Psychologists will tell you there’s a big difference between setting goals and setting the right goals.
How do you know if you are setting the right goals? This five-question scale can help. Rate how well each of these questions explains why you want to achieve the goals you do:
- Does somebody else want me to achieve this goal, or will I get something from someone if I do?
- Would I feel ashamed if I didn’t achieve this goal?
- Do I really believe this is an important goal to have?
- Will this goal provide me with fun and enjoyment?
- Does this goal represent who I am and reflect what I value most in life?
If you felt like questions 3-5 described your goals, it's likely that you are on the right path. If you felt that questions 1 and 2 applied better to your situation, then you might want to change course.
Interestingly, new research appearing in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that "mindful" individuals, or people who excel at existing in the present moment in a sustained and non-judgmental way, are better at setting the right goals than others.
“When people pursue goals that are aligned with their underlying values, talents, interests, and needs (i.e., self-concordant goals), they are more likely to attain their goals,” state the authors of the research, led by Aidan Smyth of Carleton University in Canada. “Pursuing and attaining self-concordant goals affords experiences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which are essential to well-being. Conversely, pursuing non-concordant goals can lead people to waste time and energy on goals that, even if attained, will not benefit their well-being or development.”
Given that mindful individuals possess a deeper level of self-awareness, the researchers expected these individuals to be better at setting and attaining goals that were aligned with their interests. This is what they found. People who scored higher on the 15-item Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale—where higher ratings on items such as “It seems I am running on automatic without much awareness of what I’m doing” and “I find myself doing things without paying attention” reflected less mindfulness—reported more intrinsic motivation to achieve their goals.
The researchers replicated this finding using a longitudinal study design where goal progress was tracked over time. Not only did they find that mindful individuals were better at setting ‘self-concordant’ goals, but they also found that they were more successful at seeing their goals through.
The authors conclude, “Taken together, this research provides support for the proposition that mindful individuals set “better” goals—goals that are more likely to be aligned with their authentic selves, conducive to goal progress, and internalized over time.”
Interestingly, this research dovetails with other work on mindfulness and achievement. A recent study published in the journal Consulting Psychology found mindful individuals to be more ambitious than others. While this may seem counterintuitive, the researchers offer a good reason for it. They suggest that ambitious individuals are skilled at balancing their attention and awareness to achieve their goals. In other words, the mental focus necessary to be an ambitious and successful person is reflected in many of the qualities associated with mindfulness.
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Smyth, A. P., Werner, K. M., Milyavskaya, M., Holding, A., & Koestner, R. (2020). Do mindful people set better goals? Investigating the relation between trait mindfulness, self-concordance, and goal progress. Journal of Research in Personality, 88, 104015.