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For over four decades, psychologist Edwin Locke has been central in research on goal-setting. His research has three consistent findings :
Thus the best goals to set are those that demand effort from you, but you’re confident you can achieve if you put in the effort.
The danger is that self-efficacy can create either a vicious or a virtuous cycle. If you don’t feel you’ll be successful, you don’t put effort into your goals. This leads to failure and seemingly confirms your inability. The reverse is also true: you can pick successful goals, achieve them and steadily boost your confidence.
If you’re under 80%, try setting a more achievable target. If you’re over 80%, try something a little more ambitious.
A significant exception to the power of specific, challenging goals involves creative problem-solving. In tasks that require complex thinking, such as learning, problem-solving or creative work, goal-setting can backfire .
Why is this? It’s because these activities require the full use of your working memory. Working memory is a psychological concept that corresponds roughly to mental bandwidth. It’s been known for several decades that the amount of things we can keep in mind at one time is limited—and often less than we think.
Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer suggests a key ingredient to the success of your goals is what he calls implementation intentions .
In addition to implementation intentions, Gollwitzer also studied the effects of telling people about the goals you want to achieve.
Interestingly, his research found that telling people about your goals can substitute for actually taking action .
Gollwitzer explains the results in terms of his theory of symbolic self-completion .
This persists until shortly before the deadline when the fear of failure spurs us to action.
Much of the stress and disillusionment people experience with goals comes from setting ones that aren’t truly their own.
When we work on the goals of other people, goals we feel pressure to achieve but don’t actually want, the result is often misery.
Self-determination theory was developed by psychologists Edward Ryan and Richard Deci.
For goal-setting to be life-affirming, the goals pursued have to feel deeply meaningful to you.
A good life isn’t measured by the sum of your achievements, but by the meaning you attach to them. Choose wisely.
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