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Why Goal setting can really make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance.

At this time of the year many of us are turning our attention to our goals for next year.  Whether this is in work, life or sport.  Goals are everywhere.  But can goal setting really make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance?  Or is it just a process that organisations and coaches make us go through to prove?  Is goal setting still relevant in our VUCA work?  


“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” Yogi Berra (baseball legend)


“What gets measured gets managed”  Peter Drucker 


“A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.” –Bruce Lee


I believe that goal setting CAN BE a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into reality.  If we ditch some of our traditional thoughts about goal setting.  For goal setting to really make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance we need to remember that we are human beings and not corporate robots.  


You’ll be familiar with the concepts of Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation, and we know that both extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation drive human behaviour.  If the idea behind goal setting is to encourage a particular behaviour – the behaviour needed to achieve a certain outcome – then we need to consider both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators when setting goals.  So here’s my suggested approach:


  1. Start with the outcome.

This is where we tap into our intrinsic motivation by describing what the future will be like once we’ve achieved this goal.  We need a long-term vision before we can focus and achieve short-term focused objectives.  Think about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles.  But don’t just define it.  Go a little deeper by describing that outcome – think visuals, descriptions, audios.  Whatever is important to you, your needs, wants and aspirations.  This is how we tap into our intrinsic motivations and find a meaning in our actions.


And how does this affect satisfaction or self belief?  Research suggests that positively considering a future outcome may improve psychological health more generally.  Some techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, involve correcting how people think about the future.  


There’s also a 10-week program called “Future Directed Therapy” that encourages participants to spend less time dwelling on the past or on current struggles. Instead, they are asked to spend more time thinking about what they want from the future, AND developing skills to reach those future goals.  


So being excited by the outcome is important, it’s just as important to draw a contrast between our desired outcome, and our current reality because this allows us to see barriers that must be overcome.  Which leads us to the second part…..


  1. Identity the steps along the way

We’ve excited our brains and tapped into our intrinsic motivation and now we need to identify what we need to do in order to achieve that outcome.  Think of these as the milestones, or steps along your journey to achieve your desired outcome.  Breaking down that big exciting outcome goal into smaller acheivements that, when added up, combine into the big outcome.


Make sure the steps you identify are within your control.  Not all of those steps will be actions either.  Natirally there will be actions that need completing but there’s also skills and capabilities needed to reach those future goals.  We all need skills and capabilities as well as will power – even more important with particularly difficult or onerous tasks, because your reserves of willpower can quickly become depleted.  


The best way to define these are as bite sized so they are more achievable.  As you achieve one action, you get a hit of dopamine release which gives you a positive feeling and you want to do more.  AND, because of the outcome you’ve spent time articulating to your brain, we more likely to be motivated to take the steps necessary to achieve these actions.  Increasing your satisfaction, self belief and performance in a virtuous circle.  And to keep this virtuous circle of satisfaction, self belief and performance going, finally we need an element of reflection….


  1. Give yourself time to reflect and celebrate

Neuroscience tells us our brains have an overarching desire to minimise threat and maximise reward; but threat responses are stronger, more immediate and harder to displace, so how about providing more reward situations for our brains?  When we are in a reward state we’re more likely to think creatively, keep engaged, work well and make informed decisions.  The opposite is true when we experience a threat state.


Building in time to review your progress towards your goals, celebrating your achievements and recognising work done well will trigger reward states.  Research shows that we can offset threat responses that inevitably happens from tine to time, by reminding ourselves of positive (reward) situations thereby quieting down our threat response.  


Regular and robust reviews of progress can help us respond in a balanced way to set backs, and make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance.


So here’s my challenge to conventional thinking – SMART or SMARTER goals are not intrinsically motivating!

By wording a goal to be:


  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-oriented/Achievable/Assignable
  • Realistic/Relevant
  • Timely/Time bound


You’re not engaging your intrinsic motivation and I’ve yet to meet someone who finds this approach rewarding or extrinsically motivating either! Indeed it’s usually the opposite.  By the time you’ve descbribed your goals in a way that doesn’t come naturally, you’ve lost your motivation from being told to re-wrtite it many times!

So ditch that traditional approach and try some brain friendly goal setting techniques this year.  We are human beings and playing to our humanness when goal setting can really make a difference to your satisfaction, self belief and performance.

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