How To Set English Goals [& actually reach them!]
With 2020 almost behind us, let me take you step-by-step through my goal-setting process – the one I use every year to set goals (and importantly) create a solid plan to reach them throughout the year ahead!
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CLICK HERE to read the full lesson transcript.
Well hey there! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Now anyone who’s been watching the mmmEnglish channel for a while now knows that I love this time of year, the end of one year, the start of a new one, it’s the chance to think big and dream of new possibilities that a new year can bring for us.
Now I haven’t always been good at setting goals or sticking to them but I think I’ve got a good system in place now that helps me to see my goals through and so today I want to share my four-step process for not only setting amazing goals but to actually get a plan in place to help you reach them.
Now of course for you I’m going to be sharing examples of English learning goals but really this process is awesome for any type of goal, professional goals, personal goals. This is the strategy that I use and I’ve got to tell you there’s a little more to it than just setting a goal. Let’s check it out!
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To be honest 2020 didn’t really turn out as we planned it to, did we? What were your goals at the start of 2020? Do you remember? For me, there was a lot of travel. I had big ambitions to host the very first in-person event for The Ladies’ Project in Europe in October and I’ve got family living in England, Thailand, Malaysia. Normally my year would involve travelling to visit all of them at some point which of course didn’t happen.
I’m sure that you can relate. Maybe your work plans or your study plans or your travel plans got disrupted. Let me know about it down in the comments what happened.
Step 1: Reflection
Anyway let’s get started. The first step is reflection. So for me, this is really simple,
it’s just a brainstorm. I write down everything that happened in 2020 that feels significant, the good, the bad, the ugly. Now I’m a big fan of doing this because no matter what, there is always something that you can learn. Even in a year like 2020 there are positive things or lessons learned that will help you to make better decisions in the year ahead.
And this is a good time to just call all of those out so I ask myself:
- What are you proud of?
- What did you learn?
- What do you want to leave behind?
You know some of the negative things.
For me, you know during the year the boundaries of work and home life really got blurry. I worked a lot more and that’s mostly because I didn’t have as many other options as I usually do like social stuff or travel or sports and things like that.
So that blurring between work and home life and those long working hours are definitely something that I want to leave back there but of course I always ask:
- Well what do I want to take with me from that year into the new one?
So you know for me, some good habits were developed this year around home cooking and also really staying connected to people who are far away. I think we’ve gotten a lot better and a lot more creative at finding ways to always be in touch with each other which is fun.
So those simple questions are how I reflect on the year that I’ve just finished and I have a friend who does a similar process but at the end when she feels like she’s gotten everything that feels significant written down, it’s all on paper, she burns it. It’s like a cleanse you know. I’ve looked at that year, I’ve appreciated it, I’ve taken everything that I need from it and now I’m just going to leave it back there. I don’t need that anymore.
Step 2: Connect with WHY
In step two, we are focusing on the big picture and to do this I try to reconnect with my why. My reason for setting these goals in the first place.
Why am I doing this? What change am I trying to create for myself, for my family, for my students, for the world. Whatever it is, why? Why are we doing this?
Everyone’s why is going to be a little different, it’s really personal but it’s so powerful. Your why and your reason is so important because it acts as your anchor as you drift off course you know, you get distracted. This is an analogy that relates to sailing or boating where if you put an anchor down even if the wind changes or the current changes and you get drifting around, you don’t lose that position, right?
You’re always going to be able to get back to it and so your why is your anchor through the year as you get distracted by other things or something else comes up that’s more important and that happens. It happens to me all the time but if you have a really strong why you’re able to bring yourself back to that bigger reason, that bigger purpose to see those goals through.
Now you might be wondering: Well, Emma what is my why? I don’t have a why. What are you talking about?
It might be a little easier to go through with some examples and I’m going to use some examples from my students in The Ladies’ Project community.
We have such an incredible diverse mix of women all meeting regularly and speaking in English together often. They’re all at various stages of their lives so some of their whys might be interesting for you but they might also be really relevant to you and where you’re at at the moment.
So one has migrated to Australia with her children, her husband. She wants to be able to go to her kid’s school and chat with their teachers and to hang out with other parents at the kid’s birthday parties and things like that. She wants to feel like she belongs, like she’s connected to the community that she’s a part of.
Another is a professional woman. She wants to further her career and knows that being able to confidently present her research at international conferences and network with other experts in her field will help her to do that.
And another’s retired, her kids have moved to an English-speaking country to study, to work. They’re marrying into English-speaking families and in this case, her big reason for learning English is to be able to genuinely connect with her new daughter-in-law, her new son-in-law with ease, to meet their friends and their family.
Now these are all huge reasons why someone would devote so much time and energy to studying, learning and practising English and when it starts to feel hard or boring or frustrating, being really clear on your reason for learning and for practising will help you to get over that boredom and over that frustration and keep going.
Step 3: Set goals
So now we’ve come to the point where I focus on the goals that I want to set for myself in the year ahead. And notice that this isn’t step number one. I’ve already reflected on the year that’s finished and taken what I needed from there. I’ve reconnected with my why, my reason for setting these goals in the first place and now is when I get on to actually setting those goals.
So I usually try for three to five goals. Some of them are personal, some of them are business or financial goals. Maybe there’s a couple of travel goals and no doubt that you’ll have a goal that relates to your English progress as well.
The most important thing is to make sure that these goals are in your control, that you can actually control the outcome of your goal.
If the idea of a SMART goal is something that you’re into, then great! Use it as a reference here but for me, it’s just about making sure that you are in control of the outcome. You can control what happens there.
So let’s look at this example.
I want to be living in Australia by October.
So right now that outcome is not in your control. There’s a global pandemic. The borders in Australia are closed. It’s uncertain at this point if you will actually be able to do that so that goal is not within your control.
A better goal is something like
I want to move from an IELTS band 7 to a band 8 by November 2021.
And I’m doing this because I want to move my family to Australia as soon as possible.
Yes, this is a goal that’s within your control, you have the ability to make it happen.
So once you’ve got your goals, make sure they’re written down. They’re really clear in your mind but that’s not all, that is not all we’re going to focus on here because for each goal that you’ve written down, I’ve got some specific questions to ask.
The first is:
- Does this goal feel scary?
- What parts of it feel hard?
And really recognise what these things are because they’re the things that are going to get in your way from reaching the goal, your fears, your doubt, uncertainty. That is what’s going to stop you from reaching your goal.
The second question is:
- What things do I need to change in my life to make this goal happen?
- Do I need to change my attitude?
- Do I need to re-prioritise some things in my life? You know do I need to stop doing this thing in order to make more space for that thing? You know how do you create more time.
And the third question is:
- What kind of support do I need to make this happen?
Maybe you need to join an online community like The Ladies’ Project where there’s opportunities to speak English regularly. Maybe an online course is your idea of support or a study partner. All of these things are ways that you can be supported to reach your goal. It’s identifying the things that you need to help get there.
So for me, these three questions are the most important part you know, of this process of goal setting. We can’t expect different results in 2021 if we just keep doing the same thing that we did in 2020 right? That’s the definition of insanity.
So I use these questions to help me identify what is likely to stop me reaching my goals and try to find a way around them so that I can keep going.
Step 4: Create your 90-day plan
Now once you’ve got your big goals sorted great! We know that these goals are going to take a little bit of time to reach though right and we need to break them down into bite-sized pieces make them actionable and achievable.
So to do this I create a 90-day plan so that’s three months I focus on the action that I’m gonna take in that first three months. By focusing on just three months it allows me to check in on my goals at the end of that three month period.
- Am I still on track?
- Have I gotten really distracted or did I try something that’s not really working and do I need to rethink that?
So I love the three-month check-in because it allows me to not only look back and make sure that what I was doing was good but also to just re-plan and readjust what that next three-month window is going to look like.
So I said earlier that these four steps work amazingly for any type of goal, professional, personal or English goals but I want to keep using the IELTS example just so that we can follow through and we can see how the questions that we just asked before will help us to get really clear on what we need to do as we create our 90-day plan.
So thinking back to that goal: I want to move from a band 7 to a band 8 in my IELTS speaking exam by November 2021.
Is there something about that goal that makes you feel scared or nervous or worried? You might be thinking it feels really hard, you know I haven’t spoken English in years, I don’t have anyone to practise with. I don’t really know how much that’s gonna cost.
All of these things are doubts, they’re fears, they’re worries. Recognising these fears is going to help you to work through them you know and they won’t be such a blockage or a hindrance to you actually reaching your goals.
So then we can ask what would I need to change in my life to make this happen? You know to go from a band 7 to a band 8 in your speaking test takes work right?
It takes practice, it takes study. so you might need to adjust your schedule a little to create more time for yourself, for your study. Maybe you’ve got to give up your karate class for a couple of months so that you can create more time for your English practice.
And what support do you need to reach this goal? Do you need to get a tutor or enroll in a language course?
You know maybe you’re thinking I just don’t know how I’m going to pay for that kind of thing. I know I need a tutor but I’m not sure how I’m going to get the money together.
So this is great because your action plan allows you to focus on that problem first. You know if I save thirty dollars a week for the first three months of the year, by the time I get to my next 90-day plan I should have enough saved so that I can focus on enrolling in that course or meeting that tutor.
Maybe you decide you want to get a study partner in the meantime just to tie you over until you can get that tutor. All of this information is going to help you to identify the actions that you need to take to keep working towards your goal and if you did decide you needed a study partner, that doesn’t happen by magic does it? You need to find that person and that forms part of your action plan.
You know, maybe you say I’m going to write a personal advertisement looking for an IELTS speaking partner and I’m going to post it in all the Facebook groups that I’m part of.
Or you might say I’m going to join an online community so that I can be connected with other English learners and get regular speaking practice.
This 90-day plan really is the secret to my goal-setting process because it helps you to take action immediately and as you set up your big goals, this 90-day plan is what’s going to help you set the wheels in motion which is a great expression that means to do something or some things that helps to start a process, to set the wheels in motion.
This plan is going to set you up for success, it’s going to help you to create really good habits not down the track but right now from the get-go.
So I hope that it was useful to see how I’ll be planning out my year ahead and I’ll be doing it over the next few days. So if you follow this process or if you already have your own goal-setting process, I would love to hear what your goals are for 2021. Let me know down in the comments below. I’m super excited to hear them and get behind you.
Thank you for watching my lessons, for sharing your comments, sharing my lessons and being part of the mmmEnglish community throughout 2020. I will definitely see you in 2021. I’m taking a little break just over the new year but I will be back and right here delivering lessons for you very, very soon.
Happy new year!
Links mentioned in the video
PODCAST | Build Your English Confidence
How To Start a Conversation in Australia & Practise Speaking English!
Speak English Naturally – Learn To Think In English