Goal Setting Definition
A process to define goals
A process to define goals
Developing a goal setting definition can be as a simple as deciding what you want to achieve and planning to do it. Or, you might need a process!
As Edwin Locke, noted psychologist and goal-setting guru once wrote:
One must focus one’s thoughts on what one wants to achieve and on the means to attain it.
A simple, powerful statement but wouldn’t it be helpful if we knew which factors were more likely to make goal setting more effective, and encourage not just success – but worthwhile success? After all, goals are a fundamental part of being able to live life on purpose . They are about purposeful action, making choices about what you want to do.
So what features of goal setting are important, especially if we want to ensure our goals are successfully achieved? Any useful goal setting definition should be informed by those factors that are likely to make goals achievable.
Here we’ll build on the insights and extensive research of Edwin Locke and another noted American psychologist, and prolific author, Gary Latham. Firstly, they define goals as:
the object or aim of an action, for example to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit.
Locke and Latham have suggested that we are far more likely to be motivated to achieve our goals if we remember three key things.
Our goals should be:
So when trying to define goal setting we need to ensure that challenge, clarity and feedback are essential parts of the process.
A goal setting definition is only the beginning. Creating effective goals requires an effective process, something Locke and Latham also emphasized:
Every person’s life depends on the process of choosing goals to pursue; if you remain passive you are not going to thrive as a human being.
So to be effective and increase the likelihood of success, any goal setting process should ensure:
Effective goal setting should start with challenge, be defined by a clear plan, and be fueled by encouragement from feedback. To move from the challenge towards the plan, belief and commitment are needed. Finally, three crucial ingredients need to be blended together: a desire to achieve the goal; the opportunity to attempt it; and ability achieve it.
Goals that are purposeful can help shape both our careers and our wider life, but it’s worth adding one more useful thought. You’re more likely to succeed in attaining your goals if you don’t have too many of them. A few goals allow you to focus on what is important. Too many goals mean you run the risk of never achieving any, and perhaps just as bad, not really knowing which are the important ones.
In our article: why is goal setting important?, we explore a related and equally important question: what kind of goals will make us happier. Combining the ideas in these two articles will help to set goals which are more likely to be successfully achieved and are more likely to make us happier.
If you want to read more about why goal setting is important, see our range of knowledge hub articles and tips, or read our goal setting quotes for some inspirational quotes about goal setting.
You can also find our more about the benefits of goal setting in our e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals to help you do just this. The guide contains 30 pages and 5 tools to help you to set SMART goals, then take SHARP action to achieve them.
Tool 1: Conventional goal setting
Tool 2: Setting SMART goals that motivate
Tool 3: The kind of goals that will make you happier
Tool 4: Taking SHARP action
Tool 5: Team goals flowchart
Tool 6: Eight personal goal setting questions
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