Mastering the Skill of Goal Setting
If you’ve already broken all your New Year’s resolutions by January 15th, you’re not alone. Up to 92% of people that set New Year’s goals never actually achieve them.
That’s because most people have never learned art of goal setting, and, as a result, they don’t know how to get what they want – whether it’s an A in Biology, a new job or a smaller jean size. It turns out that goal setting is a learned skill – not something we just inherently know how to do. In fact, according to research out of Harvard:
“Although setting goals improves performance robustly across various settings, it is nevertheless a skill: one must learn how to effectively set goals.”
If we want our dreams – or resolutions – to become reality, we have to master the skill of goal setting.
Goals are an important component to success…
People with goals perform better. It’s as simple as that.
More than 35 years of scientific research shows that goals support performance and motivation. Students who have clearly defined goals outperform their peers by up to 250%. And when people don’t focus on goals, they lose 30% of their capacity and performance potential.
Achieving our goals also improves our quality of life – not only because we’ve achieved the thing we set out to do, but also because the feelings associated with goal achievement are immensely positive for the human psyche. When we achieve our goals, we gain confidence, a sense of accomplishment and greater momentum for the next goal, all of which contribute to an improved sense of well-being.
…But setting good goals can be really difficult
If goals are so beneficial, it follows that everyone would be working toward their goals, right?
Not so fast.
As we saw at the beginning of this article, only 8% of people actually follow through on the goals they set for themselves. Why is that? Why is achieving a goal so hard?
Psychology gives us a few hints as to why people struggle achieve the goals they set for themselves:
- We have difficulty evaluating our own competence. We consistently overestimate our talents and abilities. As a result, our goals are often too difficult (which can be discouraging) or too easy (which doesn’t require a strong sense of commitment and can, thus, be easily discarded).
- We focus on the outcome rather than the process. This means we’re so focused on receiving an A in biology than tend to overlook the process of earning that A – things like studying, attending class and meeting course work deadlines.
- We’re also bad at recognizing that the constraints that exist today are the same constraints that will exist tomorrow. For example, in the future, you’ll face the same work deadlines that interfere with the yoga class you meant to attend. You’ll face the same choice between going to that fun party or staying home and studying for tomorrow’s test. The list goes on and on.
- And it only gets worse the farther out the goal is from the present. The further in the future we’ve planned to start studying or stop eating sweets, the more confident, overly optimistic and less focused we become. We trick into believing that we’ll simply crack open our textbook or put down the brownie on the date we set to “start” working on our goal, despite the fact that the obstacles in our way haven’t changed.
Overcoming inherent goal setting challenges
The good news is that there is also a lot of research about how we can overcome these shortcomings and set good, achievable goals for ourselves. The literature tells us that goals should:
- Be clear, specific, and challenging so you under stand the outcome you’re trying to achieve and it’s challenging enough to energize and motivate you.
- Be as bite-sized and task-specific as possible, giving you less opportunities to fail and more chances to take pride in your accomplishments
- Be coupled with frequent and ongoing feedback
It’s in this vein that we developed the Goal Setting section of our Steps to Success course. This course is designed to help students and employees learn the skills necessary to create good goals for themselves and strategies for following through on goals once set. And our personalized, adaptive learning approach ensures that they’ll not only master the information but that they’ll also be able apply it in the real world.
This course also helps people learn how to pursue their goals in a way that’s enjoyable and builds confidence. Working to achieve a goal should feel challenging, but not so tough that a person never wants to do it again. The Goal Setting section of our Steps to Success course provides a framework to help people enjoy the goal-setting-and-achieving process, so they’re more willing to pursue other goals in the future.
We also want to help increase graduation rates and student success rates, in terms of performance and achievement. In fact, our entire Steps to Success course is made up of skills-based units designed to increase the likelihood of achievement – whether it be graduating on time or preparing for future career advancement. Sample topics include time management, reading and writing strategies, note-taking and test-taking best practices. While these topics might seem obvious at first glance, especially to someone who has already mastered them, if a person isn’t equipped with these skills, success can be elusive and the pathway stressful.