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Inner Peas: Ditch to-do lists and academic peer pressure to achieve goals, self-fulfillment

(Michelle Fu/Daily Bruin)

By Kayleigh Ruller

June 4, 2019 9:55 p.m.

Late-night coffee sessions and a constantly looming sense of stress may seem synonymous with the college lifestyle – but it doesn’t have to be that way. In her series Inner Peas, Daily Bruin contributor Kayleigh Ruller will explore different ways students can easily practice various wellness tactics in their busy day-to-day lives.
Study for Psych 10 final? Check.

Start packing for move-out? Still needs the check.

As we get closer and closer to the end of the school year, my to-do list keeps getting longer and longer.

However, I’m not sure of the last time a long, overwhelming to-do list really boosted my motivation. Hoping to feel more satisfied by measurable goals for the sake of my grades and my self-fulfillment for the next few months, I set out to explore how I could accomplish my goals – not only for my classes, but for the summer that awaits.

Thinking of goals as items to check off on a to-do list is a faulty way of approaching them. Instead, we should approach goals with specific intentions that embody the underlying reasons – such as the why and the how – for accomplishing our goals.

From the 1960s through the ‘90s, Edwin Locke researched and published an editorial goal-setting theory paper that has become a fundamental blueprint for modern workplace motivation. It outlines the correlation between challenging, measurable and actionable goals and improved employee productivity, engagement and achievement.

Locke and Gary Latham’s theory of specific and relatively challenging goal-setting outlines five principles that, according to research, led to higher performance by 90% at the time.

Having clear yet challenging goals allows for incremental check-ins from friends or family that can hold you accountable and help you track how you are progressing toward your goal. Check-ins may come in the form of feedback, whether from loved ones or even online communities. Feedback provides accountability that could increase one’s chance of goal attainment up to 95%.

While these principles may seem attainable, commitment to action might just be the hardest step in any plan. That’s where visualization techniques may play a role.

You know the phrase “seeing is believing”? That’s the mindset successful goal-setters, such as athletes Jerry West and Michael Jordan, have adopted. According to brain imagery studies, simply visualizing achievements in your brain allows neurons to not only interpret these images to real life, but to form new neural pathways, allowing us to act in a manner consistent with what we earlier imagined.

As a second-year environmental science student, Nina Adarkar is familiar with challenging goals: She is involved in team projects throughout campus, such as the Environmentalists of Color Collective and the LCC Theatre Company. These teams offer feedback and accountability necessary to keep member students striving toward their goals.

“When I work with teams, we have these big visions, but smart goals really helped the team ground the vision. We were able to ask each other, ‘What are the steps necessary to get to this vision?,’” Adarkar said.

Alongside feedback, task complexity remains important. Setting simple goals with appropriate time frames, rather than multifaceted and unrealistic ones, is key.

To do this, you can break large, complex goals into individual sub-goals, improving motivation and attainability.

Nell Mitchell, a second-year human biology and society student said she spent much of her first two years at UCLA stressing over whether or not she would get accepted into the impacted and competitive major. Relieved to finally hear the news that she’d fulfilled this goal, Mitchell said she’s currently spending time reflecting on the small goals that motivated her daily during the application and waiting process.

“I have a list of things I want to get done each day. I check it off at night and start a new one in the morning,” Mitchell said. “It’s easy for me to stay on top of things and have some positive reinforcement and to actually quantify the successes of the day.”

Mitchell said daily goal-setting kept her on track and allowed opportunities to fall into her lap as she focused on accomplishing minor daily things with a bigger vision in mind.

“It makes me believe if you’re working hard and playing your cards right things will come at least in some form – maybe not your big goal you set – but it’s the small checklists … that make the big things work,” said Mitchell.

Beyond Locke’s theory, entrepreneur and author Gary Keller has another key takeaway: To really hone in and accomplish a goal, you must focus in on one thing at a time, rather than trying to tackle it all at once.

Several studies have found that individuals who tried to accomplish multiple goals were less committed and less likely to succeed in comparison to those who focused on completing one specific goal in a set time period. It is when introducing one specific, thorough and thoughtful plan of action for at least two months that the true goal-setting magic happens.

And in just about a week and a half, we’re going to have the optimal period of free time for goal-setting: summer break.

As UCLA students are surrounded by the pressures and expectations of internships, studying abroad and summer jobs, it is important to note that goals can definitely be set outside these expectations.

Ally Wolk, a first-year psychobiology student, said she feels the weight of achieving the “perfect” summer goals.

“There is a lot of pressure to get a summer internship, especially when all your friends are getting them. It’s super overwhelming to try to accomplish all these things that other people are doing,” Wolk said. “Saying that out loud makes me realize, maybe I should just focus on what works for me.”

Wolk is right – not only do goals have to be personalized and attainable for you, but they don’t have to be these outward, more success-based goals.

According to a study, there are two types of goals: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Extrinsic goals are the ones we may expect of ourselves as college students in regards to things that are somewhat materialistic and require less self-reflection. These can include losing weight, getting an esteemed internship or receiving a fancy job promotion.

However, research suggests that intrinsic goals – those that veer away from traditional goals and instead stem from one’s own humanity – are correlated with greater happiness and general satisfaction.

Intrinsic goals are inspired by a specific value-based intention, such as improving mindfulness, cultivating healthier eating habits out of respect for your body – not for weight loss – or gaining a deeper level of confidence.

So as summer approaches, taking the pressure off making a list of goals surrounding money or resumes and instead focusing on one or two intrinsic goals may be significantly more fulfilling.

Lexie Bell, a first-year psychology student, has taken time to cultivate and focus on intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, summer goals.

“After reflecting on such an influential time in my life, my main goal for the summer is to practice displaying confidence and my most authentic self,” Bell said. “I’ve learned that it’s important to attract the kind of individuals I want to be around, which starts with expressing my own true energy and self.”

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Kayleigh Ruller
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