A lot of what has been written about goal setting is simplistic and misleading, as if to suggest that if you set goals, somehow your life will be transformed. But, despite this hype, there is much value in setting goals for yourself. This is because it gives you a sense of purpose, something to strive towards and, as such, can be an important source of motivation.
However, the goals you choose have to be meaningful and realistic. Meaningful goals relate to things that matter to us, things that are important to us in our lives. Goals that are linked to other people’s ideas about what our goals should be or what direction we should be taking our lives in are unlikely to be strong sources of motivation. And, of course, they need to be realistic, otherwise we are simply setting ourselves up to fail. But we also need to recognise that there are two aspects to being realistic: nature and scope. By nature I mean the type of goal you are setting. For example, you may set yourself the goal of achieving a particular promotion, but that may be unrealistic because you cannot control the decision-making process about who gets the promotion. You can influence it by doing an extremely good job, impressing at interview and so on, but you cannot control it. However brilliant and well suited to the job you are – there is always the possibility that there is another candidate who is even more brilliant or even better suited to the job (or at least someone who appears so to the panel). So, getting the promotion may well be a worthwhile and valid aspiration, it’s not really suitable as a goal.
By the scope of a goal, I mean how realistic the goal is in terms of terms of the extent you can reach. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, being unrealistic about how much you can lose or how quickly you can lose it will not be helpful. Again, it is a matter of setting yourself up to fail.
So, to be an effective source of motivation, goals need to be both meaningful and realistic. But there is one other things they need to be if you are to get then most benefit from them: they need to be positive. This is because framing goals (and other things, for that matter) in negative terms is likely to lead you into a negative mode of thinking. Like the ‘rubbernecking’ that goes on when a road accident has occurred (and which can lead to further accidents) – we can easily get drawn to negativity. Consider too what happens if you are instructed not to think about pink elephants: what is it you think about? So, when it comes to goal setting, negativity is very much to be avoided.
Positive versions are very much to be preferred:
Negative goals Positive goals
To lose weight To eat more healthily and to exercise more
Not to lose my temper so easily To learn to keep calm at all times
To be less defensive To try to learn from criticism
Of course, in reality, you would need to be more specific than this – the more specific the goal, the easier it is to work out whether or not you are meeting it or how close you are getting. It can be helpful to divide goals into overall aims (to eat more healthily) and specific goals (eat more vegetables).
So, are you clear about your goals? Are they meaningful and realistic? And are they framed in positive terms? Then, you’re all set to go!