How to Set Goals

set goals for foster kids

An essential part of growing up to be successful  includes learning how to set and pursue goals. 

“All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.” —Norman Vincent Peale

For teens and especially those who’ve been in foster care, it’s hard to imagine, much less make goals for the future.

So this post will provide guidance and a framework for creating meaningful goals.

This post is the 3rd in a multi-part series on helping your child to succeed at moving out on their own or how to “help your kid move out and stay out.

In my second post, I covered how to manage time well. 

Being good at time management means organizing your time intentionally and prioritizing activities that efficiently advance you towards your goals and honor your values.

Often poor time management comes from a lack of clarity on goals and values.

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” —Bill Copeland

In covering how to set goals, we’ll look at:

  • The definition of a goal
  • Barriers for teens to setting goals
  • How to figure out what you really want
  • 20 Questions to help you design your ideal life
  • How to improve your chances of success

Merriam-Webster defines a goal as “the end toward which effort is directed.”

A goal is accomplishment you make plans for and work towards.

Often when someone says they have a goal, what they really mean is that they are attracted to a vague idea. They may say, “I just want to be happy.” Happiness is a byproduct, not a goal – and it rarely happens without effort.

As Andrew Carengie said, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.”

Great goals start with daydreams, imaginations, and hopes. 

It may sound easy, but for some people those are the barriers. They don’t really know how to dream. Imaginations can be stunted, and hopes can be crushed. For teens, perhaps too much of their attention is focused on the now – whether it’s just having fun in the moment, being overly distracted, or drowning in their own hormones and teen angst.

It may also be that a parent or caregiver is too loud and overbearing about their own goals and priorities, so the child feels no need to make their own. On the other hand, perhaps the child has lacked a good example at goal setting and sticking to priorities. Foster kids who age out of the system usually get moved around so often that they lack the resources, support, & consistency to follow through on any goals they make. They also may spend so much time on navigating their changing environments or processing trauma that they don’t have the mental energy to even think outside of their current circumstances.

Whatever the reason a person hasn’t made goals, here’s some guidance to start on the path to creating and pursuing goals.

Great goals start with daydreams, imaginations, and hopes.  This is what we hope to give our fostered youth. #finallyfamilyhomes #AHopeandAFuture #fosteryouth @finallyfamilyhomes Click To Tweet

Start by describing your ideal life.

​Dream about the big picture.

These first three questions make good guideposts as you navigate creating the big picture.

  1. How do you want to feel?  
  2. What do you want to experience?
  3. If the world only gets one message from your life, what do you want it to be? How do you want to make your mark in the world?

​Make sure you know these, because there will be factors in your life you can’t control. 

Knowing the answers to the above can help you re-adjust the details or sub-goals in order to satisfy these top 3.

For example. Let’s say you’ve determined that being a professional basketball player is your life’s goal. Then one day, you blow your knee out. Career over, dreams crushed. What now?
Well, consider why you wanted to be a pro basketball player.  Know your why.

  1. Is it for the pay?
  2. Is it because you like being part of a team?
  3. Do you like to spend most of your days doing something athletic?
  4. Did you hope for fame?
  5. Would it make you feel accomplished?

There are other ways to do all of the above. Even if you didn’t blow out your knee, knowing the answers to the guidepost questions can help you navigate your career.

Do you go with the team who offers more pay or who has better camaraderie?

​​Here’s 20 questions to help you further define and design your ideal life.

  1. What are the different relationships you’d like to have in your life?
  2. What kinds of friends do you want to have?
  3. What things do you want to buy?
  4. What does your spiritual life look like?
  5. What kind of home do you want to own?
  6. Which places you would like to visit?
  7. Where do you want to live?
  8. What qualities do you want to develop in yourself?
  9. If you could win awards, what awards would you want to win?
  10. What hobbies do you want to pursue?
  11. What kinds of projects do you want to do?
  12. What are your goals educationally?
  13. How do you want to be intellectually?
  14. How do you want to be emotionally?
  15. How do you want to be physically?
  16. Who do you want to help?
  17. What do you want to be a part of?
  18. How will you know when you have “arrived”?
  19. What are 10 adjectives that others might use to describe you, when you have reached your goals?
  20. How do you want to think and feel about yourself?

​Once you’ve brainstormed about your ideal life, write down down what achievements are required to get this life.

These achievements are your goals.

And guess what. Just by writing them down, you’re leaps and bounds closer to achieving them. According to this article in Forbes, A Harvard Business Study found that the 3% of graduates from their MBA who had their goals written down, ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together, just ten years after graduation.”

SMART goals give a more specific direction and a more concrete reality to strive towards.

Review your goals and re-write them as SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.

To learn more, about SMART goals, visit Indeed Career Guide’s, SMART Goals: Definition and Example.

The next important step is to define the path to reaching these big goals. Take one goal at a time and write down the step or supporting action you need to take to get to that goal and write down every supporting action you can think of to take you step by step to your primary goal.

For instance, if you want to own a home, you’ll probably need to get a loan.
So “get a home loan” goes on your list of goals.

To get a loan, you’ll need a good credit history.
So “build a good credit history” goes on your list.

To build a good credit history you’ll need to get a credit card.
Add “get a credit card.”

For that credit history to be good, you’ll need to pay your credit card bill on time.
Add “pay the credit card bill on time”

To pay your credit card on time, you’ll need to make sure you “stay on top of the payment schedule”… 
and so on.

Figuring out the path for each piece of your dream life will result in a long master list of goals. It will probably be quite overwhelming and you’ll need some way to sort them and figure out what to do first. This is what it means to figure out your priorities.

I’ll cover how to figure out your priorities in my next post. 

How about you…  

If the world only gets one message from your life, what do you want it to be? How do you want to make your mark in the world?

One purpose of this blog is to help parents of teens navigate the challenges of preparing their children to be successful independent adults. The mission of Finally Family Homes is to provide the same kind of support for those teens who don’t have a family or home to help them transition into adulthood.

If the world only gets one message from your life, what do you want it to be? How do you want to make your mark in the world? #finallyfamilyhomes #AHopeandAFuture #fosteryouth @finallyfamilyhomes Click To Tweet

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  1. These are such great questions to help teens explore their goals. Instead of asking surface questions, I love how this digs deeper. So much more useful!!

  2. Wow, what an extensive, comprehensive list! I’m pinning this so I can use it with my granddaughter!

  3. Christina, that’s the most thorough list of questions to help our young people set goals that I’ve ever seen. I cannot see how, using the ideas you’ve set forth here, our young people won’t reach their goals. Great job!

  4. Great tips. My oldest just turned 13, so I can use this!

  5. Love these. This is such a practical way to approach goal setting. I especially like setting one way to help achieve a long-term goal that you talked about at the end as well as the “why” behind dream jobs in case things do not pan out the way you hoped.

  6. I’m right around the corner from having a preteen and I’m cringing! This is something I know I’ll have to discuss with him and I’ve been worried it would overwhelm him! This is a great compilation of solid first steps! Definitely saving for later!

  7. I totally had to pin this because I have two preteens at home. This is so helpful!

  8. This is something I’ve been working on quite a bit with my pre-teen daughters and something I wish someone had told me earlier on. Creating specific and measurable goals has allowed me to do things I’d never have considered possible, just because I stuck with it and put my action steps in place.

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