What is GPS?

Social science shows us that youth thrive when they develop strong goal management skills that support positive trajectories. These goal management skills comprise an internal navigation system of sound reasoning—one that selects optimum goals and strategies to achieve life aspirations. Research has teased out components of goal management that conveniently line up with the acronym GPS, just like a car’s navigational system. GPS stands for: Goal Selection —“Where do I want to go?” Pursuit of Strategies —“What is the best way to get there?” Shifting Gears —”How do I compensate when the road gets rough?

Why is GPS Important?

GPS presents a more dynamic and realistic approach to pursuing goals. Goal management emphasizes both skill development and fluid process, a departure from past practices which have depended namely on “goal setting”.

How Does GPS Influence Programming? 

Just as we use GPS to find and navigate towards destinations, we can use youth programming to align and navigate participants towards future goals. While goal setting is usually the most difficult part of a given program—because it takes time to develop, it’s different for every individual, and most youth and adults are new to the concepts—it’s important to include goal management as an integral part of the Camp Fire experience, because youth will take the skills they’ve learned in your program and apply them for years after they graduate from it. Here are some key goal setting strategies that you may want to incorporate into your lessons (hint: GPS activities make for some great reflections):

1. Goals do not need to be distant. Most youth cannot articulate a long-term goal that they can actually work on, or else, their long-term goal needs to be divided into closer and closer benchmarks so that something is on the immediate horizon. Youth want to be able to get started right away!

2. Goals do not need to be skills or achievements. Some youth may have goals about creating better relationships with their friends or family members, or may wish to be able to handle their anger in more constructive ways. Goals need not be a clear improvement in knowledge or skills as can be evaluated numerically, such as passing a test or improving a grade. It’s important to foster the kinds of thinking that allow youth to connect their goals to the fabric of their communities: peer group, school, family, town, etc.

3. Complex goals need to be made simpler. Break long-term, complex goals down into simpler, shorter, possible-to-achieve steps. One can’t learn guitar in a day, or even in a year, simply by stating that they want to learn guitar. There are several intermediate steps, which could be charted and checked: saving X amount of money, buying a used guitar and strings, looking up and memorizing basic chords, practicing basic cords for X hours each day, asking X people who already play guitar for pointers or to set up lessons, etc. Each of these steps requires practice, changing of strategies, requesting help, learning from mistakes and from others, and staying focused on the larger goal while meeting achievable benchmarks.

4. Goals change! Sometimes we set out with a goal in mind, and even make a detailed chart to track smaller steps and benchmarks, but then in the middle of the process realize the goal needs to be changed or even scrapped. That’s okay! If we use a Growth Mindset to analyze the situation, we will see that there will be many lessons learned during the process—lessons that might be just as valuable, if not more, than reaching the original goal in the first place. Youth, especially, will take different roads that adults maybe hadn’t even thought of. It’s good to encourage deviation from the original plan, along with a re-calibration of destinations and intermediary steps, so that youth gain resiliency and creativity along the way.

Goal management lends itself to programs with longer duration and opportunities to gauge progress over time. An example GPS applied in an academic and service learning setting from Camp Fire Columbia: