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Goals Setting: what it is and why we do it

Inessa Radostin

Goals Setting: what it is and why we do it by Inessa Radostin on January 28th, 2019

Goal setting, the unsurpassed favorite activity for anyone wanting to have a positive change in their life. But what exactly is the act of setting a goal?

By definition, goal setting involves the development of an action plan designed to motivate and guide a person or group toward a goal. Not sure about you, but I am still unclear here. Why is goal setting a thing? When did it start? And more importantly, why are we obsessed with it?

The act of setting goals was first research by Edwin A. Locke in the mid-1960s and he continued his research for over 30 years. But goal setting goes much further back than Locke’s research. Aristotle was the first to propose that purpose can in fact cause action which is exactly what led Locke to begin researching the impact that goals have on the activity of a person.

From Locke’s research, it was conceived that goals can affect outcome in four ways: choice, effort, persistence, and cognition. Goals can help a person narrow their activities to goal-relevant actions therefore offering a level of choice to their daily actions. They can create extra effort in a person that otherwise would not be as driven. They can teach a person to be more persistent and work through mistakes and setbacks. And lastly, they can cause someone to change their behavior and general cognition.

I guess that answers when goal setting started for human beings. But why are we so into it? To be honest, I personally wasn’t always a setter of goals. I had dreams, sure, but they were always far-fetched and not rooted in reality. When I was three I told my parents that by the age of eleven and a half I would have a dog. This is still a running joke in my family because I never got that dog, or any dog for that matter since I’m highly allergic. But it was nice to dream, no?

As a developing adult I found myself having the same type of loose dreams for most of future plans except the difference this time was the disappointment of not achieving those dreams hurt that much more. I felt I had failed every time one of those far-fetched dreams didn’t come true even though not only did I not do much to get them but they were never true to my path in the first place.

So, what changed and why do I love goal setting now? It’s quite simple actually. I started downscaling my goals to time periods. I start with setting very loose goals for the year, then break it down to the months, then to the weeks. That way the goals become more like little tasks and by the time I’m done with those to do lists, I actually have accomplished something! The main ingredient to not forgetting about your goals is constant check in. Making a time once a week to look over what you’ve written down (and yes you should be writing them down) should become a consistent ritual in your productivity planning. I can proudly say that I now hold strong that I can achieve everything I set out for myself. Except that dog, of course. But I guess that’s what dream journals are for!