Are you having trouble sticking to your goals? The answer may not be in lack of motivation or will-power, but in the way your mind has processed and subsequently responded to the goal.
Are you having trouble sticking to your goals?
The answer may not be in lack of motivation or willpower, but in the way your mind has processed the goal and then responded to it.
The science behind effective goal setting
I have been looking into the latest science behind setting sustainable goals. The research finds that when we link our intentions to an emotionally salient goal, we are more likely to do what is required to achieve them.
What is an emotionally salient goal? It is the purpose behind the intention. It’s the driver for change. In science it is referred to as a ‘higher order’ goal.
On the other hand, lower order goals are fixed and focused on particular behaviours. For instance: “I will go to the gym more often”. This is too general and open-ended.
To turn it into a higher order goal that you’re more likely to achieve you could instead say, “I will go to the gym three times a week to get fit”.
By making the intention more specific and measurable, you help to make your progress towards it more visible which, in turn, helps you to be accountable.
The science of goal setting finds that you can take your higher order goal to an even higher level. For example: “I will go to the gym three times a week to get fit BECAUSE I value a healthy, strong body to be able to live the life I want.”
This is even more likely to support turning your intention into action.
The other point worth noting is that when you create higher order goals you encourage your mind to approach goal achievement flexibly and with creativity.
With the lower order goal we set for instance, if you don’t go to the gym three times that week your mind registers this as a ‘failure’ of intention.
A sense of failure, of course, is discouraging and unhelpful and won’t lead you to keep on trying or applying some effort.
Lower order goals are less flexible and therefore we experience them as more cognitively demanding. That is, when the going gets tough and our will power falls short, we are naturally more likely to succumb to feelings of defeat.
Focus on making your goals meaningful. Do this by anchoring them in a big picture ‘BECAUSE’. This encourages your mind to work creatively to achieve the higher purpose, rather than get stuck in the minor details of a lower order goal.
For example: Going to the gym may not be an option today, but focusing on the higher purpose encourages your mind to creatively explore other ways in which you might meet your goal.
You can still take a step towards developing “a healthy, strong body to be able to live the life you want” by perhaps doing a yoga class, playing tennis with a friend, or walking on the treadmill listening to a mind-nourishing audiobook.
Either way, it is a step further than not going to the gym and not doing anything else instead!
Take home message
To give yourself the best chance of turning your intentions into action:
- Link intentions to higher order goals.
- Think flexibly and be creative about goal achievement while remaining accountable.
- Have several lower order goals linked to each higher order goal so you have options when it comes to taking action each day.
Every step towards the higher purpose is a step in the right direction!
If you would like to know more about intelligent goal setting, consider arranging a mentoring session with me to start designing your action plan: email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
You might also be interested in the following resources:
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.
After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment.
In this edition, Dweck offers new insights into her now famous and broadly embraced concept. She introduces a phenomenon she calls false growth mindset and guides people toward adopting a deeper, truer growth mindset. She also expands the mindset concept beyond the individual, applying it to the cultures of groups and organizations. With the right mindset, you can motivate those you lead, teach, and love—to transform their lives and your own.
The Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck