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Why is Goal Setting Important?

Personal Goal Setting: Ask Questions of Yourself

Why is goal setting important? There are some very powerful reasons why goal setting matters. Here we discuss three crucial ingredients of goal setting: success, happiness and motivation. For Aristotle, however, the answer to the question “why is goal setting important” was straight forward: “Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.”

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 are all different in how we might define success. Common for most of us though is the thought that success will make us happy. 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. It’s not just that goal setting is important, the kind of goals we decide to set are important and how we go about pursuing them. Take for example the conclusions that Tim Kasser draws from his research that

Why is goal setting important?

“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 Selfish Capitalism 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:

Does How You Set Goals Matter?

“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.” He further suggests that “People who belong to community organizations, do voluntary work, and have rich social connections are healthier and happier than those who do not.”
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 tend to set goals matter too?

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.

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.”

Thirdly, as advocated in his book “:59 seconds” Professor Richard Wiseman 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. 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.”

Write it Down

Researchers also found out that writing down our goals is valuable, but even more valuable is to write down how we will achieve them. Writing about the process of achieving our goals is better in helping us to realize them than just writing about the end game of getting there. And yes writing them down is important: it brings structure and makes our thoughts more concrete and tangible.

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 Reasons to Answer the Question: Why is Goal Setting Important?

So why is goal setting important? Well because if you set the right kind of goals it is likely you will be more successful and happier: provided, that is, you pay attention to:

  • The kind of goals you set – one’s that are intrinsic and more geared towards personal growth, connection and contribution.
  • Making the goals demanding; they stretch you
  • Ensuring the goals are specific; you are clear what you want to achieve.
  • Thinking about the journey ( and enjoy progressing towards the goal), not just the end
  • Writing your goals down, and how you hope to achieve them, to make them concrete
  • Commit to your goals

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 is goal setting important, see our range of goal setting information articles or read our goal setting quotes for more quotes similar to those used in the article.


Turn goal setting quotes into action!

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. 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).

Why is goal setting important?

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”.


Where to go from here:


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