Understanding Yourself: Spring Goals

Use the GROW model to find your spring goals, with this self coaching session from the Open University's PLA (Personal Learning Advice) service.


Welcome to our fourth addition to The Hoot! 

Each month we publish an article which represents a new opportunity to focus on your personal and professional development to support your studies, work and life. In this article we’re looking into ways to identify and work towards your goals.

Why goals are important

Setting goals allows you to take stock of where you are now and to identify where you want to be in the future. Goals give you a target to aim at and a destination to move towards. They give you control and help you make progress toward what’s important to YOU.

Having clear goals can help you make decisions more easily by considering how an activity will or will not bring you closer to your goal. Clear goals can help you establish and keep boundaries to protect your time and organise your life around what you really want.

Achieving your goals will provide you with a sense of personal satisfaction, achievement and happiness – definitely things to celebrate!

In summary, identifying and setting goals can help trigger new behaviours, help guide your focus, help you sustain momentum, help build your confidence and achieve greater fulfilment in both your studies and in life.

A useful acronym when thinking about goal setting is SMART. There are a number of variations of what SMART stands for, but the principle is that your goal should be:

Specific: Clear and well defined. Giving you direction and making it easy to identify precisely what you want to achieve.

Measurable: Identify the measures that you’ll use to evaluate your success. How will you know you’ve achieved your goal? 

Attainable: Ensure it’s possible to achieve the goal you’ve set. Too easy and you won’t be motivated, too difficult you’ll demoralise yourself and erode your confidence.

Relevant: Relevant to the direction you want your life to take and making sure it’s a goal that’s aligned to your desires, values and beliefs. 

Time Bound: Has a deadline giving you a sense of urgency that can increase and focus your actions. It will also give you a time to review and reflect on your achievement. 

How to identify your goals

One of the many ways to identify and focus on your goals is to use the GROW model. 

The GROW model was originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore. The model focusses on problem solving, goal setting and improving performance.

There are four parts to the GROW model – Goal, Reality, Options, Will/What/When/Wrap-up.

G – Goal setting; identifying exactly what you’re looking to achieve 

R – Reality checking to explore the current situation, to generate clarity and develop self-awareness 

O – Options, alternative strategies, or course of actions to increase creativity, choice and self-belief 

W – What is to be done, when and by whom and the will to do it – creating accountability 

For more information watch How to use the GROW model

This podcast Tiny Leaps, Big Changes – TLBC Media may also be helpful to you.

The following self-coaching exercise using the GROW model will help you identify a goal, raise your awareness and encourage you to take responsibility for achieving your goal. Coming up with your own solutions and possible next steps will also help raise your confidence, seeing that you can achieve your goal.

Step one

Clear a space in your diary for 30 minutes. Think of a situation, issue, event or problem you have that is currently occupying your mind. e.g. “I am not feeling very motivated with my studies at the moment”, “I want to contact my tutor but keep putting it off” or “I want to develop more confidence with X.” 

Step two

Read the following questions, interpreting them in any way that seems appropriate to you – there is no right or wrong answer, just your answer! Some students prefer to write their answers down, some think of them just in their heads. Some questions might not be helpful for you – that’s OK – you can just ignore them and go onto the next one. 

GOAL 

  • What would you like to achieve?
  • What is most important to you? 
  • What do you really, really want? 
  • Imagine that you have successfully addressed the scenario – what does success look like, sound like, feel like – what can you and others see, hear and feel?

REALITY

  • What facts and evidence do you currently have at hand about this scenario?
  • What is at the heart or centre of this scenario for you?
  • What is going on in this scenario that makes it hard for you? 
  • What action have you taken so far? 

OPTIONS

  • If your obstacles/barriers were removed, what would you do then?
  • What is the range of options and possibilities you have?
  • What would a wise, kind, compassionate friend say to you or do about this?
  • What else could you find out / what extra information might give insight?

WILL/WHAT/WHEN/WRAP-UP

  • From your options, which one/s will you actually pursue? What specifically will you do?
  • How committed are you, on a scale of 1–10, to taking this/these actions? 
  • What is the first step you will take and when will you do this?
  • What could anyone else do to give you support and when will you ask for it?

Step three

Put a date in your diary/calendar to review your actions and goals and to repeat the activity.

How do you feel now that you have experienced asking yourself these questions, identifying options and finding your own possible solutions? Do you now feel closer to achieving your goal? 

Perhaps you feel more confident in your ability, maybe you are now more aware of who or what can help you and your more motivated and empowered to take action?

Next steps

If you would like to find out more just click here (PDF) to reveal more GROW questions that you can use now or next time and more resources on self-coaching.

For a different approach to identifying your goals visit Jackee Holder – Writing the labyrinth

Using the GROW model and identifying your SMART goals can help you get unstuck and take action to progress towards success. For more OU support on goal setting visit Study Goals. You might also want to read our previous self- coaching articles on Strengths and Potential, Personal Values and Mastering Your Motivation

…And Finally

Goal setting and taking action is an ongoing activity. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t always do what you set out to. Changes take time and often it take a few times to find the right goal and the change and action that works best for you. It’s also important to celebrate achieving your goals, acknowledging you’ve been successful and accomplished what you set out to do. 

Good luck and thanks for reading! 

We hope you have enjoyed this month’s article. We welcome comments, questions and chat about the article and activities.   

If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see in this self-coaching feature, please let us know.  

We are planning on posting some more articles in the coming months – we look forward to seeing you again soon! 


The Open University (OU) has set an ambitious Access and Participation Strategy with progressive targets over the next 5 years to tackle inequalities. The OU has many areas in which we need to improve and do better, and one focus is on the degree outcomes between students from underrepresented groups and the wider student body. 

To help address this, we have set up a dedicated team providing personalised coaching and mentoring to our students. This service is known as the Personal Learning Advice Service. 

Students who are eligible for coaching are contacted directly by us and cannot currently self-refer. We are a new service, and we are currently delivering and evaluating pilot projects with small groups of students at the OU. We worked with the OU Students Association in designing and setting up this support for students.  

If you would like to know more, please email PLA-Services@open.ac.uk


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