The key piece everybody is missing when setting up their goals

By John Kernis, BFIS Director of Secondary

When it comes to school and education, having clear goals is key. But have you ever felt like there was something missing when setting up your own? It’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Today, our Director of Secondary John Kernis will be diving into the key piece everybody is missing when setting up their goals – a crucial part of the process that can make all the difference.

I told students about a recent podcast I had listened to that featured social psychologist Emily Balcetis, who has done extensive research on goal setting and goal-reaching. If there is one time of the year when most folks tend to set goals, it is at the new year. 

People may say, “I’m going to give up meat” “I’m going to run 5k three times a week” or “I will increase my grades in all of my subjects” or something along these lines. While all these are well-intentioned, they are highly likely to fail.

So in thinking about setting goals for next semester, I explained to students that the problem with goals like these is that when they don’t have a plan attached to them, people put a lot of sustained effort into them for (at best) about 6 weeks, and then reflect on progress and realize they haven’t increased all their grades yet or run 5k three times a week despite 6 weeks of effort.

So, they give up. (I say 6 weeks since research points to this – around Valentine’s day – being the time when people tend to let go of their New Year’s resolutions). In this way, goals without plans are just wishes.

Good plans embrace set backs

Take Michael Phelps, who in 2008 had 7 gold medals and was aiming for his 8th. Why was this important? Well, because no one had ever won 8 golds in an Olympiad. He had one event left, the 200-meter fly. 

This was Phelps’ bread and butter. As he dove in, however, his goggles moved and started to fill with water. Underwater and under incredible pressure, this was a major setback.

But you see, Phelps did not just say on January 1st, “I want to win 8 gold medals”. Rather, Phelps sought out setbacks. His plan included a focus on setbacks. He embraced them, using them to his advantage in training. So, when practising, his coach would sometimes hack his goggles so that they would fill with water. 

What he had to do was find other strategies to cope. For this one, it was counting. He learned exactly how many strokes it took to cross the pool. So in that final 200-meter race where eventually he was swimming blind, he was hyper-focused on counting. 

And this was not the first time he had been struck by this setback, either. In the end, you know what happens. And he not only won that eighth medal but went on to win 15 more.

If we put setbacks and obstacles aside and hide from them, not only do we not learn, but we program success out of our future

We take this approach at BFIS and see failing forward as hugely important for developing potential in students so that they can be better prepared with a plan to face and learn from the setbacks, bumps and challenges that will naturally come. For us, this is a huge part of what it means to be future-ready.


In conclusion, setting goals is a great way to work towards achieving our aspirations. However, it is important to remember that simply having a goal is not enough; we must also have a plan in place to achieve it. Without a plan, our efforts will only last for a few weeks before we give up. 

Embrace setbacks and use them as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than letting them discourage us from achieving our goals. This approach is key to being future-ready and developing our potential to the fullest. By focusing on setbacks, we can learn how to overcome them and program success into our future.

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