How ‘well-designed actions’ are more effective than goals and resolutions

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Hayden Lee, Academic Life Coach
Photo: Courtesy

Guest blogger: Hayden Lee, ALC

It’s time to make New Year’s resolutions, right? Wrong! Well, kind of. As teens return to school from Winter Break, many are ready to make lofty goals such as studying more, getting better grades, communicating better with mom and dad, etc.  That is all well and good, but let me say that, “Goals are overrated.” On the one hand, we all need goals and having them is a good thing, but how to achieve them is quite another story. “Well-Designed Actions” to the rescue!

What is a Well-Designed Action? A Well-Designed Action (WDA) is a positive, sustainable, action step that is completely in your control. The whole process of setting goals and trying really hard to get them can lead to frustration because so much of our goals involve a high degree of factors that fall outside of our control. For example, a student’s goal may be to get straight A’s, but ultimately, he is not in control of giving himself an A, his teacher is. So, each time that he doesn’t reach his goal, he may be frustrated and then tries harder, but does the same actions.

Instead of creating goals, it is much more effective to think in terms of creating a system that involves a “well-designed action” plan that is in your control and can boost natural, intrinsic motivation. (Being motivated to do something because the action itself is the reward.)

A Well-Designed Action meets these four criteria:

  • It is stated in the positive.
  • Getting started and the success (or failure) of the action depends entirely on you.
  • It has a good size to time ratio that gets you moving into action and keeps you moving at a comfortable pace.
  • It is specific and measurable.

For the student who has the goal of getting straight A’s this semester, his Well-Designed action can be: I will finish and understand the study guide TWO days before the test date, and use the remaining two days to ask my teacher any questions that come up while studying.

Another goal may simply be to do better in school. The Well-Designed Action could be: I will write in my planner every day what needs to be done for every class, and if I don’t have any homework for a class, I will write “no homework.”

And for the student who has the goal of keeping a clean room this semester, her WDA system can be: I will pick up my clothes off the floor and put them in the closet every Sunday night as part of my routine before I start the school week.

The biggest virtue of the WDA is that it empowers the students with the full control of the success or failure of the action. WDAs shift the focus away from the end result of the goal to the actual process of how they’re going to work effectively. Learning to turn their attention inward and focus on what they can control in their lives, and following through on that action is one of the most valuable skills young people can acquire.

Teens love WDAs because breaking down huge goals into small, sustainable action steps is manageable and in their control. Teens often know that they want to do better in a particular area, but have no idea where to start or how to get there. WDAs help bridge that gap.

Making WDAs does not automatically mean that teens will get straight A’s, have a huge boost in their GPA, and have a spotless room. However, following through on their actions over time will make a huge difference in their self-confidence, allow them to create new, useful habits, and eventually allow them to see the results that they want.

Now, how’s that for a Happy New Year?

-Hayden Lee
Certified Academic Life Coach for Teenagers



Photo: Christi Benz

CyberParenting Topics on The Fish 103.9FM Tuesdays

Follow Joanna @CyberParenting

Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner

Like Banana Moments 

Comments are closed.

Latest News

Go to Core Connectivity to see current articles and resources.

About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.