Published: June 7, 2018

nullWith longer days and a different schedule, summer can be a great time for your student to consider what they want for themselves and how they can plan to make it happen. This can mean setting clear goals, planning for the future or just learning to live in the moment.

No matter how your student chooses to pursue personal growth, these positive psychology approaches can help.

Values and priorities

Your student can start by writing down the things they care about and what they want to give their attention to over the summer. Whether it is their relationships, health, academics or all three, starting broad and then filtering down will help them figure out exactly what they’re striving for. Additionally, research shows people are more likely to work towards goals when they write them down.

For example: if your student would like to work toward a better relationship with a friend or sibling, encourage them to brainstorm ideas for what they can do to achieve that, such as spending more time together. Then identify the specific action to which they can dedicate their energy - setting aside time to video chat, having dinner, going to the climbing gym or just checking in via text.

If goals are harder to nail down, like being more present in life, consider the specific actions that will build toward that effect. Your student can start small by practicing mindful presence during their daily routine, like when brushing their teeth or riding the bus. These things don’t happen overnight, but your student will likely see results if they keep their values in mind and take actions that align with those values.

SMART goals

The most effective, achievable goals are the ones set using the SMART method: keeping the goal Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Let’s use the example goal of your student cooking at least two new healthy recipes each week. In this case, the action is specific, the quantity of recipes is measurable, the small number to start is attainable, the improved nutrition is relevant and agreeing to try recipes weekly keeps it time-bound as well. On the other hand, a goal like “eat less fast food” is broad, subjective and can get tricky to keep track of, especially without a clear alternative.

SMART goals also rely on performance over outcome. This means setting goals that your student has the most control over. While a goal like winning an intramural championship is exciting, this relies on other players, officials, good health, perfect timing and even luck. Instead, encourage your student to translate these goals into things they have the ability to achieve, such as practicing an extra hour every week to improve their technique.

Staying positive

Reframing our goals to be positive and attainable also increases the likelihood of success. Focusing less on losing weight and more on finding a fun workout class or committing to taking walks with a friend after work gives us something to look forward to in the moment instead of waiting for a far-off reward.

Keeping a positive and realistic view also helps to stick it out through roadblocks. Perhaps your student’s goal was to start going to bed half an hour earlier every night; they may quickly realize it just isn’t possible every day, but they can easily reframe this goal without giving it up. This week, they could go to bed half an hour earlier on Monday and Tuesday. They’ll start feeling better, and when their schedule calms down, getting to bed earlier on Wednesday will feel more doable.

The summer is a great time for your student to start making these little changes in the areas they care about and taking small steps toward creating the future they want. By staying realistic and focusing on the positive, your student can turn small steps into long-term success.