the easiest medical school or the one that really stretched her abilities? I’m assuming the latter.

What it looks like in you:

  • Each day focus on one thing you can do to stretch yourself. Perhaps it’s trying a new recipe, accepting an intimidating work assignment, or designing a graphic in a program you’ve resisted learning.

What it looks like for your child:

  • Encourage an “I can do it” attitude in your child. If he says a task such as learning to divide is too hard, remind him how he also once felt that multiplication was too hard, but he persevered and mastered his times tables.
  • Help him break intimidating tasks such as cleaning his room into smaller chunks.

It’s common for you and your child to have performance goals such as 20 minutes of piano practice, all As on your transcript, and reading one chapter a night of a religious text, but these are not ultimately what make a professional pianist, a world-renowned brain surgeon, or a wise religious leader. Mastery goals can help you become something beyond a checklist-parent. They give your life a greater sense of meaning and purpose more so than surface-level goals. Forget being a Super Parent, be a Mastery Parent.

Veronika Tait is the proud mother of two little ones. She earned her PhD in Social Psychology at Brigham Young University. When she’s not singing Broadway show tunes in her shower, she’s reading parenting books, teaching psychology courses, or starting political fires on Facebook.

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