Asking why people set goals is like asking why McDonald’s fries last for several years without getting moldy—they just do and it’s best not to ask why.
But let’s ask anyway: Why do goals exist? The answer isn’t complicated. People, and companies and governments and nonprofits, set goals because they want to motivate themselves or their workforces to complete a particular task. It’s probably the most popularly accepted method of brain hacking.
Goals are everywhere around you. They’re in…
- Kickstarter campaigns
- Quarterly earnings reports
- Books (“let me just finish this chapter!”)
In fact, Morning Brew’s referral program is entirely based on hitting goals: readers need three referrals for Light Roast, five for stickers, and so on. The system uses benchmarks to encourage people to share the newsletter, and it’s been wildly effective.
What’s the best way to set goals?
Please, PLEASE do not type that into Google. I did and ended up in a listicle hellhole that burned a hole in my brain the size of 1 billion neurons. But, after some digging, I found some real science on the subject. A fellow by the name of Edwin Locke, together with a few colleagues, developed a goal setting theory that is generally accepted by the broader academic community.
Here’s the 101: You want better performance? Make your goals specific and difficult.
- Specific: If you want a healthier diet, you’re better off pledging to “eat one dessert per week” rather than promising you’ll “eat more veggies,” which is vague.
- Difficult: Try to set your goals in the 90th percentile of difficulty. By having tougher goals, you’ll simply work harder and be more focused than if your goal was easy to accomplish.
You can’t go wrong setting difficult, specific goals—unfortunately, there’s more to goal setting theory than just those two terms. Without getting too in the weeds, I’ll present several other useful concepts:
- Commitment: As we all know, setting a goal is one thing…following through is another, far more difficult thing. There are several variables that affect commitment, such as who assigns the goal and whether the person believes they can actually achieve it.
- Feedback: Feedback is an important tool on the goal-achieving journey. It helps you recognize what you’re doing wrong, so you can improve your performance accordingly. Let’s use a simple example: Hiring a tennis coach will help you achieve your goal of hitting a topspin two-handed backhand faster than if you don’t have access to that training.
Bottom line: Squeezing decades of research on human psychology and organizational behavior into 400 words is a very specific, very difficult goal that I hope I’ve just attained. Keep reading as we dive deeper into the world of goal setting.
Source: Neal Freyman for The Brew