Why is Goal Setting Important?

3 things to remember

Why is Goal Setting Important

3 things to remember

Why is goal setting important? There are some very powerful reasons why goal setting matters. 

Had we asked Aristotle the question “why is goal setting important”, his answer would have been quite straightforward:

Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.

However, learning how to set effective goals perhaps requires us expand on that starting point. Let’s consider three crucial ingredients of goal setting: success, happiness and motivation.

What Kind of Goals Will Make You Happier?

The first and most obvious place to start might be to ask whether goal setting helps in being successful? According to Harvard academic Tal Ben Shahar there is a relationship between success and goals:

People who set goals are more likely to succeed than people who do not.

Of course we might all differ to some extent in how we define success but  many would assume that success brings happiness. However, the two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. So we need to ask if there is a relationship between the kind of goals we set and being happy?

Setting goals is important, but some goals are more likely to help us than others. The kinds of goals we decide to set are important, and so is the way we go about pursuing them. For example, take the conclusions that Tim Kasser and his colleagues drew from their research. They found that:

people seeking greater well-being would be well advised to focus on the pursuit of (a) goals involving [personal] growth, [community] connection, and contribution rather than goals involving money, beauty, and popularity and (b) goals that are interesting and personally important to them rather than goals they feel forced or pressured to pursue.

As Oliver James in his book The Selfish Capitalist affirms “if you want to be happy then you should pursue intrinsic goals and motives.”

It seems we know a lot about the things that make us happy, yet many of us choose not to do them. John Nettle makes this point in his book “Happiness: the Science Behind Your Smile”. Summarising some of the research evidence he concludes:

People who work part-time, control their own lives, join community organisations, or get involved in active leisure are happier than those who do not. Yet the majority of people do not make these choices …. People who belong to community organizations, do voluntary work, and have rich social connections are healthier and happier than those who do not.

Does is Matter How You Set Goals?

The kind of success that is likely to make us happier is very different from that which is often promoted in society. To answer the question “why is goal setting important” it seems the kind of goals we set and pursue matters, but does the way in which we set goals matter too?

Why is goal setting important?Back in the 1960’s Edwin Locke and others were studying how people are motivated at work. Locke discovered some very interesting insights about goals. Firstly, goals should be demanding. We are far more motivated by challenging goals than by moderate or mediocre goals. That is of course provided they are not set too high and seen as unachievable. Secondly, goals should be specific. General unclear goals are not motivational: clear specific goals are.

A third point here comes from Professor Richard Wiseman, in his book: “:59 seconds”. Here he suggests that to “visualize doing not achieving” is more likely to result in success. If the ability to visualize how our goals are achieved (the practical steps we should take) is important, then perhaps the process of working towards our goals is as important as actually achieving them.

This is the conclusion that Tal Ben Shahar comes to, suggesting that goals are means and not just ends. The process of working towards goals rather than just achieving them is important to our happiness. This might be compared to ballroom dancing, where it’s how you get across the room that’s important, not just getting there. Or, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts it:

If we agree that the bottom line of life is happiness, not success, then it makes perfect sense to say that it is the journey that counts, not reaching the destination.

Why is goal setting important?

We are goal oriented people, and when they are challenging and specific we are far more motivated to achieve them. Or as Andrew Carnegie put it:

If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.

The key to goal setting motivation? Write it down!

Researchers also found out that, whilst writing down our goals is valuable, it’s even more important to write down how we will achieve them. Writing about the process of achieving our goals is more likely to help us achieve them than just writing down a target. In reality both are important, helping to bring structure to our thoughts and aiding us to achieve them.

Writing down your goals is closely associated to committing to them, and a goal that we have committed to focuses our attention and energy onto how we are going to do it.

6 things to remember:

If you set the right kind of goals it’s likely you will be both more successful and happier. Provided you remember to:

  1. Decide on the kind of goals you set – one’s that are intrinsic and more geared towards personal growth, connection and contribution.
  2. Make the goals demanding; that stretch you.
  3. Ensure the goals are specific; you’re clear what you want to achieve.
  4. Think about the journey (and enjoy progressing towards the goal), not just the end.
  5. Write your goals down, and stating how you hope to achieve them.
  6. Commit to your goals and review progress regularly.

This should be good news for us all, that we can set goals that are more likely to make us happy. As famed American philanthropist Elbert Hubbard said:

Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage but simply because they have never organized their energies around a goal.

If you want to read more about why goal setting is important, go back to our Goal Setting Knowledge Hub. Here you’ll find more articles and tips, including our goal setting quotes, for more quotes similar to those used in above.

Put your goal setting into action!

SMART Goals, SHARP Goals e-guideYou 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.

It includes:
  • How do you define goal setting?
  • What features of goal setting are important, if we want to ensure they are more likely to be successfully achieved?
  • What kinds of goals are more likely to make us motivated to achieve them?
  • How do you set SMART goals?
  • Why do goals matter?
  • What kind of goals should you pursue to be happier in what you do?
  • How do you set team goals?
  • What strategies can you apply to overcome barriers to setting goals?
  • How do you develop SHARP plans of action that help you to achieve your goals?
  • What techniques can you use to get things done?
  • How do you set personal goals?

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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