One of the most common misconceptions about goal setting is that there are only a few things we need to know in order to achieve our goals. Often, the acronym SMART is used to help people to remember to set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive. While this is a nice start, the acronym doesn’t do justice to some of the tremendous complexities that motivational specialists and researchers have discovered are important to an individual’s success.
In fact, having a “realistic” goal may not stretch your own imagination and abilities as far as possible, while a goal that is very audacious might be appropriate for your particular emotional makeup and situation, but not someone else’s. So before you begin your New Year’s resolutions in earnest, I’d like to introduce you to some new facets of goal setting that you may not have read or heard about before.
The best goals are:
1. Challenging & Specific
If you are seeking an outcome in a performance goal—such as achieving a certain grade, salary, race finish, or anything that can be measured—your goal must be “challenging and specific,” according to goal-setting theorist Gary Latham, and individuals’ omission of this one feature is the number one reason why most goals fail. “People don’t always like to work hard at their goals, and they want to wish for positive outcomes and keep the goals deliberately vague. Making performance goals challenging and specific is the only way around this trap,” Latham said, adding, “Easy goals also mean you never have to get down on yourself if you fail.”
After observing workers in hundreds of situations, Latham and Edwin Locke found that two goal conditions consistently lowered productivity and results: “low goals” and “no goals.” Low goals, they discovered, were goals that were not particularly challenging, and that didn’t require a person to exert himself or herself much. These mediocre goals were shown time and time again to produce subpar results.
For this reason, I challenge the word “realistic” as a guideline for goals. Some of our best goals may appear to be unrealistic at first, but when broken down, they are attainable if our best efforts are rewarded with the most promising possible outcomes.
In the same category as “low goals” and “no goals” are “do-your-best” goals, which are often the kinds of goals uttered by well-meaning parents who encourage children to “do their best” instead of encouraging them to strive for something specific. “Do-your-best” goals, we can report to the chagrin of many of us who have set them because we didn’t know better, are detrimental to high performance in most cases.Read More