[Alice] began... "would you tell me please, which way I ought to walk from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to go to,"
said the Cat.
"I don't much care where,"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you walk,"
said the Cat.
—Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Without clear goals, we seldom know how to define success, and we seldom work in a way that leads to lasting personal satisfaction. Most of us sometimes feel the way Alice felt yet, without clear goals and plans, like her we may later find ourselves in a place where we don't much care to be.
I believe you will agree that goal setting is of prime importance for achievement, but what is the best way to go about it? A useful strategy is to develop your goals over three time frames—short term, medium term, and long term. In order to help students in my social psychology classes clarify their goals, I ask them to write out their personal and professional goals for the next 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. Here are approximations of responses shared by five students 4 years ago:
- Graduate! Graduate School.
- Graduate, find a stable job and a place to live, to become rich and famous.
- Next 1 year—graduate; next 5—married, graduate school, city planner; next 10—retired.
- Receive bachelor's degree in August, go on for master's degree (social work), get married, move north.
- 1 year—graduate, take GRE, apply to grad school and get accepted; 5 years—finishing up my PhD in clinical psychology; 10 years—doing research into psychological disorders, teaching, or working in a clinic or private practice.
As you can see, all these students had goals. The goals and plans of the fifth student are especially clear, detailed, and well stated. In fact, this student excelled in my class, later served as my teaching assistant, and is now close to finishing her PhD in psychology from a good graduate program.
Because I wish the same success for you, I encourage you to write out your goals and plans, and to review them periodically. Be realistic, concrete, and detailed in identifying your goals and in aligning your short-term objectives with your medium- and long-term goals.
Although it is very useful to have clear plans and goals and to review them regularly; It is also important to remain flexible, to avoid taking them too seriously, and to recognize that we don't have total control over what happens. Let me illustrate: While attending the APA Education Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. recently, I had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Alan Kazdin from Yale University (CT), who had just won the national election for APA President. In talking with him, I inquired about his goals for his presidential year. He laughed and gave a delightful reply: "Being President of a very large organization such as APA is like being a child in the back seat with a toy steering wheel who thinks he is doing the driving." Though I am confident he does have plans and goals for his presidential year, I still chuckle at this light-hearted, yet very wise, answer. (Incidentally, Dr. Kazdin will be Psi Chi's keynote speaker at APA
in San Francisco in August. I hope you will take the opportunity to hear some of his ideas and to experience some of his wit.)
Why bother to set goals and develop plans if you cannot be confident of fully carrying them out? Planning and goal-setting will motivate you to be more fully engaged in whatever you do. Kurt Lewin, one of my favorite social psychology theorists, suggested the concept of "life space." Life space refers to the total psychological environment of the individual and includes every influence on the life of an individual at any given point in time. Lewin believed that the primary purpose of education should be to enlarge our life space, enabling us to envision and work toward longer-term goals (Lewin, 1935). As a student, you have your best opportunity to steer your life in the direction you choose.
As I write, I am reviewing my own goals as Psi Chi President. Some have been accomplished, and I hope to achieve a few more before my term ends in August. However, for the long-term health of Psi Chi, I believe my most important goal this year has already been accomplished: it was to lead a search committee and the National Council in selecting the best possible person to become Psi Chi's new Executive Officer. I want to welcome Lisa Mantooth. Lisa began her duties on March 1. She is off to a very good start. Working with her recently at her first regional meeting, the annual meeting of the Southwestern Psychological Association in Fort Worth, I saw clearly that the Psi Chi National Council made an excellent choice. Lisa, I hope you will continue to be excited by the challenges of your position and that you will continue to serve Psi Chi as admirably as you did in Fort Worth.
Lisa and the Psi Chi National Council and staff are planning for the future. I hope the above ideas will be helpful as you do the same.References
Lewin, K. (1935). A dynamic theory of personality: Selected papers.
(D. K. Adams and K. E. Zener, Trans.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Summer 2007 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 11, No. 4, p. 4), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2007, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.