Why set goals in life?
Imagine yourself going to work aimlessly every day, talking to others without a reason, working out just because you have to, and not having any aspirations for yourself or those around you. How would you feel?
Goal-setting is an essential tool for self-motivation and self-drivenness – both at personal and professional levels. It gives meaning to our actions and the purpose of achieving something higher.
By setting goals, we get a roadmap of where we are heading to and what is the right way that would lead us there. It is a plan that holds us in perspective – the more effectively we make the plan, the better are our chances of achieving what we aim to.
“Goal-setters see future possibilities and the big picture.”
Goal setting is linked to higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy. Research has also established a strong connection between goal-setting and success. Goal-setting influences the mind to change for the better, and contributes to making smarter decisions for ourselves.
The psychology of goal setting
Goals play a dominant role in shaping the way we see ourselves and others. A person who is focused and goal-oriented is likely to have a more positive approach towards life and perceive failures as temporary setbacks, rather than personal shortcomings.
Tony Robbins, a world-famous motivational speaker, and coach had said that “Setting goals is the first step from turning the invisible to visible.”
Studies have shown that when we train our mind to think about what we want in life and work towards reaching it, the brain automatically rewires itself to acquire the ideal self-image and makes it an essential part of our identity. If we achieve the goal, we achieve fulfillment, and if we don’t, our brain keeps nudging us until we achieve it.
Psychologists and mental health researchers associate goals with a higher predictability of success, the reasons being:
Goals involve values
Effective goals base themselves on high values and ethics. They guide us to understand our core values before embarking upon setting goals for success. Studies have shown that the more we align our core values and principles, the more likely we are to benefit from our goal plans.
Goals bind us to reality
A practical goal plan calls for a reality check. We become aware of our strengths and weaknesses and choose actions that are in line with our potentials. For example, a good orator should set goals to flourish as a speaker, while an expressive writer must aim to succeed as an author.
Realizing our abilities and accepting them is a vital aspect of goal-setting as it makes room for introspection and helps in setting realistic expectations from ourselves.
Goals call for self-evaluation
Successful accomplishment of goals is a clear indicator of our success. We don’t need validation from others once we have achieved the goals we set for ourselves. The scope of self-evaluation boosts self-confidence, efficacy, self-reliance, and gives us the motivation to continue setting practical goals in all subsequent stages of life.
The goal-setting brain
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a part of the brain that plays a crucial role in regulating our goal-setting actions. The RAS is a cluster of cells located at the base of the brain that processes all the information and sensory channels related to the things that need our attention right now.
An exciting fact about RAS activation is that it gives us signs. For example, a person whose goal is to start a family, is likely to see more couples and families around him. This happens because of RAS activation. The RAS is aware that this is what the person is paying attention to at this very moment, and hence he chooses to register only the information related to it.
Before deciding to start a family, the RAS would naturally have filtered out any such information. The person may have seen so many couples walking past him earlier, but never really paid attention to them, until the time he decided to get married himself.
The reticular activation functions in two ways when it comes to goal-setting:
1. Writing goals
RAS gets activated by the simple act of putting our goals in pen and paper. Seeing our aims written in clear words before us, feeling the touch of the pen, or engaging in the thinking process of writing the targets trigger the RAS functions and ensures that we go for it.
2. Planning goals
The art of imagination is essential when it comes to goal-setting. Studies have shown that people who have the power to visualize their goals before setting their actions have a higher activation at the brain level.
Neurologists working on the science of goal-setting have proved that the brain cannot distinguish between reality and imagined reality. So, when we give ourselves a picture of the goal we want to achieve, the mind starts believing it to be real. Eventually, the brain begins driving us to take actions for making the state and hence, the goal-setting becomes a reality.
4 steps to successful goal-setting
1. Make a plan
The first step to successful goal-setting is a brilliant plan. Chalking out your goals by your strengths, aspirations, and affinities is an excellent way to build a working program. The plan makes habit formation easier – we know where to focus and how to implement the actions.
2. Explore resources
The more we educate ourselves about goal-setting and its benefits, the easier it becomes for us to stick to it. Learning about goal-setting helps us realize our knowledge gaps and educate ourselves in the areas concerned.
3. Be accountable
A crucial requisite of goal-setting is accountability. We tend to perform better when someone is watching over us, for example, it is easier to cheat on a diet or skip the gym when we are doing it alone. But the moment we pair up with others to guide us, there are increased chances of us sticking to the goals and succeeding in them.
4. Use rewards and feedbacks
Rewarding ourselves for our efforts and achievements makes sticking to the plan more comfortable for us.
Types of goals
There are three main types of goals:
1. Habit Goals
These are the ones involving the execution of plans. For example, going to the gym in the morning or taking the health supplements on time, and repeating the same action every day is a process goal. The focus is to form the habit that will ultimately lead to achievement.
2. Performance Goals
These goals help in tracking progress and give us a reason for continuing the hard work. For example, studying for no less than 6 hours a day or working out for at least 30 minutes per day can help us in quantifying our efforts and measuring the progress.
3. Outcome Goals
Outcome goals are the successful implementations of process and performance goals. They keep us in perspective and help to stay focused on the bigger picture. Examples of outcome goals may include winning a sport, losing the desired amount of weight, or scoring a top grade.