Does Goal Setting Work For Achieving Success?

DOES GOAL SETTING WORK? Some people love them, some people absolutely hate them, some say they are a must, to achieving any kind of success in life, where as others say the best goal is having no goal at all. Whatever your view this article covers the different types of goals.


Does goal setting work, well that all depends on who you speak with. But from a personal standpoint, I myself have tried to use software for goal setting such as lifetick and evernote to write down and track my goals. One thing I discovered from using tools like this, is that for me, I just don’t find them effective from a goal setting standpoint.

I found that they just got in the way and stopped my creativity as I found my thinking shifted away from being free, living in the now of creation, to one of being in state of narrowed thinking and working in a state of restriction where my days became predictable and boring where there was no room for creativity and being in the moment of the creative process.

Working towards an end goal, a particular outcome, there is a certain amount of predetermination with your actions because, like all goals, you have action steps for what you will do each week and each day, then focus on those steps each day.

Goal setting has never been something I have used with great effect.

Well, in her book, The How of Happiness Sonja Lyubomirsky a psychology professor from the University of California highlights 6 research backed factors that will either increase or decrease your happiness when pursuing a goal.

Intrinsic Goals

The How Of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
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Ask yourself – is this a WANT goal, or a SHOULD goal? Intrinsic goals are ones you really really really want to do. If there was no reward for completing it, and you couldn’t brag to your friends about this goal, you would still want to do it because it’s pleasurable, meaningful and valuable to you. Lyubomirsky explains;

“As self-evident as it may sound, working towards goals that are personally involving and rewarding to you is more likely to bring you happiness than working towards goals that are not freely chosen. Numerous psychological studies have shown that, across a variety of cultures, people whose primary life goals are intrinsically rewarding obtain more satisfaction and pleasure from their pursuits…

By contrast, ‘extrinsic’ goals reflect more of what other people approve or desire for you – for example, pursuing goals for superficial reasons such as making money, boosting your ego, seeking power or fame or bowing to manipulation or peer pressure”.

That said, Lyubomirsky does point out that sometimes we have to pursue extrinsic goals so that we can gain the time/money/resources to do what we really want. Overall though, the research clearly shows intrinsic goals are strongly related to wellbeing and happiness. Furthermore, intrinsic goals are more likely to satisfy our core basic human needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness whereas extrinsic goals can actively prevent us from satisfying these needs.

Authentic Goals

Are you pursuing your own dreams, or the dreams of your parents/ neighbours/ society’s at large?

“For the better part of a decade, Ken Sheldon and Andrew Elliot have been studying what they call ‘self-concordant’ or authentic goals, that is, goals that are rooted in a person’s lifelong deeply held interests and core values. Not surprisingly, they found that people are happier, healthier and more hard-working when they are following goals they truly own, and that these people show bigger increases in happiness after attaining their authentic goals” writes Lyubomirsky.

We need to choose goals that fit our personality e.g if you’re a competitive person then pick a goal that satisfies that inner drive to win, if you’re extroverted pick a goal that includes lots of social interaction. “Contemplate whether you feel ‘authentic’ when pursuing a particular goal. When you’re doing your thing – writing a song, playing with children, telling a joke, learning about global warming – do you feel like you’re more the person that you want to be… or less?”

Approach Goals

Goals can either be framed in a way where the outcome is positive (e.g get promoted at work, become fit and healthy) or negative (e.g don’t get fired, don’t become fat, don’t breakup with your girlfriend).

“A growing number of studies have shown that people who chiefly pursue or construe avoidance goals are less happy and more anxious, distressed and unhealthy than people who generally pursue approach goals” says Sonja. “Not surprisingly, people with many avoidance goals perform relatively more poorly on whatever it is that they’re pursuing”.

So make sure your goals are contributing to the vision of the life you want, rather than than the life you don’t want.

Harmonious Goals

“It is fairly self-evident that your goals should complement one another” explains Lyubomirsky. “Simultaneously striving for conflicting goals (like ‘build my business’ and ‘spend more time outdoors’) will make you so aggravated and discouraged that you’ll relinquish both goals and end up feeling stressed out and unhappy. Unless your business is construction or kayaking, the adaptive solution is to change one or both of the goals to make them more harmonious with one another (e.g resolving to work on your paperwork in the sun or partitioning your day into work and leisure)”.

Your goals should also be leveraging off one another. So if your long term goal is to become a yoga teacher in India, then your ideal short term goal would be going on a retreat to India and making 10 new contacts out there, as opposed to going on a golf holiday to Scotland.

Flexible and Appropriate

“As we get older, our opportunities for pursuing goals are bound to change, sometimes opening up and other times diminishing. An empty nest suddenly affords time for travel or new hobbies or changing careers. A chronic illness prompts us to rearrange our entire perspective and face new roles and challenges.

In sum, the priorities that we place on our goals change with time but, no matter the substance of the goals, one certainty remains across every age – pursuing goals brings greater happiness than abandoning them.”

Activity Goals

Activity based goals, as opposed to ones designed purely to change your current circumstances, produce more happiness. Sonja explains “When people strive to change their circumstances (e.g buy a high-definition television, move to Florida, acquire a tidier roommate) by defining and then achieving their goal, they certainly feel happier, but they risk experiencing hedonic adaptation.”

Hedonic adaptation means you are likely to adapt quickly to your new situation and begin to desire ever-higher levels of pleasure simply in order to recapture your previous level of happiness.

However, the process of pursuing ‘activity’ goals (e.g joining a rambling club, volunteering as a blood donor, learning about art) allows a person to continually experience new challenges, take on new opportunities and meet a variety of experiences.”

A study conducted by Sonja and Ken Sheldon found that circumstantial changes made people happier for up to 6 weeks, but that activity changes continued to make them happier after 12 weeks.

Doing valued activities gives us a continuous flow of positive emotions, compared to circumstantial changes which give us an initial boost in happiness but then quickly fleet away as we adapt to them.

So, there you have it, make sure your goals are as intrinsic, authentic, harmonious, flexible and activity based as possible to maximise your overall happiness. Although this might seem excessive amounts of information to consider when picking a goal/dream, it’s very worthwhile knowing especially considering how much of our lives we dedicate to goal pursuit.

Amazon | The How of Happiness


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