Connecting personal values into the goal-setting process can build resilience and make for a more meaningful and fulfilled life, says Jon Ford

Goal setting is a proven technique to improve motivation, performance, and overall wellbeing. It can mean different things to different people; for some, it could simply be making a mental note of something you want to achieve, or it could be the process of writing daily ‘to-do lists.’ Crossing items off a to-do list can be rewarding – however, constantly making lists can be mentally exhausting, especially if we aren’t connecting these lists to the ‘why’ behind the process: our values.

The term ‘values-based goal setting’ was first used by the founders of ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ (ACT). Researchers found that although creating goals can help our minds think of positive outcomes, the benefits can be short-lived if we don’t succeed.

They concluded that setting goals and actions around our values can help bring a deeper, more consistent level of motivation.

Values act as compass points to guide us. Goals aligned to these values act as markers to help you stay on track.

One of the most effective ways to empower your students to start thinking about their values is to pose a question, like the following: ‘If you were to look into the future, to your 80th birthday, and someone who you respect stood up and talked about you to your friends, what would you want them to say about you?’

This is not a simple question by any means, for adults or children to answer. Most students will require some time and consideration to think. They might say: compassionate, creative, resilient, successful, kind, caring. The list of values to choose from is endless.

As characteristics we want to live by throughout our lives, values cannot ever be completed. However, giving your students the opportunity to look deeper into those they want to stand for will allow them to start considering the completable goals and actions they can take in order to live by them. For example, if a student has a value of being ‘successful,’ which specific goals could they set themselves? If a core value is to be ‘kind,’ which goals and actions could help them live in line with this value?

Keeping track of values and goals can be difficult, which is why I’ve taken my knowledge of psychotherapy to develop a school wellbeing and personal development platform. My goal is to help pupil mental health and, through values-based goal setting in schools and colleges, maximise the potential for students to live rich and fulfilling lives.

For teachers and schools, teaching students techniques such as values-based goal setting is an invaluable tool to set them up for the future. Resilience is strengthened through firmly knowing our values. For example, if we fail at achieving our goal on our first attempt, values can help motivate us to have another go. This, combined with the breadth of possible goals inspired by values, provides pupils with optimism and positivity for their actions – and their future.

We need to look at the reasoning behind our own actions within our role, and continually look at nurturing as a whole ethos for change, where children are celebrated by staff, other children, parents and carers. Valuing the voice of the child and truly advocating for uniqueness in all that we do.

Two people with a flag on top of a mountain, clouds and trees below them, and the sun behind. (illustration style).


  • Jon Ford

    Jon is a wellbeing and performance expert, trained psychotherapist, and the CEO of youHQ - a school wellbeing platform dedicated to student support and pastoral care.
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