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Goal Setting Theory

Goal Setting Theory is all about getting your head wrapped around how goal setting works.

Why goal setting? Setting goals is a powerful way of motivating yourself or a group of people you are working with. The powerful effect and value of goal setting is well recognized. There are books, web sites, and seminars that focus on nothing else. Goal setting theory is widely recognized as one of the best motivational theories in self help, personal development, and personal growth.



Get Smart

If you have been on the road of self improvement, or personal growth for any length of time you have probably been exposed to the idea of goal setting. You might have even heard of the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting method.

The S.M.A.R.T. method assumes that if you set a goal that is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

You will automatically be on your way to achieving that goal....

But are you?

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

- Thomas Jefferson

The way you respond to a any circumstance or situation is for the most part a subconscious habit. What motivates you may not motivate others. There are, however, some principles that are common to the average person.

For instance people tend to be truly motivated by clear goals and appropriate feedback. Working your way towards a specific goal in and of itself provides motivation, and that motivation means that you will perform better.

Goal Setting Theory 101

Research has shown that the difficulty of the goal and how clear it is will affect how how hard people will work towards that goal. Clear, precise, and challenging goals produce better results than vague and easy goals.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you say "I'll try" or "I'll do my best" to do "XYZ" your success rate won't be as high as if you say something like "I'll improve my sales by 50%" or "I'll burn off 30lbs of fat by Christmas".

Easy goals are easy to ignore. They don't motivate or inspire. Challenging goals are more motivating because it is much more of an accomplishment to attain a difficult goal.

Goal Setting Theory Principles

For SMART goals to be motivating they need a little help. They need to be:

  • Engaging
  • Error Correcting
  • Forgiving

Let’s look at each of these...


Your level of engagement will be directly related to the level of success in goal setting. Some people are highly motivated by achievement. They will rate a goal's value based on how important the results of the goal are. When you know that the goal is very important motivation will be high.

When a goal's value is high it will be engaging.

The personal reward increases for more difficult goals. When you set your goal make sure it 'strikes a chord' in you. If it is easy or unimportant you will likely let it slide.

Don't over do it make it engaging but remember that it has to be attainable.

Error Correcting

As soon as a missile is launched it is off target. The on board electronics calculate and adjust to bring the missile back on track. In milliseconds the missile is off track again... once again the electronic gizmos do their thing to bring the missile back on target...

This process is repeated until the missile hits. We are the same way. We start out with good intentions with our S.M.A.R.T. goals all lined up and before long we're off track...

We need feed back to help get us back on track. A missile without the electronics to guide it may or may not hit it's target -- its a crap shoot. Life is too short and time is too precious to waste on a crap shoot.

Just because your SMART goal is 'measurable' doesn't mean that you automatically use the data from it's measurability. Take the time to assess where you are on your journey to your goal and make adjustments as necessary.

Seeing your progress is highly motivating.


Complex and technically challenging goals can lead you to push yourself too hard. If your goal is complex build in checks and balances to protect yourself from burnout or frustrations...

Give yourself time. Time to learn, time to practice, and time to achieve your goal.


Goal Setting Theory Summary

The whole point of goal setting theory is to help people attain success. You want to make sure that your goals don't end up frustrating or depressing you.

To make your goal setting theory more personal go here..

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