What is goal setting and why it’s important
Goal setting involves putting together an action plan that helps you chart a path towards a particular goal. It’s important because repeated research has shown that setting goals can make a difference to motivation and performance in many areas of life. And the reason for bringing this up right now, at the start of 2022, is because for many people, this is THE time of year that they set their goals for the year ahead so I wanted to catch you when you might just be in that mode to set you up for success in achieving your goals this year. And if you’re not doing that right now, that’s ok, goal-setting is for life not just the New Year 😊
What does the science say about goal setting? Well the superstar researchers in the area of goal-setting (who you may well never have heard of) are Locke and Latham, or Edward and Gary to their friends. They did a TONNE of research into goal setting over four or five decades (from the 60s to the noughties). What all their research boiled down to though was that goal-setting does make the difference that I’ve said; it brings motivation and energy to achieve and improves actual performance, but there’s a little more detail on that…
What Ed and Gary found is that once you’ve taken ability into consideration, goals that are difficult to achieve and specific tend to heighten performance far more than easy goals, no goals or telling people to do their best.
So that’s what the best of the best of the performance and motivation scientists have to say. But I think there’s more here than just performance, so let’s get to the more. Specifically, I’m going to take you through four steps which will help you to goal set in the year ahead, or any time of year, the strengths way…
- Step 1: Start with the what and then move to the why – and be realistic in your goal setting
- Step 2: SMARTen your goals for the best possible result
- Step 3: Strengthen your goals – supercharging goal setting with strengths
- Step 4: Accountability – get a buddy or be your own buddy and celebrate success.
Step 1: Start with what and then move to why – and be realistic in your goal setting
First up, when you’re planning goals, ask yourself ‘What do I want success to look like?’, ‘How will I feel?’, ‘What will be different?’.
And then ask yourself ‘Why do I want this?’ Be honest, dig into the why because it’s an important part of what will keep you at it when it gets tough and when you might be losing the motivation and wanting to give up.
An important tip from another couple of motivation and goal setting researchers – Andrew Elliot and Holly McGregor, in 2001 – is that that there are different kinds of goals: ‘avoidance’ goals are about avoiding failure and ‘approach’ goals are about driving towards a result. Elliot and McGregor found that people using performance-approach goals (moving towards a positive outcome) tended, in general to perform better than people using performance-avoidance goals (moving away from a negative outcome).
A tip now from me, try not to pick too many goals. A lot of people, particularly at the start of the year, may create long lists of goals with little chance of achieving them all in a year. When you’re goal culling or goal prioritising, ask yourself which of the goals you’re considering are aligned with your personal ‘why’ and values, which will stretch you outside your comfort zone a little (because that’s what the research tells us will give us more payback) and which will make you happy and bring you joy. The ones that tick all three boxes may well be the best to pick.
Step 2: SMARTen your goals for the best possible result
You’re pretty likely to have heard of SMART goal setting and if you haven’t, no problem. Let’s take a quick dash through the SMART goal setting process. Firstly, as the goal-setting research glitterati say – make your goal SPECIFIC. Not general. As specific as possible. Second, make the achievement of your goal MEASURABLE. Put metrics on it. Third, make it ACHIEVABLE. In doing that though, use a researcher hack…when you’re goal planning, stretching yourself is important so don’t make your goal too easy. Stretching will give you flow opportunities. I’ve podcast on Flow not so long ago…scroll back to Season 11, episode 10 for more on that. But in essence ‘flow’ moments…when you’re immersed in a task and everything just flows…those moments are most likely to happen when your skill level is matched by the difficulty level of a task. So make your goal challenging enough for the skills you have and you’ll max your chances of getting on a flow high. Back to SMART – the R of SMART is Relevant – this brings us back to the ‘why’ of your goal…why is this important to you? Commitment to a goal is an important part of achieving it according to researchers, so make sure you’ve got your ‘why’ clear because that will make the goal relevant and will help keep you at it. And finally, T is for TIME-LIMITED. If you don’t put a date on it, it probably won’t happen. That’s it, SMARTening your goals is as simple as that, but do take the time to work through the process.
Step 3: STRENGTHEN your goals – supercharging goal setting with strengths
Strengths was always going to get a look-in with goal-setting because goal-setting is about mobilising energy, motivation and enthusiasm around an outcome. And, quite frankly, there’s nothing better than using your strengths to get you motivated and keep you there. So when you’re setting a goal, as well as using the SMART acronym, also think about which strength or strengths you can bring into play to help you achieve your goal. Here’s an example…if I want to get better at playing guitar next year (which I do), then I need to SMARTen and then STRENGTHEN that goal. So here goes with SMARTen…
- Specific: Here’s my effort on making my goal specific…I will know all the major and minor chords as open and barre without looking at a chord book and I will be able to play 4 songs that I really enjoy to an audience (whether they want me to or not haha)
- Measurable: That’s ALL the major and minor chords and that’s 4 songs. There’s my measures
- Achievable: I know that’s possible with where I’m at right now but it will be a stretch to not look at any chord books and also to be able to remember 4 songs.
- Relevant: I want to get to a place where I’m enjoying playing guitar and where I find it relaxing so that’s my ‘why’
- Time-limited: I will do all this by December 2022.
Now for the STRENGTHEN: I’m going to draw on my Collaboration strength to work with my friend and guitar teacher as an experience to share and collaborate. And I’m going to bring my Enthusiasm strength to picking and rocking the songs I choose to learn by the end of the year. Already, I’m feeling more empowered to achieve my goal!
Step 4: Accountability – get a buddy or be your own buddy and celebrate success
Final step – my advice is to get an accountability buddy to help with some, all, or at least the most difficult of your goals. That way, you will have someone on the journey with you as a cheerleader, supporter and conscience (or however you want them to help you). If getting a buddy on the case isn’t for you, be your own buddy and make sure that you celebrate and reward successes along the way as you achieve some of the milestones that mark your progress towards your goal.
Finally, be serious about challenges you’re going to face – both within yourself (like procrastination, de-prioritising the goal, losing motivation, questioning its relevance) and also external to you (such as life changes, busy-ness levels and so on). Having a buddy, even if it’s you, who you’re accountable to, will help you reflect on how you can overcome the challenges and keep on track to achieving your goals.
Conclusion – goal setting for 2022 and beyond
Those are my four steps to goal-setting nirvana:
- Be clear on your what and why
- Get SMART
- Get strong
- Be accountable.
I hope you’ve found that useful – applying some science and research to maximise the chances of you achieving your heart’s desires in 2022, or anytime. Till next time, stay strong.