Whether you have been away from study for a couple of months or 20 years returning to study adds another ball into the mix. Life, in my opinion, is a juggling act sometimes and you need to keep an eye on all the balls otherwise you will be out of sync and drop the lot. Whilst you may want to focus entirely on your studies, life doesn’t exist in a vacuum and the other areas of your life, relationships, physical and mental health, employment, and leisure are just as important. Imagine all the areas of your life as making up parts of a circle. Now draw a Dartboard over those parts. You are aiming for the bulls-eye of course and you need to be able to bring all the areas of your life together and get a balance to be able to hit the bulls-eye. Understanding your values and goals in each of these areas of life will help you start working towards that bulls-eye. If you are interested in reading a little more about this concept and completing a few exercises to help you with this task you can do so at Russel Harris website for The Happiness Trap. He also has a worksheet that you can download and work through.
Once you have looked at your values and understand the importance of balancing them all to achieve success in any of them you can set your goals guided by these. Most people set goals at the beginning of each year, usually after a big night out the last day of the previous year. Some of us keep them and others don’t. There are some basic principles that you really need to follow when setting goals that make them more achievable. These are the SMART goals.
- Specify the actions you will take (where, what, when, who is involved)
- Make them Meaningful to you not just to please someone else
- It needs to be Adaptive and move you forward in some aspect of your life and improve it.
- be Realistic about the goal and making sure it’s within your reach and you have the skills, time, finances and health to achieve it
- Give yourself a Time-frame for completion
In setting goals it’s often easiest to break them down into different categories. Start with the long term goal, one that may take years to complete, like completing your degree. Now break it down into medium (the next few months) short term (the next few weeks) and immediate goals (the next 24 hrs). Breaking it down like this makes it easier to make progress and not get caught up in the large looming goal you have set for yourself.
Inevitably when setting goals and juggling the competing demands of those things important in your life time you will encounter problems and setbacks. It’s easy to get caught in the negative thoughts of failure and doom that come with these challenges. What you need first is a practical approach to solving the problem. I have included below a few links that might be useful in tackling this task.
After tackling the practical solutions to these setbacks you will still be left with some of the negative self evaluations and thoughts you have about your ability to achieve. Now is a great time to mention a few of the cognitive skills we can work on to tackle these. There are so many ways to do this and to be honest it’s a skill that takes time and hard work to succeed at. I’ve included here a short list of questions challenging negative thoughts that you ask yourself about these thoughts to try and distance yourself from them and make rational sense of them. You could also make a list of more rational and positive thoughts about yourself or print up some positive affirmation cards. There are a lot of these floating around on the internet and rather than post links here I think it’ best if you find the ones that are the most meaningful to you. In the recent workshop I ran at the Back to Study Program we also talked a little about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and the use of humour and distancing tools to help. These are a little too in depth for discussion here but if you are interested in finding out more about them and how they may help you relieve the burden of negative self talk and focus on the positives I’d be happy to offer you a few sessions on these skills either via Skype or you could make an appointment with here.
It’s a good idea to have a number of tools available to you to help you balance the demands of your life. Letting the stress build can be dangerous to our mental health. Take time out to have fun, relax and think about the bigger picture of life being more than one mark on an essay, or more than one failed chemistry test. Remember to reward yourself for the small steps you make toward your goals not just wait till the end of the path.