What really makes the difference between success and failure?
The pursuit of goals, aims and aspirations we feel important to us is a prominent part of everyday life. We see, and often feel, this intent focus on goal achievement and attainment across sport, business, and our own personal endeavours. Certainly in sport, we see when athletes and teams achieve their goals, we see the impact this has on their energy, their determination, and their courage to attain further heights. Nonetheless, we also see when they fall short, when self-doubt begins to set in, and goal progress dwindles.
When understanding the impact of goals on our thoughts, behaviours, and emotions, we can date theorising back to the eminent philosopher and psychologist, William James. The view of goals, as an objective or aim that we are trying to accomplish, usually within a specified time frame is a now well accepted across psychology disciplines. Through goals, we are directing attention to relevant tasks, energising our behaviour, encouraging persistence in tasks related to the pursuit of our goal, and influencing our likelihood to take action. These outcomes of goals are attractive, right? It is no coincidence, goals are commonly, if not unanimously, utilised as a tool within sport and high performance. However, all too often, the process of goal setting, of effective goal setting, is over simplified and under-complicated, leading to goals embodying the ever-moving mountain peak.
Aligning your goal process to thinking about achieving your goal as “completing a journey” rather than “arriving at a destination”, has been found to support more positive behaviours towards your goal, including stronger intentions to continue with actions relating to the goal, as well as implementing any lessons learnt or practises acquired for longer after goal completion. These types of metaphors help us make sense of abstract, less tangible concepts within our life, of which goals can often be. With this in mind, in this insight piece, we will leave the popular, and highly effective SMART or SMARTER acronym used to support us in achieving our aims and aspirations, until a later date. While education and knowledge of this effective goal setting process is critical, today’s focus is on the whole journey. Your emotional connection. Your reason as to why you are wanting to make a change. Your desire.
Are you on the right path? Setting the right goal for you.
To get you started, there are four simple questions which might begin to direct your thoughts and feelings towards potential goals which are important to you.
- How are you doing?
- What do you need to improve?
- By how much do you want to improve?
- How important is this to you?
A plethora of goals may have come to mind to focus your attention on. If so, try prioritising these in an order and explore what comes out at the top.
Do you know where you are heading? Knowing your why.
Regularly, it is at this point we jump head-first into goal setting, into setting SMARTER goals which will give us a process to follow and points to keep us accountable. Before doing so, create space to discover the meaning behind your goal. In giving your goal a voice, it shifts into a mission. It shifts from a process to complete, into a journey to discover. As humans, we crave purpose, and in searching for this purpose it helps provide us with the direction. This is summed up neatly by the German philosopher, Frederick Nietzsche, who remarked “he who has a why, can endure any how”. In giving space to create a clear sense of purpose and mission towards your goal, it enables you to focus on what matters most. If you are not quite sure of your why yet, continue to research the pros and cons, consider the risks and rewards of staying the same or moving forward. To help guide your thinking, try exploring:
- What larger purpose will this goal work towards achieving?
- If you do not accomplish your goal, what is at stake?
Focus these reflections on the intrinsic motivations which arise, the motives which emerge from deep within you, the ones which light your fire.
Are you staying on your path? Aligning your goals with your values.
In the chaos and hustle of everyday life, juggling family, work, and our own personal time, it can be easy to lose sight of our goals. Connecting and cementing your goals to your values, to that which you really care about deep down in your heart, is a way to keep our focus and attention on what really matters most to us. Begin to consider as you are on the journey towards your goal, how do you want to act? Fundamentally, ask yourself, what kind of person do you want to be? You may want to be creative in your approach to work, caring towards your family, achievement focused. An example might be, you have a goal to eat more foods packed with nutritious qualities. While a value important to you, is caring for your family. Thus, combining your goal to eat more nutritious food and your love for your family may lead to you cooking nutritious food for your family. Similarly, a goal may be to support your employees in their professional development. While a value important for your professional career is honesty. Thus, you may support your employee development through honest and truthful feedback on their performances. As well as enhancing the experience as your work towards your goal, anchoring your goals to your values can support you during challenging situations or challenging conversations, offering a guide as to how to act in this scenario.
Keeping the metaphor in mind, as you embark on your next goal, enjoy the journey in pursuit of your goal, enjoy what you learn, and your experiences along the way. Motivation will fluctuate, day in and day out, depending upon what is going on for you at that time. Nonetheless, knowing your focus, knowing your why, and how this aligns with your own personal values are three elements which will remain consistent throughout the ups and downs of our motivation. Connect, feel, and explore these first and the process for following through with these will follow.
Huang, S.-C., & Aaker, J. (2019). It’s the journey, not the destination: How metaphor drives growth after goal attainment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(4), 697–720.
Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1985). The application of goal setting to sports. Journal of Sports Psychology, 7, 205–222.