Have you ever enthusiastically picked a goal and soon after found yourself either not motivated enough to keep going after it, or after having achieved it, found that it actually didn’t yield the emotion, feeling or outcome you were going for?
The key to success in achieving any goal is to pick the right goal in the first place. Here are 3 things to be mindful of when picking your goals.
1. Do you want to “Be Good” or do you want to “Get Better?”
What motivates you more – to show the world that you are good at what you do, or to grow and improve? On the surface, both kinds of goals may appear motivating, but which one you pick significantly affects how much you enjoy pursuing the goal, how you react when the going gets tough, and therefore, whether or not you ultimately succeed.
Social Psychologist Heidi Havorson calls the first kind of goal a performance goal or a “be good” goal where you demonstrate to the world how smart or talented you are, and the second kind of goal is a mastery goal or a “get better” goal where the emphasis is on progress and growth.
When you focus on a “be good” goal, you have a clear target – to ace a test, get into business school or get that promotion. Because these goals validate our sense of self-worth, they can be highly motivating to go after. But, a performance goal can also be a double-edge sword because it can only yield two outcomes – win or lose. You either get into the business school of your choice or you don’t, and if you don’t, it can create severe disappointment and self-doubt, and in many cases, cause you to give up on that goal altogether.
On the other hand, when your focus is mastery and you approach a goal with what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset”, you don’t blame any disappointments on your lack of ability, but use them as a trigger for directed action. “It’s ok if I didn’t ace the test. I haven’t mastered this subject yet. I’ll keep learning and try again.”
So, which goal should you pick? The latest research on goal setting suggests, in the short-term, a “be good” goal can definitely produce excellent results. But, in the long term, if you want to enjoy the journey, fight depression, and in the end, achieve a lot more, you would be better off making the shift from self-validation to self-growth, and focus on getting better.
2. Are you looking for long-term happiness?
Ask yourself, why exactly are you going after the goal that you have in mind? Chances are you think achieving that goal will make you happy. And, achieving any goal does create a moment of happiness. However, in some cases achievement creates a lasting sense of well being, while in others, it only creates a fleeting sensation, and in fact, leaves you wanting more.
In recent years, several studies have been devoted to finding out which goals will make us happier. The resounding conclusion from them all, as it turns out, is that a certain type of goal won’t bring you happiness: extrinsic goals.
Wanting wealth for its own sake, fame, the ability to exercise power over others or project a certain kind of public image – any goal focused on getting external approval or that comes from a place of external motivation, does not lead to any real happiness.
So, what types of goals do create happiness? Goals that create a more lasting sense of happiness are ones that nourish our core needs as human beings, intrinsic goals, such as: Personal Growth (improving yourself or a particular area of your life), Relationships (making a genuine and authentic connection with others), and Contribution (serving or helping people). These are goals that you set for yourself because you find them worthwhile or personally meaningful to you, what psychologists refer to as intrinsic motivation.
So, why do we pursue extrinsic goals anyway? It turns out we go after superficial goals when our core needs for love and connection are not being met. “If I can’t find the love I need, I’ll get rich and famous, and I’ll buy love” or so the thinking goes.
Ironically, though, the more we go after such goals, the more we guarantee that our essential needs will not be met. The pursuit of extrinsic goals takes up all of our time and psychic energy and then we find we don’t really have the time to devote to things that truly matter like our relationships. Before we know it, we are stuck in a trap of going after one extrinsic goal after another.
Next time you find yourself zealously chasing a goal, simple pause for a moment and ask yourself why is achieving this goal so important to me. Simply bringing that mindfulness and awareness to your decisions can help you course-correct and devote more of your time and energy to finding and reveling in that true happiness that you are ultimately after.
3. Is your goal specific and challenging?
Lastly, to really get your motivational juices flowing, it’s important to pick a goal that is both specific and challenging.
For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, it is not enough to say, “I will do my best to lose some weight.” A specific goal (“I will lose 5 pounds”), on the other hand, gives you a clear target, helps you determine how much time, effort and resources you will need so you can plan accordingly, and prevents you from settling for less.
Also, it’s important to set the bar of achievement high. If you think you can comfortably run a 5K, push yourself to do a 10K run this year or even a half-marathon. Studies show succeeding at something that challenges us gives us much more satisfaction, happiness and increases our overall sense of well-being. The important thing is to make sure the goal is challenging but also possible.
Now, take your goals for 2015 and put them through these 3 filters:
1) Are they focused on helping you get better?
2) Are they likely to lead to long-term happiness?
3) Are they specific and challenging enough?
By simply bringing this conscious awareness to your goals, you will be two steps ahead of the game already.
Now, in the comments section, do share with us the kinds of goals you are setting for yourself this year. Happy goal-setting!