How You Set the Goal Matters

On a daily basis we work alongside young people who are constantly being asked about their future. What do they want to do when they leave school? What goals do they have for the future? What goals do they have now? The way young people set goals can have a huge impact on their mental health and wellbeing. As the trusted adults in their world, helping them to set goals is one thing but how you set the goal matters. 

The Impact of Goals on our Wellbeing

We know through the science of wellbeing that setting goals is critical to our wellbeing. The research shows us that we all need some kind of goal to be working towards in our life, no matter how big or small. Goals are tricky things and there are lots of different thoughts about how to set good goals. We have all come across the SMART mnemonic in our time; that is a tried and tested approach to goal setting. However the more recent goal setting literature gives us an insight into some of the more nuanced approaches around goal setting that have huge impacts. These nuances may often seem semantic but have been found to have a huge impact not only on our ability to achieve the goal but on the impact the goal has on our wellbeing. It turns out it’s all about how we structure and phrase our goals that make all the difference. To illustrate this, I want to focus on a few specific focus areas.  

Avoidant Goals vs Approach Goals

When we set goals, we often set them to avoid something in the past or to stop a negative situation from happening again to us. For example, ‘I don’t want to be this size anymore’ or ‘I don’t want to have this bad situation happen again’. The research calls this an avoidant goal. On the other side, we can set a goal moving towards a desired future state. For example, ‘I would like to be healthy’ or ‘I would like to have a meaningful relationship with my child’. This is called an approach goal. Whilst the way we phrase a goal may seem small, the amplification effect of changing our avoidant goals to an approach goal can be significant. Not only on our ability to achieve the goal but on our wellbeing. 

Performance Goals vs Learning Goals

The second distinction we frequently see is setting goals that are for performance, often in the area of academics. Performance goals are often characterised as being competitive. They are set to try and beat someone else or to hit target or to impress someone. On the flip side are learning goals. These goals are associated with growing your understanding or mastering a task, as opposed to just reaching the outcome. A learning is goal is best characterised as learning for one’s own sake rather than for others. The interesting thing about performance goals is they have been found to hinder performance when the task is new to you or is complicated. The research shows that setting or changing our goals to being learning-focused leads to a greater impact on our wellbeing and goal achievement. This may be especially relevant in an academic context as so much of our schooling system is set up for performance and competition.

Short-Term Goals vs Long-Term Goals

The final distinction is between proximal (short term) and distal (long term) goals. This distinction has to do with the time framing. Distal goals are those that are often out in the future, a way away, they are often hazier and fuzzier, but give us a general direction. Proximal goals are shorter term, they are often more specific and tangible. In this regard one isn’t better then another, we need both in our goal setting. Working towards a longer-term goal should be made up of some proximal goals in pursuit of the distal goal.

Which Goal Are You Setting?

I would encourage you to think about a goal you currently have or that you are working on. Ask yourself is that goal an avoidant or approach goal, is it performance-focused or learning-focus, and what is the far away vision and what are the smaller steps to get there. In summary, think about the goals you set. Are you working towards something in the future or are you avoiding something in the past? Are you setting goals to perform so you can look good to others or are you setting goals so you can learn how to do something? And finally, how are you setting the time frames on your goals? Is that big blurry vision in the future made up with smaller shorter time framed goals now? If you notice that your goals may be more avoidant or performance-focused, sitting with them and reframing towards the approach and learning frames may just help to improve your wellbeing.

By reflecting on our own goals, it can help us to notice these goal types with young people and encourage them to think about how they reframe their own goals. It also may help to reflect on how you set goals for them/with them in the classroom or at home. Are they avoiding the past or moving towards the future? Are they focusing too much on performance and not about learning?

Practical Goal Setting in Our World

At Burn Bright we work with young people running student leadership and wellbeing programs in schools. One of our passions at Burn Bright is for the adults in young people’s worlds to help them with how they set goals and encourage them in their goal setting. Helping them to set goals in a good way may just benefit their wellbeing and mental health. If you’d like to explore practical ways to encourage thoughtful goal-setting habits in your young person, click here to take a look at our courses that explore topics such as goal-setting, values, leadership, and wellbeing.

If you want to read more on the topic, I would suggest purchasing a copy of the book ‘Beyond Goals’ edited by Susan David, David Clutterbuck and David Megginson. In this book you can read the research quoted in the above blog.



Continue your student’s leadership or wellbeing journey with our digital programs. Specifically designed to be flexibly implemented into your wellbeing or leadership programs, these courses can be completed at any time in any place, providing a self-paced option for students to explore in class or on their own. These modules include individual student logins, a teacher dashboard to track student progress and lesson plans with follow up face to face resources.

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Facilitator in Laptop Screen

I found Burn Bright in the midst of studying civil engineering at the University of Wollongong, just as I wanted a richer, deeper, more full experience of life.

Through Burn Bright, I have met many students and volunteers who are all seeking to find their place in the world. When we come together at NLC or SLC, no matter our age, we begin on the same page, of wanting to do good for ourselves, our community, and the world. And then we are thrown into a program that brings us closer to each other, our purpose, and how to bring forth this impact. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

Volunteering with Burn Bright stoked a fire in me – It helped me feel comfortable in myself and made me realise life isn’t just about work, study, or productivity, but our relationships and how we connect with others along the way.

I have learned skills in videography, worked for a top-tier corporation in marketing, and most recently published a book called “18 and lost? So were we” 

I have a passion for storytelling, bring loads of energy wherever I go, and am dedicated to helping young people move through the initiation of leaving high school and going into the ‘real world’. 

The best part for me is being able to stay connected to the latest generation growing through high school. To see them grow, expand and express more of themselves is like watching an artwork paint itself. It’s magic.

I am Simon Thurston, a Kiwi based in Perth. I work as an Instructional Designer and in my spare time I enjoy reading, running, and board games.

Since my initial connection to Burn Bright I have been onboard with their mission. Burn Bright’s focus on building the capabilities enables students of all ages to see how they can shape their world through connections with others and their own self discovery.

Seeing others grow, learn, and open up is what keeps me coming back, to help others realise their potential and how they can influence their future and their community is a definite highlight. It’s infectious, the atmosphere when they run a program or camp is welcoming, exciting, emotional, and rewarding all in one.



Hi, friends! I’m Kelsie, a psychologist from central QLD working in private practice. I got involved with Burn Bright officially in 2016, but the journey started long before that. I attended the National Leadership Camp (now hosted annually by Burn Bright) in 2009. It had such a profound impact on me that I returned as a mentor and volunteer. Those connections ultimately lead me to joining the Burn Bright team as an adult.

When I transitioned from facilitating with the Burn Bright team to working as a psychologist, I was so grateful for an incredible foundation of skills (particularly facilitation, communication and interpersonal skills) along with a strong grounding in positive psychology that Burn Bright integrates into their ethos.

I can’t imagine my life without volunteering for Burn Bright. I have met some of my dearest friends through the Burn Bright crew. I’ve found that volunteering for BB is rewarding, humbling, and often brings as much personal growth for the volunteer as it does for the young person.

From a professional perspective, I love that Burn Bright programs/camps support the adolescent individuation process by providing an exciting and supportive environment for teens to explore their own sense of self, personality, identify and values alongside other young people.

Imagine this POV: you’re back at school wanting to figure everything out and fit in – and you find
yourself in a room with amazing music that uplifts you and hooks you in. You meet the team of
dynamic, interesting, caring facilitators whose own friendships inspire you. Their facilitation skills bring about amazing light-bulb moments and lessons that light a fire inside you… It makes me want to feel that for myself again. The next best thing, for me, is volunteering for the team who passes that on to other young people.

My start at Burn Bright is one of the best cases of one door closing and another door opening. After losing my job at a local pub while on uni holidays, I started looking for new opportunities that were different and decided to volunteer. Searching for opportunities, I found working bees, community driving and nursing home visits, but the chance to become a National Leadership Camp intern stood out. Over nearly six months, I worked with the team to pull off Burn Bright’s first National Leadership Camp, and had an absolute blast in the process. After camp, I started working for Burn Bright while studying, doing anything and everything — data analysis, hiring strategy and even picking up furniture.

Finishing up working for Burn Bright in 2019, I am still actively involved with the Burn Bright volunteer community. I’ve found that the emphasis placed on investing in your relationships, understanding your values and making an impact allow you to be accepted for you. This has given me the tools needed to make the difficult decisions that life will inevitably throw at you. Besides all that, I’ve had a ton of fun and formed life-long friendships with people I may have never crossed paths with otherwise. “Get involved — you’ll change your life for the better and make life‑long friends in the process”.

I am a health science student from Perth wanting to get into the mental health realm of occupational therapy. In the meantime, I work as a barista and supervisor at a beachside café. In my spare time, I love to play netball, be around my friends and I have just gotten into crocheting. I went to Perth College where I was lucky enough to go to the first Perth College Leadership Camp in 2018 as a student and absolutely loved it. What really drew me in was the atmosphere that was created, the open conversations, and the lasting relationships formed.

Since then I have been a mentor for the Perth College Leadership Camp in 2019, 2020, and 2021 and had the opportunity to go to the National Leadership Camp in 2019. When Burn Bright comes to Perth I also love helping out at their programs as much as I can.

Volunteering for Burn Bright has given me so much that I could never have imagined. I have learned so much about myself and I have so much more confidence in myself and my abilities that I know I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t exposed to the amazing opportunities volunteering for Burn Bright has given me. Before being involved I would never have seen myself being a mentor, role model, and facilitator to students, but now I can confidently say that I am, and I have made an impact on others that I am proud of. I have also made so many meaningful connections to so many amazing people from all around Australia through Burn Bright. I get asked quite a bit why I keep coming back to my old school to volunteer and it’s simply because I was given this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Burn Bright programs and if I can help facilitate that experience to someone else then why wouldn’t I?

I was born in Perth and moved to Sydney in my early 20’s to continue work as a youth worker and surfboard maker. This was followed by 30 years working in IT as a computer programmer.

Following retirement in 2016 I searched for an organisation that was aligned with my values of servant leadership and service, especially in the youth space. This search led to Burn Bright where I am now volunteering one day a week and mentoring at the National Leadership Camp. Volunteering with Burn Bright gives me a great deal of hope and confidence in the next generation of leaders. It is a pleasure to be a part of the Burn Bright family.

I have been married to Denise for 41 years and we both very much feel part of the Burn Bright team.

When not at Burn Bright you may find me running along Manly beach, riding my mountain bike or indulging in my passion for photography.











Hi! I’m Rosie, a 20-something full-time public servant, part-time Tassie tourism advocate.

I am passionate about seeing young people succeed, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching them become the next generation of change-makers.

I have been a champion of the ethos and work of Burn Bright since its inception in 2014, and consider them to be the leading experts in their field. By delivering impactful leadership and wellbeing programs to students across Australia, they offer the knowledge, skills and engagement to invoke lasting positive change in school communities.

The Burn Bright team are dedicated, inclusive and values-driven, which is why I love working with them.