September 24, 2020

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There is a strong connection between setting goals and maintaining the motivation required to successfully attain them. In fact, in the 1960s, behavioral research led to an understanding of the relation between these concepts, and researchers developed theories to shed insight on the concrete ways one influences the other. This post covers some reasons to use goal setting for motivational success.


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Theories of Goal Setting and Motivational Success

The first researcher to study the relationship between goal setting and motivational success was Dr. Edwin Locke. He published his findings in 1968.

Locke’s Goal Setting Theory concluded that specific goals provided more motivation than vague ones. Challenging goals are better motivators than easier ones. In addition, Locke discovered that positive feedback was highly influential toward increasing motivation.

Essentially, the very act of creating a goal leads to better performance. Decades later, in 1990, Locke paired up with Dr. Gary Latham to develop the Goal Setting and Motivation Theory, whose main premise is that five fundamental principles influence effective goals setting and that goal achievement is more likely when higher numbers of these principles are in place. The five fundamental principles of the theory are:

  • Clarity
  • Challenge
  • Complexity
  • Commitment
  • Feedback

Your goals should be clear and provide you with enough of a challenge to entice you to reach them. However, it’s important that these goals not be so complex as to cause frustration or overwhelm; this would be counterproductive. Goals that inspire motivation also should include an aspect of formally committing to them and have a check-in method in place to determine satisfactory progression.

Provide Reference

By developing objectives through the framework of goal setting theories, you are providing yourself with a tangible reference point to keep you on track. Thus, your motivation is likely to endure. You can look at the points you’ve written to remind yourself of your purpose and to validate that you are moving in the right direction.

Add Manageability

Proper structure of your goals can also make your overall plan seem more attainable. By assuring that your goals are challenging, you’ll keep your brain stimulated. Breaking things down into short-term and long-term targets, along with similar strategies, can help you avoid becoming overwhelmed by one big goal that is too complex. Motivational success is better sustained when you feel some agency over your goals.

Instill Accountability

By adding a check-in mechanism of some sort, you will instill a sense of accountability to your goals. It’s easy to toss a goal aside when you don’t really have to answer to anyone, or even yourself. Find an accountability partner to share accomplishments with or build assessment dates into your calendar in which you self-check your progress.

Increase Confidence

Challenging, yet realistic, goals that allow for monitoring progress can affect your sense of mastery. Seeing your goal becoming closer to reality through hard work and skill is empowering. Hearing praise from your network is also motivating toward fulfilling a goal.

You increase your confidence with these things.

Improve Life Quality

Having well-developed goals can lead to a more fulfilling life. By taking the time to proactively define what you want and working toward that desire, you are living with purpose. Those who know what they want and feel they are on track to achieve it are more motivated and satisfied individuals.

As you can see, there is a strong relationship between goals and motivation. To sustain motivation, you must not only set goals, but your goals need to have structure. Following these guidelines can increase both your motivation and your chances of reaching your intentions.

About the author 


Life coach, author, engineer, and host of the podcast This is Type 1: Real Life with Type 1 Diabetes. I teach T1Ds how to feel better without changing how they manage it.

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