Goal-Setting Theory: An Overview

Goal-setting involves the creation of an action strategy designed to guide and motivate an individual or team toward a particular goal. The term goal-setting has a wider meaning than merely aiming at a goal when we speak of goal setting. However, too many people (including some well-intentioned colleagues) use the term ‘Goal Setting’ as if it were synonymous with the word planning!

We can think of goal-setting as managing a project or getting a house ready for the family. The project would be defined by definite goals, and the setting of these goals would involve identifying appropriate actions to take to fulfill these goals. A good analogy of goal setting might be setting down a workable plan for building a new wing on the house.

So how do we know what kinds of actions to take to achieve our SMART objectives? This is not as easy as it sounds. Goal-setting involves discerning what kind of actions will give us the greatest likelihood of achieving our SMART objectives. To establish what these objectives are, we may need to use many of the same tools used when planning a project. However, the tool we use here is the acronym SMART: Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.

Specific aims and objectives are the critical ingredients that go into effective goal setting. A set of specific goals will tell us exactly what we have to do to reach our desired outcomes. Specific aims also tell us what kind of person we are. These are the things we want to change in ourselves or the world. They are often called our “life purpose.”

Measurement is another vital ingredient of goal-setting. If we don’t measure what we are trying to achieve, how can we ever know if we are on the right path? When we talk about “measuring” something, we are usually talking about an objective test. We cannot be sure if we are on the right path if we do not monitor our progress regularly. We can make effective use of various methods to achieve our goals. For instance, using checklists to identify our goals is a great way to measure our progress daily.

The third ingredient, we must look for when defining our short-term and long-term goals is “achievable.” What does it take to achieve them? Is there room for improvement? Once you’ve identified these three ingredients, you can use them to evaluate your current situation and your future goals. This way, you will be able to know which action will bring you closer to your long-term and short-term goals.

Lastly, you need to talk about outcome goals. These are the goals you will get rid of when you achieve your specific and measurable personal goals. Your process goals may be saving money for retirement.

Goal-setting theories have been around since psychologist C.G. Myers first introduced the theory in his widely-accepted book How To Success. My goal-setting theory is not about what you should strive for, but about what you CAN achieve. By identifying and measuring your success, you can use goal-setting or goal-achieving activities to enhance your overall well-being. With that, you can live a happy and productive life.

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