One day, Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, was asked by a young student, “How do you get to Mount Olympus?” Aristotle replied, “By simply ensuring that each step you take is toward Mount Olympus.”
Aristotle’s response is surprising. Usually when someone asks me for directions, I lay out a comprehensive plan. Walk straight for 5 blocks, I might say. Turn right at the church and you’ll see the mountain on your left. Instead of specifying a plan or worrying about the future, however, Aristotle instructs his student to simply concentrate on the present step. Only when this step is complete should the student concern himself with the next.
Back in February, Marcus (an awesome tutor here at Sentia) argued for the importance of setting goals when studying for admissions tests. In this blog entry, I will give some suggestions for how to make these goals actually happen. To do this, we don’t need to create a comprehensive final plan. We merely must identify and complete a series of next steps.
How to Achieve Your Long-Term Goals:
1.) Define your goals.
To achieve your goals, you must first figure out what they are. Since you have stumbled across the Sentia Education blog, I’m going to assume you’re a student aiming for a college or graduate degree. A lofty goal indeed!
Once you’ve identified your ultimate, long-term goal (COLLEGE! GRAD SCHOOL!), you must make a list of sub-goals. Sub-goals are all the projects you’ll need to complete before attaining your ultimate goal. For example, most colleges require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Thus, if you’re a high school student applying to college, taking the SAT or ACT is an important sub-goal.
As you move forward with the method I describe below, you will continue to break your goals down into smaller and smaller pieces.
2.) Force yourself to Just Get Started!
Beginning work on a big project can be daunting—especially if you’re not sure where to start or how much work you’ll need to do. In the germinal stage of any endeavor, it’s generally best to suspend such worries and focus on getting something—anything—done. This is the first step. Once you have taken the first step, you will find it easier to identify the next.
Setting a precise, limited work-time will make it easier to start work on your goal. To begin, challenge yourself to work for 30 minutes today. Stop working after 30 minutes, no matter how paltry your progress. You have made admirable headway just by forcing yourself to sit down, “break the ice,” and attack your goal. (Keep working, of course, if you’re being productive and don’t want to stop!)
When you are finished for today, schedule your next short work session. And so forth.
3.) Break your goal into a series of small tasks.
The first step here is figuring out exactly how long you have to complete your goal. Then, you will make a list of things you know you need to do to complete this goal.
For instance, if you’re studying for the SAT, one of your first actions will be to register for the exam. Perhaps you will take it this October?
There are 15 weeks between now and the October 6 SAT. What do you need to do before then? A diligent student might write: I need to take & review practice sections; learn grammar concepts; and memorize 300 vocab words.
Continue to break down this list until you have a series of mini-goals to complete at specific times in the immediate future. Once again, our diligent student might here resolve to: learn 20 vocab words each week to memorize 300 in 15 weeks; take and review 3 practice sections each week; study grammar concepts for 1 hour each week.
And there we have it! We have defined our next steps.
4.) Make a schedule of times to complete your mini-goals.
Once you’ve established a series of mini-goals, you will want to create a regular work-schedule to get them done. Creating a schedule for completing your mini-goals will not only cause the overall project to feel less overwhelming, but it will also force you to make this work a priority.
Treat each one of your scheduled work-sessions as a commitment you cannot break. I cannot emphasize this enough. Unless there is a serious (and I mean serious) emergency, you must honor and abide by the schedule you make.
Tip: Establishing a regular place (or—better yet—a few places) to go to work on your goal will help these sessions feel more like actual appointments. In addition, your brain will begin to associate such special spots with working on your goal, so you can get focused faster.
5.) Monitor your progress every step of the way.
Let’s say you’re studying for the SAT. You have made a schedule whereby you take 3 practice exam sections each week. On Monday, you take a Math section, grade it, and learn you got all but 4 questions wrong. Ouch!
Sounds like it’s time to re-evaluate your work schedule and set some new mini-goals!
At this moment in time, you might set a mini-goal of getting a Sentia tutor to help you with math. You might also set a goal of re-learning concepts covered in the questions you got wrong. In either case, you are rethinking your plan to counter unexpected challenges. In other words, you less concerned with sticking to a pre-formed plan than with identifying and taking the appropriate next steps.
These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors
Lofty: exalted in rank, dignity, or character; noble
Germinal: being in the earliest stage of development
Paltry: ridiculously small