You’ve heard it time and time again – write down your goals as it will increase the chances of you achieving those goals. Some state that they can keep their goals in their head. However, there is research that shows that when you write your goals down and post them in visible places to remind yourself of those goals, you will be more able to achieve those goals.
The reality is that we only have a limited amount of energy and attention to direct toward our goals. Evolutionary speaking, our brain is designed to conserve energy. We’re either focusing on:
- Dealing with threats in our environment and learning how to put out fires, or
- Focusing on ways to master our environment and work toward higher order goals that are important to our well-being.
Obviously with goal achievement, we are more interested in the latter, – learning how to master our environment by achieving our goals, because it brings us pleasure, rewards, life satisfaction and of course some degree of security as well.
A key factor that prevents us from staying focused on our goals, and achieving those goals is that it’s hard to direct our attention on those goals all the time or often enough. There are so many distractions and demands in our everyday life, that it seems almost impossible to stay focused at times. Our RAS helps make this process of paying attention and being focused a little bit easier.
Specifically, research in goal setting and motivation states that our arousal systems help us focus on our goals. The reason we have arousal systems to begin with is that evolution has hard wired us to conserve energy, and we are only meant to be aroused when we have a concrete reason – protecting our safety in some fashion or increasing our resources in some way.
Our brain only gets super focused if and when it needs to, otherwise, just like a computer, one could argue that it goes to sleep and does the minimal amount of work needed. When a person has no clear goals, doesn’t write their goals down and doesn’t have plans to achieve those goals, their level of goal arousal, passion and overall enthusiasm is low. As a result, they do not recognize or identify the people, opportunities, situations or resources that could be helpful to them.
How do we increase our levels of arousal to help us achieve our goals? By learning how to activate your reticular activating system (RAS) which is part of your cortical arousal system, you can increase your chances of being much more efficient with your goals.
So what role does writing our goals down play in helping us to achieve our goals? By writing down your goals and your plans for achieving your goals, you learn to focus your attention on what really matters. Doing so gets your reticular activation system aroused and working in your favour.
How does this work? When you write down your goals, you make a point of being specific with a direction that is important for you to move in. You pinpoint specific destinations that you want to move toward, and the specific steps that you need to take to get there.
As you get in touch with what is exciting and rewarding to you, you increase your levels of arousal, and become crystal clear about what matters. As you are doing this, your reticular activating system in your cortex is aroused and promotes you being ready and alert to respond to cues in the environment that are relevant to your goals. When the RAS is activated, we can process and reorganize information much more efficiently in ways that support our achievement of goals.
A classic yet simplified example of your RAS working would be when you identify an article of clothing that you would like to purchase. You try on a beautiful blouse and you write down the size, brand, colour and store where you found it. In the meantime, as you are waiting for it to go on sale, you see other people wearing that blouse because now you are primed to spot it! You’ll also recognize similar types of blouses perhaps by other designers. Your brain is automatically aroused when it notices this blouse because you have indicated that it is something important to you. The same thing happens when you identify a new car that you want to buy. You begin to notice that car everywhere, because you’ve signaled the importance of this car to your brain.
To learn strategies and tips on the how to activate your RAS to support your goal setting and achievement efforts, read these tips on visualization!
Whether or not you’re in control of your ‘locus of control’ can mean a lot when it comes to achieving your career goals and achieving life satisfaction in general.
What is ‘locus of control’? It is a personality theory originally developed by Rotter (1954) which states that a person’s place or locus, mental notion, or perception of control is either ‘located’ outside their control or inside their control. The terms external locus of control and internal locus of control were coined to denote these meanings.
Do you feel as though you are in control of your life and your career goals? In other words, do you feel that you can influence the results and outcomes of your life? Are you able to manifest those things in your career and lifestyle that are important to you?
If a person with an external locus of control fails to receive a promotion at work and they blame it on their insensitive boss or too stiff of competition, then they are unlikely to perceive themselves as having a sense of agency and personal power to act on and to control their environment. As a result, their efforts are minimal and their actions to steer their career strategically and proactively are limited.
Likewise, if this same person has an internal locus of control they are unlikely to make such excuses for themselves, and instead they will take 100% responsibility for their situation by strategically problem-solving ways in which they can increase their chances for a promotion in the future, either at their current company or elsewhere.
Do you think you have an internal or external locus of control when it comes to your own life and your career goals?
Just remember, for every single circumstance that you cannot control, there are at least 100 or even an infinite number of other circumstances that you can control.
While there will be events that occur in our lives that set us back in our careers or lives in general, we can still make choices to control our attitudes, choices, actions and so forth. So, instead of focusing on the things that stand in between you and your career goals, decide today that you will focus on your own personal sense of agency, and that you will take action in areas that you can easily move forward with.
Here are three ways to take control of your ‘locus of control’ and to adopt an internal locus of control.
1. Have a vision, purpose and meaning to your life. This means setting goals and intentions for what you want in your life, and creating your own motivation to ensure that you can follow through with your dreams regardless of what barriers you run into. Try my goal setting and motivation program by clicking here.
2. While you might not be able to control a particular situation or circumstance in its entirety, what small pieces might you be able to influence? Dr. Nick Hall in his program called Change Your Beliefs, Change Your Life, suggests that taking some little small action is better than none at all, even if your efforts result in no concrete or visible change.
Pull out a sheet and paper, and brainstorm 10 different ways that you can exert some form of influence or control over your environment or situation, today. What haven’t you tried yet? What might work even if you believe it won’t work? What paths are open for you to run forward in? In what areas are you not being held back from achieving your career goals? Can you take a small step there?
3. Talk to someone who can encourage you and help you adopt a new perspective. Whether it’s a friend, family member, counsellor, coach or consultant, you might need someone who can challenge your belief or way of viewing your situation.
Sometimes by adjusting the lenses through which we perceive our lack of control we can find new meanings and new ways of acting on our career path, which in turn can help us build some momentum. Read more about how to overcome your limiting beliefs here.
Visualization need not be complicated, artsy and all creative. Many people including myself find it too tedious to do the traditional imaginative exercises in our heads. We lose concentration, we fall asleep, or for some other reason it just doesn’t appeal to us. So, here are some great ideas for the logical person who still wants the benefits of visual exercises, without having to imagine pictures in one’s head.
PRACTICAL VISUALIZATION TECHNIQUES
1. Print off a nicely organized list of your goals, or action steps for a particular goal, and then put your goals in a nice picture frame! Place this frame somewhere that you will see it every single day. How’s that for a nice visual? Rather than having your goals written on some piece of paper or notebook shoved in a drawer, now you have them up on display! You can get as obsessed as you want with this technique. You might have several different frames up, each entailing a list of action steps for your various goal projects. Or, you might have several frames up, each with the big picture objectives of your various goal categories.
2. Buy a really attractive or appealing greeting card from your local store. Inside that card, write out all your goals, or again, the actions steps for a particular goal. Keep this pretty card sitting on your night table, on your desk, or even posted on your fridge, wall or bulletin board. Whenever you have a spare minute, read through your goals and action steps.
By writing your goals and action steps in a beautiful card, it ensures that you don’t shove the card in a drawer where it will get lost. So since you write your goals down on something that you paid several dollars for, you are more likely to keep that card in an easily accessible, visible location.
3. Put your goals and actions onto your computer’s screen saver or regular desktop background. How’s that for a constant visualization reminder?
4. Program one of your big goals onto the face-top of your cell phone!
5. Forget showing off your driver’s license picture in your wallet. Instead, use that visual space to insert a printed version or a picture of what is most important for you to focus on completing right now! Maybe, you might even put a motivational quote or reminder in there.
6. Use Post-It sticky notes to write down all the action steps needed for one of your current life projects. Post it right beside your desk where you work most often. This way, whenever you encounter a lull in motivation or a barrier, you will constantly be reminded of the steps that you need to execute to continue on with your goal.
Often, when people run into barriers with their goals, they become foggy-minded, fooled, and disillusioned about their reality of what is happening. Soon, their fear and negative emotions paralyze them. Then, they forget what they need to do or try next to get started again. Don’t let the bumps in the road cause you to forget what to try next. Have this post-it of action steps on your wall so you are always have a visualization to remind you of what you need to do.
7. Use the power of email! Email yourself and in the subject title, simply write an action step or goal. Don’t ever delete this email until you have completed the action or achieved the goal. Every time you log in to your email, you will be reminded of your goals or action steps!
8. Create a vision board! Buy a bulletin board from Walmart, and hang it somewhere visible. Then, cut out pictures that symbolize what you want to do, be and have in your life. You can even post real pictures of you that show you achieving your goals. Keep on the look out of inspirational pictures in magazines, the newspapers, etc. Clip them out and post them on your board.
9. Use a whiteboard! using the dry erase markers that easily are wiped off, you can write your to-do list on here for the day, week, or month. Organize it however you want, but keep it somewhere you can see every single day.
10. Use a scrapbook! If you want a more private medium, then you can store all your visuals in a book. However, keep this book right by your bedside table. In the morning and/or evening, pull out your scrapbook, and flip through all the pictures as reminders.
11. Buy a hardcover, spiral bound journal of medium size – one that is really beautiful with nice designs on the pages. Buy a nice bookstand or picture stand, and place your journal on it. As your goals or to-do lists change, simply turn the page, update your list, and put back on your display stand! I love this one, and I keep mine sitting right on my desk by my monitor.
So, now you have a good handful of visualization techniques that do not involve lying down and listening to relaxational music. These are practical, and tangible strategies that are guaranteed to boost your productivity, keep you focused, and give you all the benefits of traditional visualization!
Here are some questions to leave you with:
1. What other visual symbols or tangible items could I put in my environment to remind me of my goals and required action steps?
2. What visual strategies have motivated me, or kept me focused on my goals in the past?
3. What do I have the most difficulty imagining or ‘seeing’ in terms of my success? How can I find a real visible snapshot of this?
SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY AND THEORY OF GOAL SETTING
When it comes to finding a theory of goal setting (well there are many of them!), I decided it’d be smart to turn to sports psychology and examine the research. In sports, people are aiming to achieve goals they’ve never reached before. Also, their goals are very easy to define and the results are easy to measure. This is why I’ve turned to the theory of goal setting in sports psychology.
So, whatever principles or theory of goal setting and motivation that are increasing their athletic performance,- should also increase the every day person’s performance in life, if the same principles are applied.
Just as Olympians want to break new world records, we as individuals want to reach new performance records within the different areas of our own lives.
As you increase your knowledge in sports psychology and its theory of goal setting, remember that your sport is simply whatever goal you are working on. All of our goals involve us performing, or behaving and thinking in certain disciplined ways to reach those goals.
SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY AND THE POWER OF ROUTINES TO HELP ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS
A majorly important lesson on the theory of goal setting that you’ll want to take away from sports psychology, involves the power of implementing routines in your life. Who would of thought that such a basic principle could be so powerful?
Here’s a quick exercise for you to try. Think about anything in your life right now that gives you a consistent source of pleasure. How does this become so? There is probably some routine behind it.
If your career gives you pleasure, it’s because you have a routine or habit in place of going to work several times a week. If your relationships with others consistently gives you pleasure, then you probably have a habit of making plans and seeing them regularly. If your health and fitness levels give you joy – well it’s obvious that you have a routine behind that as well.
Here is a very powerful quote that I want to expand on:
“Routines are one of the most effective ways to systematically plan for success. Routines have been shown to be invaluable in helping athletes achieve their competitive goals.” (Schack, Whitmarsh, Pike & Redden, 2005, p.138).
BREAKING YOUR GOALS DOWN INTO A ROUTINE
We often hear that we should break all our goals down into a series of actions. Well, on a parallel note, another great theory of goal setting is to break your goals down into a series of mini routines.
In other words, what routines do you need to get into the habit of following on a consistent basis if you are to achieve your goals?
For example, if you we take our common pursuit of wanting to eat healthy, this is easy to think of in terms of routines:
- Routine of scheduling in and reminding one’s self of when one will buy their groceries
- Routine of planning one’s meals and snacks ahead of time
- Routine of making a detailed grocery list ahead of time of what groceries are needed
- Routine of knowing a consistently good time to go grocery shopping, i.e, each Monday morning
- Routine of washing and chopping up vegetables as soon as groceries are bought
- Routine of leaving a half our each evening to put together a salad for the next day at work
- And so on!!!
So you see how the seamingly simple goal of eating healthy foods requires a lot of planning and action steps? Well, if you can use this theory of goal setting and make these steps part of an automatic routine then you will have a lot going in your favour for you.
By the way, might I throw in that research shows that one of the top reasons that people don’t consistently eat healthy is because they lack a concrete structure in their eating habits? In other words, they fail because they have no consistent eating routine that works for them (Gullo, 2005).
BENEFITS OF HAVING ROUTINES FOR YOUR GOALS
According to the theory of goal setting in sports psychology, routines have helped athletes to cope better and reduce external stressors/distractions when they are at an important competition.
If we apply this to our own lives, every day there are external distractors or environmental influences that can lead us away from our goals. So, I think we can take a few lessons away from how athletes use routines to increase their performance at competitions.
Based on this, there are few key benefits of having a routine to help us perform better with our own goals:
1. A sports psychology theory of goal setting might offer that When you are focused on your routine, you are less likely to be distracted by pursuing other activities that you don’t value. In other words, a routine is a powerful and hopefully ‘soon to become’ automatic way of staying focused on your goals.
For instance, when atheletes prepare for a new competition in a new location, if they focus on the routine of stretching, they are less likely to pay attention to external environmental distractions such as arriving a bit too late, the extra cold or hot weather, the fact that their fans are “booing”, etc.
We can also learn a lesson from this. As the saying goes, it is not what happens to us, but it is how we respond to what happens to us. There will always be external variables or what seem to be ‘road blocks’ that come up during the pursuit of our goals.
However, if we have a solid, strong routine that feels good to us, we’ll have that as our foundation to fall back on. If atheletes use this concept to perform and focus to break new world records, then there is no reason that we can’t also apply the power of routines into our own lives as well.
So, what routines do you have in place? Do they lead you and guide you? Do they keep you focused on what is most important? Do they lead you through uncertain or stressful times? Do you have a habit of ‘falling off the boat’ with your goals when you face barriers? You can see how important the power of routines truly are…
2. Another similar benefit is routines can give you a sense of “familiarity” and “comfort” as you pursue your performance goals in life. Routines are a series of behaviours that ARE IN YOUR CONTROL.
When an athlete arrives at a new location for a performance, the one thing in their control is that they havea series of mental and physical warm-up routines to follow. No matter what else is happening in the external environment, they do have something in their own control – their routine.
Apply this same principle to your own life. No matter what comes up in your life – stressors, barriers, or any other challenges, – you can control the fact that you can implement routines that not only allow you to ‘survive’, but rather routines that will help you ‘thrive’.
Routines are the building blocks from which we can create an ecstatic life, and strive for our lofty goals. As the saying goes, you cannot build a house on a rocky foundation, and the same is true with your life goals. You cannot achieve greatness without a solid foundation of strong routines that support you through out all of life’s challenges.
SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY AND ROUTINE OF SELF-EVALUATION
Here is yet another powerful theory of goal setting that we MUST take away from sports psychology. Athletes implement “post-competition routines” so that after their important performances, they take time to evaluate the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of their performance.
We also should do the same. We are constantly performing day in and out with many goals. We must take time to evaluate what is working, and what is not working.
In the case of athletes, they do an inventory for both successes and failures. They might examine how variables such as their nutrition, mental preparation, stretching routines, or equipment contributed to their performance.
So, here is our job. We need to recall our successes. What variable and factors contributed to our successes? Simply make sure you implement these actions or variables again in your future! Once you make a point of understanding ‘what works’ in your life, then you need to keep on doing it!
We also need to keep a record of so called ‘failures’ or instances where things weren’t working in favour of our goals, so that we can LEARN from those mistakes. We need to evaluate both our successes and ‘failures’, to make sure we know the recipe to build more successes in our lives, and decrease our those instances or situations that are considered less than favourable.
It’s about making continual adjustments in our lives. So, while atheletes use post-competition routines, we can regularly evaluate our weekly, monthly or yearly performances with our life goals in general.
If you’re serious about achieving your goals, then goal setting theory and the actual science behind what works should be a priority for you to learn!
While there seems to be no one body of research dedicated specifically to goal achievement as it relates to personal development in general, most research is found within specific contexts.
Goal setting theory and research, as it relates to achievement in general, can be found within the following bodies of research:
- Sports Psychology
- Health Psychology (e.g., weight-loss)
- Organizational/Industrial Psychology (e.g., employee performance)
- Advertising (for it’s power to influence and motivate people into the action of ‘buying’)
These are just a few of the main areas that you can further develop your own personal research in. I’m doing my best to find more goal setting theory research, and it will all be posted on my site!
Let’s start with some of the basic research.
HARVARD STUDY ON GOAL-SETTING
For years I was under the impression that the following was a true study, however my understanding is that no one can find the actual study.
Everyone seems to agree however, that the story is worth telling, and that it should be true!
In 1953 a longitudinal study was done on a graduating class at Harvard. The students were asked: Do you have a clear set of goals? Are they written down? Do you have plans to accomplish them?
Only 3% of students answered yes to all these questions. Then, 20 years later, it was found that the 3% of individuals were worth more than the other 97% of individuals combined!
Even if this study were not true, there are other studies that demonstrate the power of knowing what it is you want; having the goals written down; and of course, having an action plan in place. I say, the proof is in the pudding, so be sure to bookmark my free online goal setting program for later, so you too can get started!
GOAL SETTING THEORY OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
This is one of my favourite theories, because we can all relate to it in every-day life. Have you ever wanted something so bad and not had it? Were you frustrated?
What you were experiencing was cognitive dissonance – a gap between your current reality, and where you’d like to be.
This gap causes us a lot of pain! So, once you set a goal, and you constantly remind yourself of your goal (most people fail to do this), then you begin to experience this cognitive dissonance, or this gap in your reality.
Your brain will then do everything possible to close this gap and help create your desired reality.
This goal setting theory itself has been around for a long time. It is also recently popularized by Anthony Robbins, as he talks about the twin forces of pain and pleasure. We want to move away from pain and move toward pleasure.
When you set a goal, and read it frequently, you are motivated by the pain and frustration you experience as a result of not having that goal yet; and you are also motivated by the future pleasure of actually achieving that goal.
Basically, if you don’t have goals, you don’t create a sense of ‘antsiness’ or frustration. You instead remain comfortable, complacent and fine where you are.
Unless you want to live of the status quo, I highly suggest you work through my FREE online goal setting and motivation program. Bookmark it now if you haven’t, and come back to it!
PARKINSON’S LAW AND GOAL SETTING THEORY
Have you ever wondered why you often hear the advice to put a deadline on your goal? Well, part of it comes down to Parkinson’s law. This law states that your efforts and time invested into a goal will increase in proportion to the amount of time you give yourself.
Whether a person gives themselves a month or a year, it will take that ‘set’ amount of time to fulfill their goal. This is why in the workplace you probably experience tight deadlines from your supervisors. The deadlines also create a certain degree of pressure and motivation in your head as well.
So, even if you are uncomfortable with deadlines, try writing a few of these down beside your goals, and see what happens. What have you got to lose except for the fact that you might achieve your goals by the deadline, – by finding strategies or resources that allow you to work even quicker than you thought!
GOAL SETTING THEORY ON DIFFICULTY
Ok, you’ve also heard about the idea that you should think big, right? Dream big! Here’s why. Research shows that in general, the more difficult your goal is, the better your chances of reaching that goal! This idea has been demonstrated over and over again in sports achievement (Weinburg, Harmison, Rosenkranz, & Hookom, 2005).
The only time this concept is not true, is when a person has reached the limit of their goals. In sports which is quite physical, I can see how a personal can physically reach what seems to be a limit. However, in achieving many other goals, there are few limits except your own mind.
So, since it takes the same amount of time to set a ‘big’ or ‘difficult’ goal versus a ‘small’ or ‘easy’ goal, why not go big?!
GOAL SETTING THEORY AND SPECIFIC GOALS
There really is value in having specific goals it turns out. In organizational settings, did you know that having specific goals versus “do your best” goals resulted in much more productivity and better performance? So, even if you have ‘performance anxiety’ about exactly what your goal should be, just make a specific choice, and then evaluate it as time goes on, that it is still a worthy goal.
This way, in the mean time, you will increase your performance and chances of achieving that goal! This is simply a no brainer to me.
To summarize my last few theories here is a great quote: “In sum, specific, difficult goals consistently lead to higher levels of performance than do-your-best goals, easy goals, or no goals (Locke and Latham, 1990).”
So, take advice from the experts, and also have faith in the fact that people experience the above to be true as they walk through life achieving their goals. You can now model what has worked in real life for other people, along side knowing that research also backs it up. If you haven’t yet gone through my comprehensive, FREE online goal setting and motivation program, then try it out now!