The type of
goals you set, and your coping strategies can affect the chances of achieving
your goals, or of abandoning them. You are already aware of the basics, aka:
- You are more likely to achieve your
goal if the reason to do it is intrinsic rather than extrinsic (Koestner, 2002).
Put more simply, do it for you, not for the bully or fashion police or that
nagging voice of your mom in your head. Do it for reasons that are important to
- Sometimes at the time of goal setting we don’t realize that pursuing the goal will compete with other goals and desires (Brownell, 1991). It might impinge on the already scarce resource of time, money and or energy. Or it might even challenge some of your values, for example to refuse a colleague’s birthday cake versus being polite and accepting it.
- Your success in changing over to healthy behavior will be higher if it allows you to meet your other goals. For example, ‘cycling to work’ helps you cut through traffic while also getting in your exercise for the day. Playing a sport with friends will burn excess calories while you check off maintaining social relationships.
Now that we understand why a goal is important to us and assured that it ranks high on our priority list, we can start talking about the type of goals which result in most success:
- A goal like ‘I will not eat sweets’ is an example of an Avoidance goal. Adding a negative frame of reference to the goal has been shown to adversely affect performance in even mundane tasks like number-copying (Roney, 1995). Instead, keeping an Approach goal, which is a goal to achieve a certain outcome, like ‘eating xx gms of Protein every day’, has a higher likelihood of success.
- Another goal type that has been
found to bring out higher motivation levels even when faced with failures and
setbacks are Learning or Mastery Goals (Elliot, 1988). As the name
suggests, the emphasis in pursuing these type of goals is on developing a skill
and striving towards increased competency.
At the other end of the spectrum are Performance Goals, where achievement of a specific standard is required as opposed to developing a skill. Consider the difference between ‘to lose 25 pounds’ vs ‘to learn to eat healthy balanced meals’.
Performance goals are more widely used as a result of the popularity of the acronym SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely). The challenge with performance goals is that it gets linked to validating one’s abilities. When there is a setback or failure, we associate it with our lack of ability and chalk the exercise as failure. Fear of failure might lead us to abandon the goal altogether.
James Clear, the author of bestseller ‘Atomic Habits’ says it best, “The dark side of tracking a number is that we forget the intent behind it”.
There are two ways around it.
Firstly, substitute/ associate with Mastery Goals which perform better in the face of setback. When pursuing Mastery Goals, a setback is taken as information on how to ‘not’ go about acquiring the skill in question.
Secondly, disassociate the outcome with lack of ability. The reason you had a setback was because you did not see it coming. It has nothing to do with your ability to accomplish the task. The Mastery mindset will help you think of ways to overcome it, the next time you encounter the situation.
In the next article, I will cover how you should go about pursuing your goals to ensure you achieve them successfully.
Brownell, K.D. (1991). Personal responsibility and control over our bodies. When expectations exceeds reality. Health Psychology, 10, 303-310.
Elliott, Elaine S.,Dweck, Carol S (1988). Goals: An approach to motivation and achievement.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 54(1), 5-12
Koestner, R, Lekes, N, Powers T.A., Chicoine, E (2002). Attaining personal goals: Self confidence plus implementation intentions equals success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83. 231-244. Roney, C., & Sorrentino,R. (1995). Reducing self-discrepancies or maintaining self-congruence? Uncertainty orientation, self-regulation, and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 485-497.
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