Whether it’s New Year’s Eve or just a regular Monday, I often find myself setting goals—i.e. “this week I am 100% going to workout every day.” But by Wednesday, I realize I’ve slipped up. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I’ve made numerous goals that I haven’t seen through to the end. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain the motivation or sometimes I just don’t care enough.
Achieving goals is a good way to boost your well-being…
Well, this statement is half true. In positive psychology, “flourishing models” look at ways in which individuals can “flourish” e.g. have high well-being. One aspect of these models is achievement, meaning we have to achieve things in order to be able to flourish. Therefore, setting a goal and following through with it until we achieve it should, in theory, boost our well-being. But, this isn’t the whole picture.
Have you ever achieved a goal, for example, finished a paper, and felt drained and not vitalized at all, as if your well-being has either dipper or stayed the same? That’s because goals have to have certain attributes in order to give us that amazing boost in well-being.
How to set goals that you’re more likely to achieve AND get that feel-good feeling from
There are actually several theories around goal setting. Some focus on why certain people are more likely to stick to their goals than others, some discuss ways in which our emotions can affect our goal achievement, and others outline the requirements of goals in order to boost our well-being.
These tips combine several of these theories and will help increase the chances that you’ll achieve your goal as well as ensuring that you get an increase in well-being from doing so.
Make sure your goal is clear in your mind. Don’t make it super vague like, “I want to be good at yoga by Christmas,” because what does “good at yoga” mean? How will you know when you’ve achieved it? A better goal would be: “I want to be able to do a handstand by next summer” because this is a clear goal with a clear endpoint.
2. Make sure you’re setting this goal for the right reason
If you are setting this goal because your parents think you should, or because you think you’ll be accepted more by others if you do it, the chances are you’ll become unmotivated. For example, if you actually love how your body looks and feels but you think people will find you more attractive if you lose a few kilograms, then when your diet starts to feel hard, you’re more likely to just cave and not achieve your goal of losing weight. But if your goal is to start your own vegan restaurant and you absolutely love cooking food and this is your dream, then you’re going to go all-in to achieve this goal no matter what.
Research has also shown that when we create goals that are aligned with our values, achieving them will give us a boost in well-being. But if our goals are extrinsic (being led by an outside force), we are more likely to suffer from psychological distress on achieving them (Kasser & Ryan, 1996).
So not only does creating extrinsic goals make you less likely to achieve them, if you do achieve them you might get a reduction in your well-being!
3. Make your goals about achieving something rather than avoiding something
Research has shown that if our goal is about “not wanting” something, e.g. I am going to finish this paper because I don’t want to get a bad grade, rather than achieving something e.g. I’m going to write this paper because I want to get a good grade, we are less likely to achieve it, and will again be more likely to feel psychological distress upon achieving it (Elliot & Sheldon, 1998).
4. Be flexible
Don’t be rigid and a perfectionist. Things are likely to go wrong while striving towards achieving your goal. If you’re willing to be flexible, you’re much more likely to reach that finish line. Being flexible in your approach has again been shown to increase well-being upon achieving it (Boniwell & Tunariu, 2019). So go with the flow, keep your end goal in mind and allow life’s ups and down’s to pass you by without resistance.
5. Celebrate smaller goals along the way
If your goal is something pretty big and distant, for example, finishing a Ph.D., it might seem pretty daunting to reach. You might start to lose motivation because the joy of completing it is too far in the future. By setting smaller sub-goals along the way to your end goal, you are more likely to feel a boost in self-esteem and self-efficacy which will keep your motivation high. This, in turn, will lead to a greater chance of achieving your final, big goal as well as helping boost your well-being and happiness.
So if we’re setting up our goals because they’re in line with our values, we are clear about what the goal is and what achieving it looks like, we are setting goals that are about gaining something rather than avoiding something, we are flexible in our approach and we celebrate the small stuff along the way, we are more likely to achieve the goal and boost our wellbeing by doing so.
What’s your next goal going to look like?
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