Making SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) is a great first step for goal setting. SMART goals are clear, actionable goals. Clarity allows for forward progress…IF the goal is motivating. In his book, Positive Motivation, Kennon Sheldon shares some of the research from positive psychology and what it can teach us about motivation. Below is a list of key questions to ask that will take your goal setting that extra step to make them motivating, sustainable, enjoyable…and therefore more achievable.
1.) Is pursuit of the goal enjoyable (or can you at least see the value if not the enjoyment)?
Notice if the pursuit of the goal is due to outside pressures or guilt. Avoid the “oughts”, “shoulds”, etc.. If the pursuit of the goal is not intrinsically motivating then identify the connections to something that is rewarding to you.
2.) Does the motivation for your goal meet one or more of your top needs?
Note that goals tied to money/luxury, popularity/fame, etc have been shown to provide less satisfaction and have lower motivation over time. Research has shown that the top needs of people are self-expression, relatedness, competence, and self-esteem.
3.) Is your motivation stated in terms of approach (ex. I want better cardio fitness)?
Notice if motivation is stated in terms of avoidance (ex. I don’t want to be over-weight.) People tend to get what they focus on, so make sure that your focus is on what you want more than what you do not want.
4.) Your goal is or includes Learning/Mastery goals (ex. I will join a run club and attend twice a week.)
Notice if your goal is outcome only (ex. I will run a 10k in 45min in June). Having goals that emphasize mastery or learning tend to be more motivating over time, especially if we have low competence/beginner or if the person tends to see skills as fixed.
So as you set goals make it a habit to check your motivations. Asking these four simple questions will help get you on the path to more enjoyable and efficient goal achievement.