Research shows anxiety levels are high for many students in year 12 as they focus on academic goals that may determine their future.
The way you pursue your goals can be the difference between maintaining happiness or feeling stressed.
When setting and pursuing your goals, try to keep these four things in mind.
1. It’s less the goal and more how you think about it
The way we think about our progress can be the difference between whether we feel good or anxious.
The research found it’s not failing to reach your goal that exacerbates anxious or depressive symptoms, but ruminating on goal progress in a negative way. This could be by telling yourself things like “I’m a loser”, “I’m no good” or “I am letting my parents down”.
So, don’t let your critical voice take over your life. There are other more constructive ways of thinking that can help you pursue your goals and maintain perspective.
One way is to be reflective rather than judgemental. You can constructively reflect that “I didn’t get the grade I wanted in the first biology test this year” or “I didn’t make the progress I wanted”.
Reflection gives you an opportunity to learn from your experience and identify strategies to improve. These could be asking for help from the teacher or studying in an environment that helps you concentrate.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others
It’s important to feel like you have control over your own life. Several studies have shown lack of personal control is associated with depression.
Goals like “to be top of my year 12 class” depend in part on how well or poorly other students do, which is outside of your control.
It’s better to run your own race and pursue goals that are meaningful to you rather than external goals such as those motivated by competition with others.
For example, a goal like “to improve my maths results in the coming term” is better for your well-being if this is something you personally want to achieve. But wanting to beat someone in your class means comparing yourself to them, which can increase anxiety.
Similarly, goals made to avoid a negative consequence (such as “to not feel like a loser”) or because your parents or teachers want you to achieve something, are also associated with increased anxiety if these are not yours.
Even if you are successful in achieving goals other people want you to achieve, research suggests you won’t benefit from increased well-being or happiness.
3. Break goals up into small steps
Setting small achievable goal steps or plans will help you reach your bigger goal and feel in control. For instance, if your goal is to improve your maths results, you can make smaller steps like setting aside three hours each week to study maths.
Small steps are easy to monitor. Being able to hit your smaller goal of studying for three hours every week will help you maintain a sense of achievement.
You can reward these small achievements along the way. For instance, if you have stuck to your study plan over the past week, then reward yourself by doing something you enjoy such as seeing a movie. Research shows such associated rewards help reinforce achievement and sustain goal pursuit.
4. Don’t put all your eggs in one goal basket
You make yourself vulnerable to disappointment if you invest your energy in one goal. What happens if you don’t achieve it? Having a few meaningful goals in different life domains (such as education, relationships and health) provides a protective barrier in case you don’t make one goal.
But pursuing too many goals can also be unrealistic as we typically have a limited set of personal resources, such as time and energy and can’t do too many things at once.
When you start year 12, it’s useful to determine the most important and meaningful goals you wish to pursue in the year ahead. Be kind to yourself and take time out to do things you enjoy. It’ll help you keep perspective and a balance in life.