One simple thing you can do right now to boost your academic success

Do you know what's funny about success? We all want it, but a lot of times we have no idea what it looks like! 

We have a vague sense that success is about doing the right things well. But what are those things? And how will you know when you did them well? It's only when you define what success means to you that you can begin working toward it.  

Boosting your academic success starts with getting clear on what you want from this school year. 

That's why the one thing you need to do to boost your success at school is to set goals.

It's a simple enough idea. You have to know where you want to go. You have to program a location into your GPS, as it were. But setting goals and working toward them can be tricky. So here's a detailed look at how to set goals that will actually lead you to success.  

Think like your future self.

Imagine it’s June and you’re looking back at the school year. 

  • What new skills do you want to have?
  • Where do you want to have made real improvement?
  • Which direction do you want to be headed in?
  • What new challenges next year do you want to be ready for?

Work on one goal at a time.

You might have a lot of goals. That’s great! I hope you are able to accomplish a ton this year and to wow yourself and others with how many milestones you achieve.

But to start,  I want you to pick one thing. Just one. Our brains can only focus well on one thing at a time. (It’s true! Turns out the whole “multitasking” craze is a big waste o’ time!)

Besides, setting multiple goals at once can often lead to discouragement. Imagine setting eight goals for the month. If you only complete one of them, chances are you’ll feel really bummed about those other seven. You’ll lose sight of your accomplishment, and your motivation will get flushed down the toilet.

Once you make progress with one goal, go ahead and add in another. You’ll know you’re ready to start focusing on a new goal when working on the first one has become a habit and isn’t eating up a lot of your active mental energy.

Make each goal specific.

Just like too many goals is a recipe for disappointment, one vague goal is also going to let you down.

Let’s take writing as an example. If your goal is to “write better,” you’ll have a hard time knowing where to put in the extra effort. But imagine having a specific focus, such as any of the following:

  • use more sophisticated vocabulary
  • write longer body paragraphs with more analysis
  • when revising, combine related ideas in complex sentences
  • write clear topic sentences
  • turn in work on time

Getting solid in any one of these areas would improve your writing. Sure, eventually you want to hit all of those bullet points. But starting with one will give you the focus you need to improve faster!

When you create a specific goal, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll know how to achieve it. And if you need support, getting help from your teacher or a class outside of school will be a lot easier because you’ll be able to ask for what you need.

Give each goal time.

If you want to make a big change, one of the most important tools you need is patience. No new habit takes hold immediately.

Let’s say you set a goal of strengthening the analysis in your writing. You get back your first essay of the new semester, only to see that the “Argument Development” score is pretty much the same as it was for your essays last semester. Don’t give up!

If you’re really committed to making an improvement, you’ll have to practice your new skill and work out all the kinks. Set a reasonable time for your goal. Try a quarter or a semester, depending on its size.

Don’t drive yourself crazy about results from week to week. Instead, compare essays one month apart to see how your small efforts have added up to big changes.

Look for rubric scores and teacher comments that show your improvement. And don’t discard what you notice that your teacher might not. If you count that you used four sentences of commentary in your latest essay—up from only two in your previous one—pat yourself on the back!

Seeing that you’re on your way to meeting your goal will help you stay motivated. And giving yourself a reasonable time expectation will keep you from burning out or beating yourself up.

Start right now.

Don't wait for inspiration. Start gathering your ideas, and give yourself freedom to list all your possible goals before deciding. Entertain all the options.

I’m a big fan of the bubble brainstorm, aka, the mind map. This doodle-like graphic organizer allows me to empty my brain in a stream-of-consciousness way. It just makes me feel free to write down whatever comes to mind, without worrying about which ideas are the most important.

Once your goals are holding still on paper, you can look through them at your leisure to pick the one you’ll tackle first. Bonus? The rest are waiting for you on paper when you’ve tackled your first goal and are ready to move on to another one.

If you already know what your first goal is...

More power to you! Jump right in and picture your goal and the time it will take. Get out your calendar and write down your timeline, or schedule a planning session to break up your goal into smaller chunks

If you’re unsure what your first goal is...

Try the bubble-brainstorm technique. Look back through last semester's report card or your essays from the beginning of the year. Where do you want to see improvement? 


You can achieve success and make this year your best yet. But you have to start with a clear goal. Commit to your goal, and don't stress out about whether or not it is the perfect one. Truly, the best way to achieve the success you want is just to get started! 

What are your goals for this year? How do you plan to meet them?

Do you feel overwhelmed about choosing goals or working toward them?

Let me know by clicking on the "Comment" button, and I’ll respond to you personally!