On Intentionality

Over the weekend we took a quick trip to Southern California to visit family. I am always taken back at how warm and relaxing the California air and sun are to my winter-weary self. Somehow Oregon has a way of slipping from the warmth of summer into the deep wet cold of winter without me even realizing it. Stepping off the plane into the mid-morning sunshine made me feel like anything was possible, although I also might have been a tad affected by the enthusiasm of all the kiddos on their way to Disneyland for the weekend who joined me in the happy sunshine.

We checked into our hotel and then scoped out the pool and other important places. Walking down the long hallway I passed a small conference room, the type that can be found in most hotels. Many of us spend a great deal of time in these types of room teaching, attending conferences, or hosting workshops. They all look the same: tables, chairs, a podium, flip charts and projector, along with an earnest speaker trying his or her best to capture the attention of the audience.

This particular room was packed full of young (ish) adults hunched over workbooks, and as I walked by, I stepped back to see what was scheduled in the room for the day. It was a workshop entitled “How to Reach Your Goals.” I paused for a moment to listen and recognized that the coaching being given to the group was very similar to how we would coach young people on goal setting. Later in the same hallway there were several pairs of people sharing with each other their step by step plans to reach their goals. I was struck by their dedication to self-improvement, giving up a sunny Saturday to learn skills to move forward in life. They were intentional about reaching their goals.

The next morning, rising early I headed out into the sun and warmth for a walk to Starbucks (you know my motto: where there is morning there is a Starbucks!) Walking into the shop I immediately noticed 3 men. The first was in a corner all set up with a computer, workbook, coffee, ice water, phone, and notebook, working on some form of homework. The second sat with his coffee writing carefully in a journal, with a book on goal setting peeking out from underneath the journal. The third was unpacking yet another set of materials to work on self-improvement. All three men, who were not all that young (ish) clearly had started their day with intention; intention to work hard toward some self-determined goal before the day got away from them.

The power of observation is always interesting to me – I almost always see living examples of what I am thinking deeply about when I take the time to look around my world through those eyes. And this week I have been thinking a great deal about self regulation and goal setting. So let’s add the word “intentional” to the idea of self-regulation. Intentional simply means that we are conscious of our efforts, as exemplified by the people I observed working so hard on their goals this weekend.

Our ability for real intentional self-regulation begins to develop in adolescence, in large part because brain development during this time allows for more complex thinking, including an increased capacity for making better choices and decisions related to long-term goals. Long-term goal setting is deeply connected with identity formation – who do I want to be? Identity formation is one of the key “tasks” as of adolescent development. Because of this, adolescence is a great time for youth development educators to incorporate intentional goal setting into program activities.

Research has revealed a clear connection between self-regulation and key developmental outcomes, such as social competence and increased mental health.  Self-regulation is also negatively related to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other risk behaviors.

Promoting intentional self-regulation through goal setting is an important way that we connect what we do in 4-H programs to the outcomes we aim to achieve. As such, helping youth identify and achieve goals should be a regular part of our practice. How do you promote goal setting? How about sharing your methods through a blog post? We have so much to learn from each other!

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

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