Character Chats

Determination in Goal-Setting

How do I set a goal?

Here, at True Balance Karate in Downers Grove, Illinois, we have a social emotional learning program called True Character. I’m Master H, owner and chief instructor here at the studio. I have two Master’s degrees in education, and we have developed this curriculum to best meet the needs of our youngest students, three or four years old, to our oldest student, who is 85.


This month, we’re talking about determination.

Last week, we talked about how you have this go for it kind of attitude. You’ve got this goal and you know that there might be bumps or hiccups along the way, but you set this goal, you know what it’s going to look like at the end, and you just keep moving forward.

But you might be saying to yourself, “Master H, how do I set a goal? How do I even start that process?” It simply starts with you writing down what it is that you want to achieve. It’s like you work backwards.

To my right over here, we have our goal board. All of these pieces of paper, all of these pieces of paper here are making a commitment sheet for black belts. We actually have a big poster above this window. What they started with is when will they achieve second or third degree black belt? When will they do that? Some of them said 2025. Some of them said 2026. But the idea is you work backwards from there.

Simplifying Goals

You set the goal, second degree black belt. You set the date, when am I planning to achieve it by? And then, you work from there, so what do I need to get to that point? What do I need to do to achieve that spot? What steps do I need to take? That’s what these boxes are, steps to reaching my goal and two other things that’ll help me get there. What are my steps and what’s going to help me along the way?

A lot of these guys have put things like practice at home, learn my new forms, ask questions in class, watch the videos online. They’ve all put in place some of these ideas of what it will take to get to that goal at that year.

Long-Term vs Short-Term

Some goals are long term that way. You can be very determined long term wise. Some goals are very short term. Every day I write down three things that I wanted to accomplish that day. Three tasks, three items. Some days it’s empty my dishwasher, plan what the next month’s word will be, and just look for a new drill online to use in the studio. That could be my three things. Some days it’s bigger. Some days it’s actually write out the entire next months’ worth of curriculum mat chats. And then, it’s also clean the whole kitchen. And then, it’s also schedule phone calls or meetings or things like that.

But those are more short term goals that could be viewed as wanting to achieve my longer goal, or it could be viewed as wanting to make that day successful. Coming up with that goal and then working backwards is how we go about determining that goal.

Creating Relevant Goals

But we don’t want to just be choosing any old thing. I can’t stand here and be like, “Ah, my goal is to be an astronaut and I’ve never taken a science class.” What does that have to do with anything? It’s something that you’re passionate about. It’s something that you want to do. It’s something that you’re engaged in, and it’s something that matters to you. That’s how you are able to apply your determination to those goals, to those things that you want to accomplish.

As we’re going through and coming up with what we need to do to set those goals, we start with the end result of what we want to achieve. Are we looking at a bedroom that’s completely messy? Well, if we’re looking at a bedroom that’s completely messy, our end goal is to clean it up, vacuum it, get rid of any stink bugs that might be on the floor, those kinds of things. At that point, you start working backwards. When do I want it finished by? Do I have until Sunday? Do I have until this evening? Do I have until my next birthday? I’d love it if it was my next birthday, because that’s in November. But it’s a matter of what is our timeframe at that point?

And then, maybe you take a page out of my book, I’m going to find three things to put away, and now I’m going to find three more, and now I’m going to find three more. You work diligently and determinedly towards that goal, towards that end result, towards the idea of what it would look like to have that clean space.

Determination in School

Earlier in the school year, my son was not doing so well in his science class. He wasn’t failing. He was only getting a C. However, he had fought for this particular class that he wanted to be a part of. And so, we sat down and we asked him, “What’s your goal? What grade do you want at the end of the semester? What do you want to do?” He’s like, “Well, I want this grade.” What does that take? What do we need to do to accomplish it?

Now, could his father and I have told him, “You need to do this, this, this, this, this? Yes, we absolutely could have. However, so that he would own it and he would show his own determination and he would set his own goal, we asked him the questions. We asked him, “What is the goal for you? Where do you want to want to be? What grade do you want at the end of the semester? What do you need to do to get there? What can we do to help you? How can we create that space to help you study?”

There were days that he would just go and work in his space and work on his science without a problem. And then, there were days that he would come to me with his notes and he would be like, “Quiz me. I have a test tomorrow.” Both times were completely fine.

He wound up ending the semester with an A. I don’t know what the grade would’ve been if we had told him what his goal was versus him deciding what his goal is. The more we can guide the students around us, the more we can instill that sense of what are you working towards, that sense of pride, that ability to cheer them on as it’s going along, as it’s growing and being achieved and being worked on, the more we can instill a sense of determination in our students around us and our own kids at home.

Importance of Teaching Goal-Setting

Teaching them how to set a goal is a very, very specific way to do that because we are not born knowing how to do that. We are not born with an ability to think that far ahead and then plan out the steps to get there. Some of us, yes. Some of us are very good at it and others of us really need to learn that idea.

As we’re talking about determination, as we’re talking about having this go for it attitude, as we’re remembering what it’s going to look like at the end when we feel proud of ourselves and we see people cheering us on and we know we have achieved what we wanted to, we need to remember that that goal for it attitude starts with setting a goal. It starts with what do I want to achieve and working backwards from there.

Thanks, and I’ll see you on the mat!

True Balance Karate was founded in 2012 by Master Sue and Paul Helsdon.

We offer kids karate lessons for pre-school children ages 3-6 and elementary age kids ages 7 and up. These lessons are designed to develop the critical building blocks kids need — specialized for their age group — for school excellence and later success in life.

Our adult martial arts training is a complete adult fitness and conditioning program for adults who want to lose weight, get (and stay) in shape, or learn self-defense in a supportive environment.

Instructors can answer questions or be contacted 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week at 630-663-2000. You can also contact us here