Goal-setting is a mighty motivator. The value of goal-setting has been identified by numerous studies, in both clinical and real-world settings, for many decades.
Edwin Locke and Gary Latham define goals as “the object or aim of an action, for example, to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit.” Goals are the level of competence we wish to achieve — and they create a guide by which we judge our current performance.
The importance of setting goals should not be underestimated. Locke said, “Every person’s life depends on the process of choosing goals to pursue; if you remain passive you are not going to thrive as a human being.”
The theory of goal-setting is based on the argument that conscious goals affect action, and that conscious human behavior is regulated by our individual goals. In simpler terms: We must determine what is good for our own welfare and set goals to achieve that.
Why goal setting is important
There is an abundance of study results in the area of goal-setting, mostly within a corporate environment. The original aim of all these studies was to assess whether setting intended achievements (goals) is related to actual achievements.
Studies have shown that the act of goal-setting increases organizational commitment and employee motivation. Additionally, goals affect the intensity of your actions and emotions. The more valued and difficult a goal is, the more intense our efforts will be to achieve it, and the more fulfillment we have when it’s attained.
With success and the positive emotions that come with it, confidence and belief in our abilities grows. Researcher Dale Schunk found that setting goals encourages a search for new strategies to achieve success. Finding innovative ways to use our skills and push our abilities increases our knowledge and self-confidence.
Goal-setting also involves planning for the future. In a related study, Andrew MacLeod found that setting goals and creating skill-focused planning improved well-being for those who participated. Thinking positively about your future improves your ability to create goals and take the actions required to achieve them.
The ability to plan in a positive way impacts control over goal outcomes and the future. It helps us to believe in our control and influence over outcomes, and it helps in our belief that success is determined by our own actions and skills.