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What is a voal?

A refresh to goal setting that creates lasting motivation to get things done that matter.

Photo Credit: New York Times

Hi Rare Birds!

I just finished a round of super insightful market research calls with parents of teenagers who have issues that impact their executive functioning (their ability to get things done). If you were one of them, Thank You!  I am always curious to know from parents what they have already tried that has worked.  You know what they never say? 

Oh, we’ve found that it really works for all of us when we do lots of reminding and advice-giving.  We tell them strategies they could try and they are like, oh yeah! That is exactly what I’m going to do! Thanks! And then they go and do it. Plan B:  if they don’t follow up on our advice or get resistant, we find that if we say it more times and louder, then it really works like a charm. 

You know what I do find helps? Goals. But not just your garden variety SMART goal type worksheet. I mean like bright, attention-getting, blinking neon sign type goal action.

When I work with students, I help them set something I call a voal to spice it up and make it stick.  We come back to it every week so that the student gets their eyes and feelings on it to keep it alive.

Getting more peaceful is one of the 4 main pillars of my work with students. (I have a freebie on my site that tells you about all 4 of them, by the way). Most kids will tell me, if nothing else, the main thing they want to get out of their time with me is to be less stressed. I sell them on goal setting as a way to make life less stressful.

Goals help make decision-making much easier.

They help us declutter schedules from the stuff that doesn’t bring us what we want more of, and guard us from being yanked around by other people’s needs and expectations like the basketball coach, the staff manager at work, friends who want to gossip which could be a tempting, but not what you set aside time for at the moment.   

Sound good? Here are some of my favorite twists on the traditional goal-setting routines.

Instead of a goal, make a voal. Maybe not as cute as this variety. This one is a vole:

Voal stands for a goal + a value.

I have kids check out this list of words and qualities to find one that resonates. I tell them not to think too hard about it because if they are anything like me they’ll get all tied up about picking “the right” one. You really can’t get this wrong since these research scientists have spent longer than they have been alive studying people all across the globe and found that we all have every one of these qualities within us. So, once you’ve got that quality picked, it shows you something you value in life. Mine is “appreciation of beauty and excellence.” That’s a tough break for me because it’s not super productive to want to stop in my tracks at every bird and butterfly I see. 

OK, now that we have the value, we put it together with a goal. I don’t get too picky about it because it’ll get shaped up as they go along, it should just be something someone else could observe they have achieved that they believe will make their life better. We stay away from the abstract here.  Something like getting into a college they like, making a new friend by the end of the semester, getting above 80’s on my tests. I also tell them that this should feel like a little bit of a stretch from where they are now, but that feels possible. 

Finally, we put it into the voal formula: I will (action that will help them move towards the goal), so that I can (value). You can either just plug that right in from the work above or adjust to be a little more specific.

My example: I will write at least 15 minutes a day towards my goal of publishing a book, so that I can really revel in all the excellent resources and inspiration I’ve gathered throughout my career – that would be super, super fun to share. 

Student example: I will go for a run when I get home from school to have more energy to get my homework done during the week so that I can spend more time laughing and connecting with friends and family on the weekends. 

Here’s another twist on a conventional goal strategy I use in my sessions. We may have all heard that if you tell someone your goal or announce it publicly, it is more likely that you’ll achieve it. The research is actually pretty mixed on that one. I learned recently in Jon Acuff’s Finish,  that when people tell a friend or loved one about a goal, they will get praise and congrats.

I know you may be wondering, what’s the problem?

Well, apparently, that praise gives the goal-setter a rush of dopamine that makes them feel so good that they lose their edge a little – the discomfort that motivated them to make a change in the first place. Some people are less likely to follow through when they get that praise upfront.

I’m not saying you should shove your friend into the dirt the next time they tell you about a goal they are going after, but instead of a lot of praise, you could ask them, what can I do to help you stick with that?

When a student of mine comes up with their voal, I always have them think through a plan of one other person who can help them with it.

Here’s a list I really like of creative ways a person can help someone with their goal.

Let me take my own advice here and share a goal with you and then ask for your help: I’m currently planning some different ways to help students get the support they need to get stuff done and be more independent and happier while they’re at it.

I’d love it if you could share my socials (see below) with a friend or two who you think could use the support. Feel free to copy and paste and share in an email or in your own social network groups.

Hey, I get these newsletters and I think you’d find her work helpful. You can find her here: 



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