Three things you need to know about goal-setting for the New Year. What academic self-care goals do you have for the new year? Become a better communicator? Learn how to speak a new language? Figure out SEO? Master Pinterest or another social media channel? Why we should schedule in time to learn new things.

Self-care means we respect ourselves enough to schedule time for academic self-improvement. #growthmindset #lifelonglearning #selfcare

I don’t know who cooked up the old adage that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,’ but that person had never heard of neuroplasticity. Of course, the adage first appeared in print in the early 1500s (and actually referred to dogs). More likely, long before scientists invented the term neuroplasticity. More than likely, the adage inventor liked his routine and had no desire to push himself out of his comfort zone. He failed to live with a growth mindset. When we see ourselves as incapable of change, our thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy (also known as the Pygmalion Effect).

Neuroplasticity, our brain’s ability to create new neural pathways, explains why a person who suffers from a brain injury can relearn old skills—even if the new set of skills gets hosted by a different part of the brain. Neuroplasticity also explains our ability to lose what we don’t use, and learn new skills as we age.

And just because we’ve passed the first blush of youth doesn’t mean that our brains get stuck in concrete. According to an online article on the Positive Psychology Program’s website, children have the most plastic brains, “but with sustained effort and a healthy lifestyle, adults are just as able to promote positive change and growth in their brains as the younger generations.”

Neuroplasticity and growth mindset go hand in hand. If we want to learn a new skill, and believe we are capable of learning it, very likely we will learn it.

A Case Study

Take photography, for instance. We can continue to just snap photos with our cameras on automatic, or we can take time to learn how to use different settings. Once we learn the different uses for the settings, we can spend time playing with the settings in the same situation to see how our camera performs.

Self-care means we respect ourselves enough to schedule time for academic self-improvement. #growthmindset #lifelonglearner #selfcare

By downloading the photos to a processing program like Lightroom or Photos, we can compare the settings on different photos to see what works best. I discovered the optimal settings for taking photos of hummingbirds as they hovered near our feeders. Now I take consistently good photos of hovering hummingbirds.

In other words, learning and improvement require three things. My brain (and yours, too), provides the neuroplasticity for learning new skills and information. The other two necessary ingredients for improvement depend on me—growth mindset and time.

A Desire without a Schedule is Just a Wish

In order not to waste our potential, we need to take into consideration our goals and schedules. In other words, we have to actually plan time for learning. Here’s what happens to me when I don’t schedule in my learning adventures.

All too often I get lured into buying an online course that promises to teach me something about blogging. After watching one unit or going through one module, life happens (or I find it difficult to understand the subject). My enthusiasm wanes, and I soon forget about my purchase. By not scheduling in time to learn, I have wasted not only my money, but my learning potential as well.

Science proves that I have the capacity to learn new stuff—despite my super-advanced age (just ask my students, they’ll tell you how ancient I am). I have a growth mindset, so what ends up hindering my progress? Time.

Of course, we all have the same 24 hours in a day, but I often fall into the trap of letting life happen to me. Instead, I need to learn the art of scheduling and goal-setting. Which takes us back to our why. Why do we want to learn more about photography? Or a foreign language?

Perhaps you’ve planned a vacation to Costa Rica and want to not only take stunning photos, but communicate with locals. Maybe you think learning a new skill will help you secure a better position at work. Once you know your why, you’ll find it easier to put learning on your schedule.

Make Sure You Make S.M.A.R.T. Goals

The concept of S.M.A.R.T. goals started back in the 1980s when a consultant and former director of planning for Washington Water and Power Company coined the term in a paper he wrote on setting goals and objectives. He shared that in order to accomplish our goals, we need to do five things. We need to make sure that our goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Michael Hyatt, a leader in goal-setting, adds E. and R. to the acronym –Exciting, and Risky—thus counseling us to make S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals. ().I love the idea of looking for the exciting aspects of achieving a goal. The risky part? That challenges me, because I like to play it safe. Perhaps the cautious ones will have to start by setting semi-risky goals.

Whatever the case, you’ll notice that time plays an important part in setting goals. And in order to actually do something we have to put it in our schedules. That’s how we keep life from getting in the way. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think you should schedule yourself in such a detailed way that you leave no room for spontaneity or unexpected occurrences.

But when you time-bind yourself by scheduling something in, and care for yourself by honoring that schedule, you will discover that you have more time. Self-care means we respect ourselves enough to schedule time for academic self-improvement.

Self-care means we respect ourselves enough to schedule time for academic self-improvement. #growthmindset #lifelonglearner #selfcare Click To Tweet

Goal-Setting for the New Year

Believe in yourself, and you’ll take time for yourself. Ditch the adage that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. Believe you can, and you will. And don’t forget these three things when goal-setting for the new year:

  • You CAN learn (your brain has neuroplasticity)
  • The Pygmalion Effect (if you think you can, you can)
  • Make S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals and schedule them in.

What would you like to learn this year?

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