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Goal Setting Definition

Goal Setting Definition: Success Factors

Developing a goal setting definition can be as a simple as deciding what you want to achieve and planning to do it. 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. 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 challenging rather than mediocre, clear rather than general, and informed by timely feedback. So in defining goal setting we need to ensure that challenge, clarity and feedback are essential parts of the process.

A Process to Define Goals

A goal setting definition should be used to help us work through a process for setting goals. That process, if it is to increase the likelihood of success, should ensure:

  • Challenge: Goals are challenging
  • Goal Setting DefinitionClarity: Goals are clear and explicit
  • Belief: There is an expectancy of success
  • Commitment: The goals encourage commitment
  • Desire: We want to do it
  • Ability: We are able to do it
  • Possibility: The situation around makes it possible (few constraints)
  • Encouragement: There is clear and immediate feedback of progress built in
  • Direction: There is a plan


So 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.

And Finally…

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 is goal setting important, see our range of goal setting information articles or read our goal setting quotes for some inspirational quotes about goal setting.


Take action with your goal setting definition!

Find our how in our e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals. 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

Goal Setting Resources

You can find more of our goal setting resources by reading our featured pages (below).

Goal setting definition

You’ll find our new e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals is a fantastic, goal setting resource. It’s packed with advice and tools – use it to help you set SMART goals then take SHARP actions to achieve them!

One of our affiliate partners also has an excellent, on-line, goal setting resource. GoalsOnTrack is a “personal success system that will help you really accomplish goals by getting the right things done”.



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