Persistence is the Key in Goal Setting Achievement
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Even when they failed, they got back up and kept going. But we all know that staying persistent is difficult.
In the face of huge pain, agony and upset, how are you supposed to stay persistent? I can literally almost touch it. Through the use of my senses and my imagination, I actually put myself there. Vividly imagining success is a platform to persistence. And, since persistence is at the heart of any successful person, it goes without saying that your ability to envision your dreams has much to do with your chances for success.
Think about this for a moment. What kinds of thoughts spring into your mind? You probably think along the lines of what you can afford. Then, some particular makes and models might spring into your thoughts. Suddenly, since you started focusing on and paying attention to that specific type of car, you begin to see it everywhere. Did sales randomly increase at the same time you decided to buy?
Of course not.
What Separates Goals We Achieve from Goals We Don’t
You simply focused on that particular car for so long that you began to notice it everywhere. Anything that lacks our focus, lacks our attention. This same concept applies to negative versus positive thinking. We sometimes learn a lot from our failures if we have put into the effort the best thought and work we are capable of. If I were to ask you the color of their hair, surely you could recall it quite quickly.
But what about the last three people you passed on the street? If I asked you what color shirts or pants they were wearing, would you be able to recall it? Obviously, it would be more difficult. Focus is the pathway to persistence. So, if it takes focus to stay persistent, what does it take to stay focused? Is there some simple recipe or formula to doing this? While nothing in life related to our long-term goals can really be categorized as simple or direct, there definitely are methods for staying focused, and in turn, being persistent.
In order to achieve a high level of focus, you need to figure out what you want. You need to be precise and exact. What then happens? When you want to move, you figure out what type of place you want to move to. Maybe you want to buy or rent. Maybe you want a house or a condo. The research revealed an inductive relationship between goal setting and improved production performance.
Goal setting involves the conscious process of establishing levels of performance in order to obtain desirable outcomes. This goal setting theory simply states that the source of motivation is the desire and intention to reach a goal PSU WC, , L. The decision to set a goal results from dissatisfaction with current performance levels. Setting a goal should include setting a structure that directs actions and behaviors which improve the unsatisfactory performance. Setting a goal will change a person's behavior in order to work towards achieving the set goal.
Locke and Latham found a direct linear relationship between goal difficulty, level of performance, and effort involved. Locke and Latham's goal setting theory states that several conditions are particularly important in successful goal achievement. These conditions have been extended and edited by other researchers, such as Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson's SMART goals, which are conditions that are necessary to make goals effective. Goal mechanisms affect performance by increasing motivation to reach set goals Latham, These mechanisms are inputs that affect behavior in groups or individuals, which serve to increase attention to a goal, energy in pursuing a goal, persistence in achieving a goal, and ability to strategize to reach a goal.
When an individual or team can focus attention on behaviors that will accomplish a goal, they also divert attention away from behaviors that will not achieve the goal PSU WC, , L. Goals energize people to expend more effort based upon the effort that is required to reach a certain goal PSU WC, , L. Goals also lead to a persistent pursuit of reaching the goal by providing a purpose for that pursuit Latham, Lastly, when people are pursuing a goal they will seek effective means for accomplishing it, particularly if the goal is difficult to achieve PSU WC, , L.
The following chart briefly describes each of the four goal setting theory mechanisms. Goals direct attention to behaviors that will accomplish the goal and away from the behaviors that will not achieve the goal. In trying to become a proficient airline pilot, one would expect to focus his efforts with training long hours in the flight simulator to achieve proficiency.
Inspiration to put out a certain amount of effort based upon the difficulty of achieving one's goal. An individual who wants to become an airline pilot will train to prepare himself on a high level to accomplish this goal. The individual that wants to become an airline pilot will study hard and train longer hours.
In trying to become an airline pilot a person might look for ways or techniques that maximize his training or understanding. Before a goal can be motivating to an individual, one must accept the goal. Goal commitment is the degree of determination one uses to achieve an accepted goal. These factors can be as simple as making a public announcement about the commitment, or as complicated as a formal program of inspirational mentoring and leadership.
Making the importance of the goal personal provides the individual with the motivation to move beyond failure and maintain the path toward the goal. Their explanation for the discrepancy lies in the way the goal was presented. If the objectives were clearly explained to the participants, motivation increased. Alternatively, if goals were briefly administered with little explanation, motivation was lower.
In other words, the goals need to be specific, which leads us to our next condition. Klein, Wesson, Hollenbeck, Wright, and DeShon , developed a five-item scale for assessing goal commitment. Responses are provided on a five-point Likert scale using "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree" end-points. Goal Commitment Scale.
A goal must be specific and measurable. It should answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the expectations of the goal. Specificity and measurability provide an external referent such as time, space, increment, etc. Removing ambiguity allows one to focus on precise actions and behaviors related to goal achievement. The more specific the goal, the more explicitly performance will be affected. A person can set a general goal to sell more cars per month; however, setting a goal to sell two cars per day for the next thirty days is more specific and therefore more effective.
These goals will be more motivating than the broad goals of just doing better. In order for performance to increase, goals must be challenging, specific, and concrete. Goal specificity does not insure performance at an exceptional level. Specific goals vary in difficulty.
The performance of these goals will also depend on the intellect and abilities of each individual. Just because a goal is specific, does not guarantee that an individual will put forth an increased effort to obtain the goal. Management may implement policies that require workers to sell two cars per day. In fact the individual may lower the performance to remain consistent with other employees.
Motivation also plays an important role in goal specificity. Goals are proven to be an effective motivation tactic if difficulty is taken into consideration. They should be set high enough to encourage high performance but low enough to be attainable PSU WC, When this grey area is achieved, goals are proven to be effective. If goals are set too high or too difficult than motivation and commitment suffers as a result. Integrity is another cost that can ensue from setting high performance goals.
In the case of Enron, executives schemed an elaborate cover-up to hide its bankruptcy from stockholders, many of whom were employees of Enron and had their retirements invested in the company. Mechanics at Sears, Reobuck and Co. Here you can see that setting goals that are too high not only jeopardizes motivation and commitment but also can create a culture of corruption, dishonesty, and cutting corners Bennett, Figure 1 illustrates how goal difficulty effects performance.
As you can see the more challenging the goal, the higher the performance. Performance steadily increases as goal difficulty increases. The highest level of performance is experienced at "A," the peak of difficulty. Performance sharply declines if goal difficulty is too high. Easy goals can easily be achieved therefore there is no incentive to increase performance.
Most of the research is on the role of target goals in general as standards for performance in self-regulation and achievement. There are now some new, more-specific approaches to goal research that focus on a type of target goal. The research study showed a positive association between boundary goals and performance approach goals and a negative association between boundary goals and performance avoidance goals.
It's possible that implementing the use of boundary goals may assist management with intervention activities aimed at motivating the workforce to higher levels of achievement. Boundary goals provide the worker with a benchmark or self-regulatory guide for goal pursuit and, for individuals with a stronger performance avoidance orientation, they keep their attention on goal-relevant cues and away from goal-irrelevant cues. Consequently, boundary goals may be motivational and regulatory.
This balance can change over time increasing or decreasing in difficulty in response to success or failure. Those with higher boundary goals exhibit a higher performance than those with lower boundary goals, however, performance is relative to the individual being assessed and those with lower achievable boundary goals will be able to experience success when their minimal level of acceptable performance has been achieved. You want to set goals that are realistic, attainable, and challenging.
The greatest motivation and performance is achieved with moderately difficult goals somewhere between too easy and too difficult. Goals should be attainable, but at the same time they must be a challenge. Even if a goal is out of reach, a person will work harder to reach that goal as opposed to how hard they will work for an easier goal PSU WC, , L.
Having a goal that will push someone to new performance levels but is able to be reached will greatly benefit that person by showing them what they are really capable of. Feedback is necessary in order for goals to remain effective and retain commitment. Without feedback people are unaware of their progression or regression; it also becomes difficult to gauge the level of effort required to pursue the goal effectively Sorrentino, It is necessary for goals, and the people making the goals, to be flexible Bennett, Effort and productivity will increase when performance falls short of goal achievement.
For example, if a student receives feedback in the form of a progress report he or she may adjust study habits accordingly to achieve the desired goal. However, without feedback, the student has nothing to gauge performance. Feedback can either be process oriented or outcome oriented. Process feedback provides specific tasks that must be performed to achieve the desired outcome. Outcome feedback is focused on the outcome of the goal and offers no tangible information to utilize in goal attainment. When these types of feedback are combined it will give a clear sense of how someone is performing, and what they can do differently in order to perform better.
Similar to goals, feedback must also be specific to offer constructive information on how to meet objectives PSU WC, , L. By receiving feedback, individuals will know that their work is being evaluated and that their contributions are being recognized. The above goal conditions for positively affecting motivation and performance have commonly been referred to as SMART goals.
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The term raising the bar is a common metaphor for setting challenging goals. Therefore, to further explain the elements of SMART goals, an analogy of a track and field high jumper will be used to demonstrate how raising or lowering the bar affects motivation and performance. In addition, examples of SMART goals will be generalized in a management situation to demonstrate the various goal essentials and conditions.
In order for goals to translate into motivation and improved performance, goals must be specific. A goal to just jump higher is too general. Instead, an example of a specific goal would be to improve high jump by three inches. A management goal to improve profits is too general. This broad goal could include increasing sales, reducing costs, or a combination thereof. A goal to do better in school is not a specific goal. Setting a goal of improving a GPA by 0. While easy goals might get done, rarely do easy goals lead to greatness. Instead, whatever the field from creativity to productivity, hard goals lead us to the work, grit and strategies necessary for peak performance.
In most situations more on the exception in 5 , the research is pretty definitive: specific goals work better than vague goals or having no goal at all. Specificity can be thought of in terms of a measurable target or key action steps along with a defined time period. A good way to be specific is to come up with a one-liner for your goals.
These one-liners show an actionable or result you can measure and include a time frame. So, if you want to improve your chances of completing your goals, make it specific and actionable. There are limitations to just long-term or just short-term goals. A long-term goal tends not to spur action, and a short-term goal may not be big enough or inspirational enough to truly motivate us. The research suggests the multiplier effect of combing both types.
Use big long-term and lifetime goals to frame your purpose and focus your overall direction. Leverage short-term goals to take regular action. Schedule projects so you put in enough time and followup on key tasks. You may ultimately strive for a long-term goals, but shorter-term goals allow you to build up progress and develop skills towards it. It may seem obvious but if you lack commitment, then the research shows that no matter how you set the goal or plan it, you are unlikely to have a great performance.
Unlike a big aspect of our lives that are unconscious and habitual, goals are largely a conscious activity. We think about what we want, and we set a goal to get there. For behavior change to work using goals you need an intentional commitment. If you are not truly committed to a goal, consider choosing another goal or reflect on why and how to find the necessary commitment. Ultimately, you must be committed if you expect that goal to really drive you to perform.
Outcome and performance goals have proven the most effective in improving task performance. Outcome goals succeed largely due to their specificity and targeted difficulty. Learning or process goals are not intended to measurable. They focus on figuring out skills and techniques necessary for the task. So, in cases where a goal requires new skills or you have questions about how best to do it, then spend the time on a short-term goal that helps you learn and develop a great process first.
Once you got the skills and process down, go out and attack that big goal. Goals are a profoundly important and arguably universal aspect of behavior among all living things plants and animals included. Whether conscious of it or not, we are all in some form goal-driven. We use goals to modulate the plans we make and actions we undertake to get something we want.
As the research on goal setting theory shows, goal setting is a key aspect of our performance and motivation. From its earliest insights into the relationship between goals and performance to its formulation of its conceptual model, the high performance cycle, the science of goals provides some very actionable lessons for how best to leverage goals in our own lives.
Most notably and worth repeating is that effective goal setting should aim at difficult and specific goals. We typically are pretty ambitious in our goals. But one obvious problem is that our goals often lack specificity. Dreams serve a purpose, but what we need to do is pursue goal-oriented actions. Failure comes from never figuring out what to do and never following through on the next actions towards our goals. If you want to succeed at a goal, the recipe is simple: go out and complete the next, most important action towards your goal consistently, each and every day.
Commitment, while somewhat poorly defined in the literature, is the great decider on goal performance. So, much like not figuring out and completing the next action, a lack of commitment signals something that is a dream rather than a committed goal. Another reason why goals fail is lack of skills. The conceptual division of goal types for example, learning vs outcome was particularly helpful for me.
It made me realize the important role played by learning and process goals. Before you attack a goal like running a marathon or writing a book where you lack the underlying skills, you need to build up certain skills and sub-goals.
What Separates Goals We Achieve from Goals We Don’t
Personally this has translated into more time spent developing skills and knowledge leading up to whatever big, difficult goals I choose. Another reason why goals fail is having too many and not prioritizing. Like many people, I have a lot of goals. By my count, I have a list of over goals. Without focus you end with too limited action in too many diverse areas. We all have a limited amount of time, so we need to do two things: first, focus on a singular goal or a small list of goals, and, second, aggressively avoid other unrelated or non-priority goals.
Additionally I aim to be a expert in a few areas rather than a constant beginner in a wide range of areas. Goals are an important aspect of being a human. Make it difficult. We can and should get better at setting our goals. But, for as notable as these insights on goal properties might be, there are some limitations when it comes to providing an actionable framework. This limitation is most apparent when we try to use it to help us track and manage multiple goals at the same time.
Personally I think dealing with multiple goals remains a key challenge, especially for the overly ambitious. Fortunately, we can go one step better and start to think about goals as a process, and a trackable process no less. I believe goals are best separated into three core parts: goal setting, tracking and managing. While Goal Setting Theory provides key answers to how to set your goals, the data-driven goal process, which is the topic of our next post on goals, can also help us improve how we track and manage our goals too.
By learning to leverage a process, we become both more aware of what we are doing and better at getting there. Arshoff, A. The linear relationship between the difficulty level connoted by a primed goal and task performance Ph. D Thesis. University of Toronto. Kruglanski, A. A theory of goal systems. In The Motivated Mind pp. Lonka, K. Helping doctoral students to finish their theses. In Teaching academic writing in European higher education pp. Locke, E. Further data on the relationship of task success to liking and satisfaction.
Psychological reports. Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational behavior and human performance, 3 2 , Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A year odyssey. American psychologist, 57 9 , New developments in goal setting and task performance.
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What causes such a high fail rate on our goals and can we do better?