The Ultimate Guide to Goals & Goal Setting
Goal setting is a simple and extremely effective way of securing mental, physical and personal growth, with a range of studies backing up the best strategies and approaches for long-term success.
Recently a team of researchers has conducted an exhaustive study of goal-related words used by English speakers in a bid to discover the foundations of human psychology with regard to goals and goal setting.
Based upon the analysis, the researchers from the University of Wyoming stated that goals can be broadly categorized into four sections.
- Prominence, which covers goals ranging from power and moneymaking to perfection and glory, but most strongly reflects the pursuit of social status — the desire to earn the respect, admiration and deference of others through one’s achievements.
- Inclusiveness, which covers a goal to open-mindedly accept people of all types.
- Negativity prevention, which covers goals to avoid a wide variety of negative outcomes, including conflict, disagreement, isolation and social discord.
- Tradition, which includes a desire to uphold the long-standing institutions of one’s culture – including religion, family, nation and other group values.
Why Some Fail & Some Succeed in Goal Setting
Research led by scientists at Queen Mary University of London has provided new insights into why people often make unrealistic plans that are doomed to fail.
The study, published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, analysed the complex relationship between reward and effort in achieving goals, and identified two critical stages in the decision-making process.
The researchers found that when people first decide what to do they are motivated by rewards. However, once they begin to put plans into action, their focus turns to the difficulty of the effort they need to put in.
They suggest the key to achievable aims is to consider the effort needed when deciding what to do, and then remembering to focus on the rewards once the time comes to put the effort in.
Dr Osman, Reader in Experimental Psychology at Queen Mary, said: “If we aren’t careful our plans can be informed by unrealistic expectations because we pay too much attention to the rewards.
“Then when we face the reality of our choices, we realise the effort is too much and give up.
“For example, getting up early to exercise for a new healthy lifestyle might seem like a good choice when we decide on our new year’s resolutions, but once your alarm goes off on a cold January morning, the rewards aren’t enough to get you up and out of bed.”
How to Ensure You Meet Your Goals
People who make plans to avoid or handle temptations are more likely to achieve goals, according to new research by University of Wyoming psychologists.
Proactively planning to manage temptations may be more effective than simply responding to temptation when it arises, say UW Associate Professor Ben Wilkowski and recent UW psychology master’s degree recipient Zach Williamson.
“People rely on several self-control strategies. The use of these strategies can be planned ahead of time, before a temptation is directly experienced,” the researchers say. “And, planning self-control ahead of time may be critically involved in achieving long-term goals.”
Wilkowski and Williamson conducted two studies of undergraduate college students to assess the effectiveness of five self-control strategies in their pursuit of long-term goals. Those are:
- Avoiding situations where temptation is present. For example, if a dieter knows there are cookies in a kitchen, that person might stay in a different room.
- Altering one’s situation to minimize the influence of temptation. For example, if the dieter must remain in the kitchen to help cook, he may ask the host to move the cookies to the living room.
- Diverting one’s attention away from a temptation. For example, the dieter might choose to not look at tempting cookies, even if they remain in front of him.
- Changing the way one thinks about a temptation to make it seem less appealing. For example, the dieter might tell himself that cookies are disgusting and might upset his stomach.
- Exerting effort to shun the temptation when confronted with it.
The researchers found that the first four strategies, which might be more easily planned in advance, are generally more effective than the latter.
“We found evidence suggesting that participants sometimes formed plans for how to manage temptations and that these plans were indeed related to the initiation of diverse self-control strategies,” Wilkowski and Williamson said.
“People can, indeed, proactively initiate self-control. And those who do so are better able to make progress toward their long-term goals,” they concluded.
Life Goals & Goal Setting Vital for Mental & Physical Health
People who create and don’t give up on goals have less anxiety, depression and panic attacks, according to a study of thousands of people over the course of 18 years.
Lead Author of the study, Nur Hani Zainal, MS, said: “Perseverance cultivates a sense of purposefulness that can create resilience against or decrease current levels of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
“Looking on the bright side of unfortunate events has the same effect because people feel that life is meaningful, understandable and manageable.”
Unlike previous research, Zainal and his team did not find that self-mastery or feeling in control of one’s fate had an effect on the mental health of participants across the 18-year period.
The authors believe their findings will be beneficial for psychotherapists working with clients dealing with depression, anxiety and panic disorders.
People who make solid plans to actually meet their goals engage in more physical activity and benefit more from the gym when compared to those who don’t plan adequately another research study shows.
These research findings state that self-reported levels of a trait called ‘planfulness’ translates into real-world differences in behaviour.
Should You Share Your Goals?
In a new set of studies, researchers found that people showed greater goal commitment and performance when they told their goals to someone they believed had higher status than themselves.
Henceforth, the researchers stated that if you want to achieve a goal, make sure you share your objective with the right person.
These results run counter to a widely reported 2009 study that suggested telling other people your goals is actually counterproductive, said Howard Klein, Lead Author of the study and Professor of Management and Human resources at Ohio State University.
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