Module 9: working with young people on AOD issues: learner's workbook

7.1 Negotiating a plan of action using problem-solving and goal-setting skills

Page last updated: 2004

When working with young people through the process of change it is important to help set realistic and achievable goals.

Goal-setting skills
Beginning the process
Using the SMART approach
Practising goal-setting

Goal-setting skills

Goal-setting is a process which is readily embraced and regularly undertaken. However, for many, goal setting is not a developed skill or technique. Encouraging young people to set goals and to work towards achieving them can be an important part of the process of changing AOD use. Workers must remember that as young people are spontaneous and still going through major developmental changes, their goals can change dramatically from day to day. Do not assume that you know what is best for the young person. Allowing young people to explore their own identities and goals is often a crucial part of the process in negotiating a plan of action.

When setting goals with young people, it can be useful to explain that goals are like directions on a road map. They are the landmarks that can help to plot the way to a future. In order to plan 'action', a goal must be pictured. A young person may be side-tracked very easily if there is no clear vision, purpose and ownership of the plan of action.

Beginning the process

Goals are related to a person's values, beliefs and dreams. For a young person to see a need to set goals, it is important to elicit their current beliefs and values as well as their future hopes and plans.

Questions that may assist in the process include:
  • What sorts of things are important to you?
  • What is the one most important thing in your life, that you would miss the most?
  • What sort of person would you like to be?
  • If things worked out in the best possible way for you, what would you be doing in one year from now?
  • What are some of the good things your friends and family say about you?
  • How does your drug use (or you as a drug user) fit in with your plans for the future?
The last question is helpful to possibly identify discrepancy and elicit self-motivational statements.
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It can also be useful to explain that goals can be short-term or long-term. Short-term goals are things that you can achieve in a day, a week or a month. Encouraging a young person to start with small goals, such as getting out of bed at a particular time, or joining a sports team can enhance the likelihood of success.

Setting small steps will empower a young person. The steps can be as simple as attending a treatment session. If young people are achieving small goals they will be more likely to aim for and achieve longer-term goals. It is important for them to be able to see progress. You should commend them for talking with you.

If a young person is unsure of what they want to achieve, ask them to take some time to think about it and write down a list of goals on a piece of paper. Stipulate that these goals can be as wildly ambitious or as modest as they like. When they have written down their goals it is a good idea to discuss with them which ones they believe they are most likely to achieve in the short term, then identify which goals they believe are most likely to be achieved in the longer term.

Using the SMART approach

Using the acronym SMART (Specific, Meaningful, Assessable, Realistic, Timed) can assist you to help to set concrete and achievable goals.

  • Specific – Goals that are vague or unclear are hard to reach. Specific targets need to be reached, thus creating a greater sense of achievement. Examples of vague goals might be 'I want to get fit' or 'I want to smoke less dope'. While fitness can be a desirable goal, this is often vague and difficult to assess when it is achieved. A more specific goal might be 'I want to go to a gym for one hour three times a week' or 'I want to stop smoking cones during the week. I will only smoke cones on the weekend'.

  • Meaningful – Since the young person is the one who has to put in the hard work, change may take a great deal of personal effort. It is obviously important that goals are of personal relevance. While goals may involve other people, they need to fit closely with a young person's values, beliefs and personal desires.

  • Assessable – In order for the young person to continue to change, it is important that they can see when a set goal has been achieved. Making a goal assessable means that it is also flexible if it is not reached. Stipulating a time frame for achievement as well as setting specific short-term goals can make the goal more assessable.

  • Realistic – People involved in the process of making a significant change may have high expectations of what they can achieve. Significant others may also have high expectations of the outcomes. Setting unachievable goals may set the young person up for a sense of failure with the possibility that they may give up on the process. An example of an unrealistic goal might be 'I'm going to buy a sports car for my next birthday'. This may be unrealistic if the young person does not have any savings or a job. While it is important to have long-term desires and goals, setting smaller milestones is more realistic and less prone to failure. A realistic goal might be 'I am going to go to get a job by the end of the month. I plan to save $20 a week'.

  • Timed – Goals need to have a timeframe attached to them. It is said that for younger people 'Goals are dreams with a deadline!' In order to assess goals, it is important to set a date for review, for example their next birthday, the next holiday or by the end of the year. Setting a timeframe for goals also increases the possibility of success and allows for revision.
Top of pageQuestions that may assist with setting goals within the SMART framework can include:
  • Make a list of goals for the day.
  • Make a list of goals for this week.
  • Make a list of goals for this month.
  • Make a list of goals for your year.
  • Make a list of goals for five years.
  • What will be your next (first) step now?
  • What will you do in the next one or two days (week)?
  • Have you ever done any of these things before to achieve this? What will you need to do to repeat these things?
  • Who will be helping and supporting you?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, what are the chances that you will achieve your next step? (Be hesitant about accepting anything under a 7. The initial goal or next step may need to be more achievable).

Practising goal-setting

Workplace learning activity

Select a young person to work with for this exercise. If necessary, choose a young person from your family or your community.

Using the key ideas discussed above, spend 15 minutes assisting the young person to set one short-term and one longer-term goal.

When you have finished, reflect on the usefulness of the process.

Question - Did the young person find the exercise useful?

Question - Do you think the young person will follow through on the goals set? If so, why? If not, why not?

Question - What particular factors might need to be taken into consideration when assisting young people with goal-setting?