Goal setting

Doug Strycharczyk

Goal setting has long been recognised as one of the most valuable ways that an individual can motivate themselves to achieve something important and significant in their lives.

That's fine as long as the individual's mindset is such that it responds positively towards seeing the goal and the process of setting goals. Then goal setting is a marvellously uplifting activity. It's just as often that case that individuals don't understand what a goal looks like and how to set off towards its attainment. For these goals can be confusing and in many circumstance threatening and debilitating—anything but motivating.

Does this matter for young people? Young people are set goals and targets and are expected to learn how to set their own goals and targets almost every day of their young lives. It's one of the most important life skills that they can learn. That's true for most adults too!

Brian Tracy (2010) in his review of education in the USA makes the same claim. Goal setting is the most important life skill for an adolescent. Yet only three per cent of students in the USA ever receive training in goal setting skills. When they do—they emerge as top performers.

In this chapter we are primarily working with young individuals developing the ability to set goals for themselves and learning how to manage goals that are set for them.

Goal setting impacts upon the following components of mental toughness and resilience:

• Life control (self-efficacy)

• Commitment—clearly this is where goal setting is the heart of the matter. Commitment is all about the preparedness to set goals and the desire to achieve and to surpass them

• Challenge

• Confidence in abilities (self belief). Achieving goals builds this like no other activity.

Much of the pioneering work on goal setting has been carried out by Dr Edwin Locke. He found amongst other things that well-constructed goal setting has the ability to act as a mechanism that motivates the individual towards the goal.

With his colleague Latham (2006), he found that goals appear to motivate by:-

• Improving attention on activities directly relevant to the goal

• Serving as an energiser; interestingly Locke found that the more challenging the goals and the more specific it is, the harder the individual will work towards its attainment

• Affecting commitment

• Activating cognitive abilities and strategies that allow people to cope with their situation.

Locke and Latham originally confirmed the need to set specific and difficult goals and identified three other factors which appear important in goal setting to motivate individuals, goals must have:

1. Clarity: Setting SMART goals. Clarity focuses the individual on the goal.

2. Challenge: Identifying challenging goals which are perceived as difficult but achievable.

3. Commitment:

• How important is the ultimate goal?

• A belief in the ability to achieve the goals.

• The extent which promises are made to self and to others. 4. Feedback: This enables the sense of progress and provides the opportunity to flex or adapt.

5. Task complexity: The more complex the task the more difficult it will be to achieve. Individuals can take on too much without giving themselves a realistic chance of achieving the task.

Our experience in the full spectrum of applications suggests that there are four aspects of goal setting which are important:-

• Understanding what a goal is and accepting their relevance

• Setting clear, realistic achievable goals—the SMART process is a good way of achieving this

• Dealing with big goals.—How do you eat an elephant? Setting milestones

• Balancing Goals.

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