Published: July 3, 2017
Woman holding small potted plant

With longer days and a different schedule, summer can be a great time to consider what you want for yourself and how you plan on making it happen. This can mean setting clear goals, planning for the future or just learning to live in the moment.

However you choose to pursue personal growth, these positive psychology approaches can help.

Values and priorities

Start by writing down the things you care about and want to give your attention to. Whether that’s relationships, health, academics or all three, starting broad and then filtering down will help you figure out exactly what you’re striving for. Plus, research shows when you write goals down you’re more likely to work toward them.

For example, if you’d like to work toward a better relationship with a sibling, brainstorm ideas for what you can do to achieve that, such as spending more time together. Then identify the specific action to which you can dedicate your energy: setting aside every other Sunday night to Skype, having dinner, going to the climbing gym or just checking in via text.

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

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 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 and the improved nutrition is relevant; 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 you have the most control over. While a goal like winning the intramural championship is exciting, this relies on other players, officials, good health, perfect timing and even luck. Instead, translate these goals into things you have the ability to achieve, such as practicing an extra hour every week to improve your technique.

Staying positive

Reframing our goals to be positive and attainable also increases our 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 us stick it out through roadblocks. Perhaps the goal was to start going to bed half an hour earlier every night; you may realize quickly it just isn’t possible every day, but you can easily reframe this goal without giving it up. This week, go to bed half an hour earlier on Monday and Tuesday. You'll start feeling better, and when your schedule calms down, getting to bed earlier on Wednesday will feel doable, too.

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