Personally, I love a good puzzle to work on. So, for that reason, it makes sense I enjoy mathematics more than the average Joe. Still, even with that in mind, I am perplexed at the resistance applied to avoid learning all things mathematical. This topic comes up fairly regularly now I have young children of school age. There disinterest is accentuated by the fact that neither has a definite idea on what they would like to do as a future occupation. I certainly don’t won’t to hit them with the ‘well those occupations require mathematics’ line for fear of encouraging them to avoid those particular occupations. Both kids have resented the mental effort required to learn mathematics at various points. Some of my children’s teachers have even appeared to acquiesce with the students in their dislike of mathematics. Very disappointing.
One worn out argument that is often aimed at mathematics is ‘I will never use it, so what’s the point?’. Indeed, on face value, the argument has value. There are not too many jobs that require employees to break out their pen and paper and start throwing Pythagoras theorem around. Yet, many of those same workers will apply mathematics in an implicit sense. Making sense of dates and times is a frequent task for most. Being able to make adjustments to various measures of magnitude is a given in daily life. Got enough money to buy the milk? How many extra eggs to make that double batch of pancakes? This is not even touching on the more advanced ways we can and do use mathematical thinking, generally without even relating it to the mathematical skills we are actually using. The same skills we learn at school.
Summary: Achieving our goals often means we need to modify our behaviour. Here I discuss some tactics to improve our chances of modifying our behaviour and achieving our goals.
Most advocates of goal setting will rely on the ‘SMART’ approach. SMART is an acronym that defines important aspects to use in our goal setting. SMART stands for:
- S – Specific – making sure you define the goal in enough detail so you know exactly what you are aiming for and when you have achieved it
- M – Measurable – ensure your goals can be measured so you can track your progress
- A – Attainable – This means that it is a realistic goal that can be achieved
- R – Relevant – Make sure that your goal is relevant to your life. A whimsical goal that has little bearing on your life will be difficult to consistently work towards.
- T – Timely – Set time limits for achieving your goal and possibly a time line for achieving mile-stones on your way to achieving your goal
SMART sums up the core features that should be used in goal setting but following SMART does not guarantee success. For many of us, to modify our behaviour and achieve our goals, we need regular and consistent reminders to stay on track. Here I will outline some of the aspects we need to consider to help us keep working at our goals consistently.
- Staying within reality:
- We need to ackowledge that we need things in our lives such as relaxation, entertainment, socialisation etc. It is not realistic to expect yourself to work at your goals 24/7
- We need to be realistic about the time it takes doing what is required to achieve our goals. Trying to imagine how long something will take to do often leads us to underestimate the time it takes. Try to compare the task to similar tasks you have done and use how long that took as a reference to the task you are currently allocating time for.
- Ensure you have flexibility added into your schedule. Things pop up. Some tasks will take longer than expected. Our motivation can be expected to vary over time. Try to add enough flexibility into your schedule so it will not be completely thrown off when these things happen.
- Try adding reminders:
- Tell people what you are aiming for and encourage people to help you stay on track (selecting the right people is important of course)
- Specify mile-stones that can be ticked off on the way to achieving your main goals.
- Add reminders around the house – notes, photos etc
- Try to keep reminders emotive to keep the dream alive ie use media such as photos that make it clear what you are aiming for. Consider a goal setting board that will let you add pictures, arrange items etc.
- Try to associate with others who are aiming to achieve similar goals. Schedule meetups and discuss your progress. A goal buddy can be great!
- Set out a plan to help you keep on track
- Keep an eye out for ‘triggers’ that are likely to lead you off course.
- Look out for behaviour that indicates you are heading off course.
- Set out a plan of what to do if you find yourself off course.
- Schedule regular reviews to assess your progress and remind you of what you are aiming for
It can all become a lot of work just to define your goals and to make sure you stay on track. It may help you to know that psychological research has shown that any efforts spent on achieving your goals will assist you, even when your efforts are not directly impacting on the goal at hand.