Monday, August 18, 2008

Setting goals alone isn’t enough, you have to set them right


“Set your goals high” — or so the story goes. You might have been advised by people left, right and centre to set your goals high in your life. But, does setting goals really help matters at all? If so, what characterizes a proper goal? Now, to take a close look at what modern psychologists have to say about goal-setting, read on. Why are you reading this article instead of doing something else? Your motivation for reading this article might be based on your goal of gaining some knowledge, which in turn might relate to a broader goal like a well developed world view.
Along the same lines, students’ motivation to prepare for an examination might be to achieve their goal of doing a course well, which relates to a broader goal like a well paid job. Psychologists have found that we set goals when we see a discrepancy between our current situation and the situation we want to be in. Setting a goal motivates us to engage in behaviours that can take us towards it, but the kinds of goals we set can influence the amount of effort, persistence, attention and planning we devote to a task. It is also to say that setting a proper goal deserves some thought.

Goal setting

In general, the harder the goal, the harder people will try to get there for so long as the goal looks achievable —’looks achievable’ being the operative words there. Goals that are impossibly difficult may not motivate maximum effort. Secondly, the person has to accept the goal. If a difficult goal is set by someone else, as when parents ask their son to get full marks in mathematics, one may not accept it. Next, setting clear and specific goals tends to encourage persistence in people. In plain English, specificity increases motivation. For example, you are more likely to keep reading this article if your goal is to understand the whole article than if it is to “do some reading.” Clarifying your goal makes it easier to know when you have reached and when it is time to stop. What it all comes down to is, a proper goal is quite an equation of the following: Balance between hardness and achievability; Acceptability; Clarity; and Specificity.

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