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Eye on Psi Chi: Summer 2007

Strategies for Planning and Setting Goals
John M. Davis, Psi Chi President, Texas State University-San Marcos

"Cheshire Puss" [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,"
said Alice.
"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:
  1. Graduate! Graduate School.
  2. Graduate, find a stable job and a place to live, to become rich and famous.
  3. Next 1 year—graduate; next 5—married, graduate school, city planner; next 10—retired.
  4. Receive bachelor's degree in August, go on for master's degree (social work), get married, move north.
  5. 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.
Lewin, K. (1935). A dynamic theory of personality: Selected papers. (D. K. Adams and K. E. Zener, Trans.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

John M. Davis, PhD, was born in 1943 in McAllen, Texas where his father served in the military. After the war, his parents moved to a farm in Oklahoma. There, Dr. Davis learned the importance of hard work and the pleasures of learning about nature while exploring the woods and rivers with his four younger brothers and sisters. His parents emphasized religion and education in a loving family atmosphere and hosted frequent visits from foreign missionary families and from international students at nearby Oklahoma State University. These experiences, as well as interaction with American Indians of the area, stimulated Dr. Davis's fascination with languages and diverse cultures.

Science, agriculture, and music were Dr. Davis's favorite subjects at public school in the small town of Yale, Oklahoma. He graduated with honors and a scholarship to Oklahoma City University (OCU) where he majored in physics. However, as a sophomore he took a psychology course, found it fascinating, took another, and changed his major to psychology. After earning a BA in psychology, he remained at OCU for a MA in teaching with emphasis on psychology and began learning German.

In 1967, he moved to Germany to continue his study of the language and, through a series of serendipitous events, was offered a faculty position teaching psychology at Germany's Schiller International University. He also enrolled at the University of Heidelberg, and later at the University of Erlangen-Nurenberg, for advanced study in psychology and German language and literature. Returning to the United States, Dr. Davis entered the doctoral program at the University of Oklahoma in 1970. In 1974, he completed the PhD in experimental social/personality psychology with a second emphasis in quantitative/measurement/methodology. He then accepted a position at Texas State University-San Marcos where he is now graduate professor of psychology and director of the Center for International Psychology. At the undergraduate level, he regularly teaches social psychology and statistics. He recently developed and is teaching a course in international psychology, possibly the first in the nation. At the graduate level, he teaches advanced statistics, industrial-social psychology, and health promotion and wellness. He has produced more than 160 scholarly works including journal articles, book chapters, funded grants, and convention presentations, many coauthored with students and colleagues. During a sabbatical leave in 1980-81, Dr. Davis conducted research with Vietnamese refugees in United Nations camps in Hong Kong. While there, he met his wife Carol, who shares his interests in travel and international issues, and his love of the outdoors.

Dr. Davis is a past president of the Southwestern Psychological Association, a Scientific Associate of the Texas/ World Health Organization Collaborating Center, and president elect of the Council of Teachers of Undergraduate Psychology. For many years a commitment to Psi Chi has been central to his professional work. He is proud of the Texas State chapter and continues to enjoy working with its members as coadvisr with Dr. Randall Osborne. He has served two terms as Psi Chi Vice-President, Southwestern Region, and feels honored to have the opportunity for further service to Psi Chi as National President-Elect.

Copyright 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 4) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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