This time last year I spoke about how much I disliked the New
Year, on the grounds that I had always been lucky enough to like the last
one.  So rather than talk specifically
about New Year’s resolutions, which more often than not seem to be broken
within days, I thought I’d talk more generally about goals today. 

I wonder if you managed to achieve your goals for these
holidays?  The Fifth Form is doing mocks
today, so they are not here to assess whether they worked the hours I suggested
in weeks one and three of the holidays, but I can say pretty truthfully that I
stuck to my own part of that particular bargain, whilst ensuring that I had
time off over Christmas to recharge batteries and spend some great time with
the family.  I did, however, set one
ridiculous goal which, given the festivities, a large family and my other work,
I was never likely to achieve – and sure enough I got nowhere near it.  I had picked up two books at the beginning of
the holiday which I had wanted to read by the start of this term, Wolf Hall by
Hilary Mantell (which I suspect many of you may have already read) and a new
biography of Augustus by Adrian Goldsworthy (which may not have been quite so
high on people’s Christmas lists).  The
problem was that they are both over 600 pages long and, excellent books though
they are, I have probably only managed a few hundred pages of each so far.  

I would like to bet that the vast majority of you boys who
needed to do some work over the holidays either did not manage to do the hours
you had hoped for, or spent most of yesterday doing essays you could have
written weeks ago.  Why do we always do
this to ourselves?  Well, I think the
answer is because, although we are constantly doing it and we really ought to
have learnt by now, goal setting is one of the most difficult things we do in
life.  At its core, if you set unrealistic
goals (such as my 1200 words in a couple of very busy weeks), then you feel
deflated at the end of it and frustrated that you have not achieved what you
wanted to; yet if you set goals which are too easily achievable, then there is
a hollow victory and the feeling that one could have done so much more – and,
as you know, I am not one for regret.

However difficult goal setting is, it is an important skill
to master.  I would also imagine that
many of you will have goals for the term ahead, either consciously or
subconsciously, perhaps even talked through with your parents over the weekend,
or in the form of a New Year’s resolution. 
A useful test for them is whether or not they are SMART goals.  SMART, as some of you will know, is an
acronym which dictates that goals must be specific, measurable, achievable,
results focussed and time bound.  Let’s
test that out on one of my own worst ever new year’s resolutions.  When I spent a year at Cambridge, I decided
that I would go for a run every day from January 1st until the
cricket season started; you should know by now that I adore cricket, but you
may not know that I loathe running. 
Well, I did indeed go running, but I am ashamed to say that my final run
took place on January 8th – not remotely close to even the earliest
start in the history of the first-class cricket calendar, which that summer (as
it happened) was.  Looking back, it was
not surprising that I failed so miserably. 
Taking the SMART test, my goal was not specific (I never decided how far
to run or when); it was not therefore measurable (what counted as a run and
what did not?); it was not achievable (or at the very least I was almost
certain to fail!); it was not results focussed as I had not specified a target;
it was perhaps time bound, but the timing (ie my running every day for three
months) was totally unrealistic.  Perhaps
if I had broken it down into smaller, more manageable and more specific chunks,
I might have stood more chance.

So if you have set a goal for the term ahead, test yourself
on whether or not it is a SMART goal.  If
it is not, consider tweaking it so that it is. 
If you have not set any goals at all, how about trying?  Set something which is at the upper limit of
what you are capable of and then follow the SMART principles; more often than
not, goal setting, which is much harder than you might think, can be a key
driver of competitive people such as are most of you in this Chapel today.

 

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