Setting goals for yourself is one of the best ways to improve productivity and fulfillment. With so many workers failing to find satisfaction in their job, it’s easy for goals to go by the wayside.
Goal setting theory helps outline how goals can help you develop a more challenging and enriching life. The activities we included will help you define your goals and find out what’s truly important to you.
Keep reading if these ideas seem interesting to you. You might learn a thing or two about how to find the enriching experience you’ve been looking for.
What is Goal Setting Theory?
Although goal setting theory has gone through many iterations and interpretations, the idea first came to fruition through the work of Edwin Locke and Gary Latham. The two reviewed studies on motivation and came up with a plan that applies to almost everyone - with both professional and personal motivation tools.
The Different Types of Goals
Locke and Latham outlined four different kinds of goals you can set for yourself. The first is abstract - and not incredibly useful in practice. This is a general goal, such as “try harder at something.” In reality, trying harder or doing your best should be a natural result of striving for any goal in the first place.
The next is behavioral and is great for a daily goal. You might want to go for a three-mile run, call on fifteen sales leads, or something similar to that. These goals are incremental hurdles on your way to your eventual outcome goal.
The outcome goal is what you want to happen - like earning $100,000 this year. This goal requires planning and steps but is one of the most fulfilling types of goals if you succeed.
The fourth is a learning goal, which usually includes developing a skill. You might want to improve your sales skills or learn a new language, which will aid you on your way to your ultimate goal.
Setting Clear, Challenging Goals
Through his research, Edwin Locke also found that complex or challenging goals influence productivity more heavily than easy or abstract goals. It’s much easier to get results with a specific, tangible goal than it is with a goal that tells you to “try harder at something” form of goal.
While the latter goal can be helpful in some instances, it doesn’t represent the potential that the goal setting theory can have on productivity and fulfillment. Easy goals don’t require effort, and abstract goals like “do your best to…” are far too vague. You can look back at almost anything and convince yourself that you tried your best.
You need to establish challenging, clearly defined goals for yourself if you want to get the most out of your potential. These goals will have stages, benchmarks, and an ultimate reward for completing them. You shouldn’t have to wonder whether or not you’ve reached your goals. It should be clear in both the feeling you get and the effort you put forth.
In some cases, a goal might be so challenging that you’ll fail to reach it. This far-fetched goal shouldn’t be a deterrent. In fact, failing at achieving your goals can be motivating in itself. It will teach you to work harder the next time you set a goal.
“Do your best” should never be a goal in itself. Instead, it should be the outcome of setting a challenging goal for yourself.
Satisfaction and Rewards
Achieving your goals brings a natural sense of satisfaction, and is a reward in itself. It’s also important, though, to give yourself incremental feelings of happiness and reward along the way to achieving your goal.
A challenging goal - which is what you should be focusing on - presents the opportunity for failure. In many ways, failure presents the opposite of satisfaction and reward, which is why it’s important to include incremental stages in your goal setting process.
Allow yourself to celebrate the smaller landmarks along the way to achieving your goal. That way if you miss the mark, in the end, you won’t feel defeated. You can look back and see how far you’ve come, even if you didn’t make it to the end.
Goal Setting Activities
Goal setting theory might sound great in theory, but it’s much easier to talk about the benefits of setting goals than it is to sit down and set them. After all, the majority of the American workforce is either disengaged or downright hates their job.
According to a Gallup poll from 2017, only 15% of the worldwide workforce is engaged. This means that 85% of the workers in the developed world wish they were doing something else with the bulk of their waking lives.
Being stuck in a job likely means you’re receiving a decent paycheck for your work, and are too lazy, unmotivated, or comfortable in your current position to make a move.
Professional goals might not even be the most beneficial type of goals. Personal accomplishments mean just as much to a person as professional ones.
In this section, we’ll take a look at some goal setting activities you can use to jump-start your motivation and get you back to a lifestyle that satisfies you.
What if You Had One Year to Live?
Putting a finite time frame on yourself is one of the best exercises for learning what goals you need to set. Any time frame would work - but it’s an important activity that puts your life into perspective.
Nobody has an unlimited time frame to accomplish their goals, but many struggle to find out what’s important to them. Putting a solidified end-date on yourself might be scary at first, but it’s ultimately liberating. You’ll find that you can do anything you want - all you have to do is go out there and grab it.
A one-year time frame is long enough to accomplish a lot but short enough that money won’t be a substantial issue for you. This exercise may even give you insight into what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Write down what you want to accomplish, and make sure you complete a chunk of your list within the next year. Act like it’s all you have left because - for all anyone knows - it is.
Think about the regrets you would have if you died tomorrow? What are a few things you would wish you have completed?
Now, go out there and do those things. Minimize your regrets by striving for your goals in the time you have left on this earth.
What if You Won the Lottery?
Winning the lottery is one of the most unrealistic pipe dreams we all have from time to time. We’ll see that jackpot edge close to half a billion dollars and fantasize about what we’d do if we had all that money.
Instead of fantasizing about buying your office building to seek revenge on your employer by creating Dwight Schrute-like downgrades, use this period of unrealistic dreaming to find out what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Sure, “nothing” is a pretty attractive option, but what would you do after you get tired of sightseeing and slacking off? How would you fill your day if you had an unlimited source of funds?
This exercise is particularly useful because it explores a lifestyle wherein goals are all you would have. You’ve already received all the money you could want - and the freedom that comes along with that - so what else is there to live for? Goals.
What’s Holding You Back?
There is likely a reason you’re not striving to accomplish your goals - whether personal or professional. You probably have a long list of logical and illogical fears that have handcuffed you and made you metaphorically immobile.
Setting goals don’t mean much if you’re constantly telling yourself they won’t work in the long run. This internal voice telling us we’ll fail might be loud and at the top of our minds, or hiding in the back waiting for a moment of self-doubt.
One of the ways to bring yourself past this mindset is to write down what’s stopping you. Think about the hardest challenges you may or may not face. Try to consider why you haven’t already achieved the goals you’ve set forth, and write down the worst-case scenario for if you fail while reaching for your goals.
It’s possible to become overwhelmed when you see all of this in front of you - especially if you consider your goals to be far-fetched. Most of the time, though, you will establish newfound confidence that you can achieve what you set your mind to.
The hurdles don’t seem too large when you see them on paper, and the worst-case scenario might not be as bad as you thought. After all, no one is going to fault you for failing while striving toward your goals. In fact, they might even envy your commitment to a cause.
Too many people give up on their goals and dreams before they ever start. They see all the steps in front of them, but the top floor seems like it’s impossibly far. So, instead of trying, they never even take the first step. Break away from the pack, set your goals, and strive to reach them.