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7 Tips for Setting Achievable Goals

Setting goals is a key to successful self-control

Goals are standards that individuals use to evaluate how well they are doing now relative to where they want to end up. Behavior is basically guided by goals. Self-control failure arises when the processes of goal pursuit depart from the correct course. An important reason for this failure is attributed to poorly defined and ambiguous goals. Poorly defined goals may lead to the formation of weak intentions to realize the goal and to subsequent procrastination.

// [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The followings help to make well-defined and achievable goals.

1. Specific Goals.

The more specific the goal, the better able people are to reach it. A highly abstract goal may not be actionable (e.g., to get healthy). For example, instead of pursuing the goal of “being healthy”, a person may adopt the goal of “walking at least 30 minutes everyday”, which is more concrete and easier to monitor. It is easier to postpone vague or open-ended tasks with distant deadlines than focused and short-term projects.

2. Protect your goal.

It is important for people to shield their crucial goal from competing goals during goal pursuit. One way to accomplish this is by reminding themselves of its importance, in order to inhibit other goals competing with it.

3. Divide and conquer.

As the old saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Shift your focus from the ultimate goal to a series of doable intermediate tasks. Specific goals allow for better monitoring of progression toward the goal. Setting specific goals (e.g., write 3 pages every day) is more motivating than urging people to do their best.

4. Focus on fewer goals.

As Plato’s counseled: “Do one thing and do it well.” Having only one goal makes self-control more successful than when people have two or more conflicting goals. With too many goals, we often are afraid of making the wrong choice, so we end up doing nothing.

5. Disengage from impractical goals.

Effective self-control requires disengaging from goals when progress is too slow. People who disengage from seemingly impossible goals are mentally healthier than those who stay entrapped. Dropping the frustrating goals allows one to avoid achieving the impossible, and use one’s limited effort and time more effectively.

6. How bad do you want it?

People who pursue goals for autonomous reasons (personally chosen) have greater intrinsic motivation for attainment and are not pressured by outside forces. Decisions that feel autonomous lead to less exhaustion and better self-control performance than making choices when one feels forced. For example, people who diet for more personal reasons tend to be more successful at losing weight than people who diet for more external reasons.

7. Beware of false hope in goal selection.

Oscar Wild (Lady Windermere’s Fan) once said “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” A decision to pursue a goal is based on an expectation of how much the goal achievement will make them feel happy. However, as Gilbert (2009) has suggested, this prediction can be inaccurate for a number of reasons, leading to the phenomenon of “miswanting” – wanting something that is not enjoyed, or liked, when actually received. For example, in the context of dieting, it is way too easy to believe that a thinner body will get you what you want. Although losing weight is likely to improve health, it may not substantially affect one’s personality. When weight loss fails to produce such global changes, self-control may fail. Thus, decisions made on the basis of false predicted happiness are likely to turn out to fail to maximize eventual experienced happiness.

More from Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.
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