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Cheers to the new year! Goal setting and MORE!

Just like that, another year has gone by. Tis the season when we begin brewing new goals and thinking about what is coming for the new year. We reflect but also ponder what to do differently.

Its a perfect way to dive into the psychology of goal setting and ways we can jump into the new year with a fresh start and a good mindset!


Science & Psychology Of Goal-Setting

Goal-setting in psychology is an essential tool for self-motivation and self-drivenness at personal and professional levels. It gives meaning to our actions and the purpose of achieving something higher.

By setting goals, we get a roadmap of where we are heading to and what is the right way that would lead us there. It is a plan that holds us in perspective – the more effectively we make the plan, the better are our chances of achieving what we aim to. Rick McDaniel (2015) had quoted,

“Goal-setters see future possibilities and the big picture.”

Setting goals are linked with higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy (Locke & Latham, 2006), and research has established a strong connection between goal-setting and success (Matthews, 2015).

This post is all about understanding the benefits of goal-setting and implementing that knowledge in our day-to-day lives. In the following sections, we will take an in-depth look into how goal-setting influences the mind to change for the better, and contribute to making smarter decisions for ourselves.

What is Goal Setting? A Psychological Definition

Goal setting in psychology refers to a successful plan of action that we set for ourselves. It guides us to choose the right moves, at the right time, and in the right way. In a study conducted on working professionals, Edwin A. Locke, a pioneer in the field of goal-setting, found that individuals who had highly ambitious goals had a better performance and output rate than those who didn’t (Locke, 1996).

ABC of Goals

Smoll said that effective goals are ones that are:

  • A – Achievable

  • B – Believable

  • C – Committed

Goal-setting as a psychological tool for increasing productivity involves five rules or criterion, known as the S-M-A-R-T rule. George T. Doran coined this rule in 1981 in a management research paper of the Washington Power Company and it is by far one of the most popular propositions of the psychology of goals.


S-M-A-R-T goals stand for:

  • S (Specific) – They target a particular area of functioning and focus on building it.

  • M (Measurable) -The results can be gauged quantitatively or at least indicated by some qualitative attributes. This helps in monitoring the progress after executing the plans.

  • A (Attainable/Achievable) – The goals are targeted to suitable people and are individualized. They take into account the fact that no single rule suits all, and are flexible in that regard.

  • R (Realistic) – They are practical and planned in a way that would be easy to implement in real life. The purpose of a smart goal is not just providing the plan, but also helping the person execute it.

  • T (Time-bound) – An element of time makes the goal more focused. It also provides a time frame about task achievement.

SmartER Goals

While this was the golden rule of goal-setting, researchers have also added two more constituents to it, and call it the S-M-A-R-T-E-R rule.

The adjacents include:

  • E (Evaluative/ethical) – The interventions and execution follow professional and personal ethics.

  • R (Rewarding) – The end-results of the goal-setting comes with a positive reward and brings a feeling of accomplishment to the user.

The Psychology Of Goal Setting

Goals play a dominant role in shaping the way we see ourselves and others. A person who is focused and goal-oriented is likely to have a more positive approach towards life and perceive failures as temporary setbacks, rather than personal shortcomings.

Tony Robbins, a world-famous motivational speaker, and coach had said that

Setting goals is the first step from turning the invisible to visible.

Studies have shown that when we train our mind to think about what we want in life and work towards reaching it, the brain automatically rewires itself to acquire the ideal self-image and makes it an essential part of our identity. If we achieve the goal, we achieve fulfillment, and if we don’t, our brain keeps nudging us until we achieve it.

Psychologists and mental health researchers associate goals with a higher predictability of success, the reasons being:

Goals involve values

Effective goals base themselves on high values and ethics. Just like the S-M-A-R-T-E-R goals, they guide the person to understand his core values before embarking upon setting goals for success. Studies have shown that the more we align our core values and principles, the more likely we are to benefit from our goal plans (Erez, 1986).

Goals bind us to reality

A practical goal plan calls for a reality check. We become aware of our strengths and weaknesses and choose actions that are in line with our potentials. For example, a good orator should set goals to flourish as a speaker, while an expressive writer must aim to succeed as an author.

Realizing our abilities and accepting them is a vital aspect of goal-setting as it makes room for introspection and helps in setting realistic expectations from ourselves.

Goals call for self-evaluation

Successful accomplishment of goals is a clear indicator of our success. We don’t need validation from others once we have achieved the goals we set for ourselves. The scope of self-evaluation boosts self-confidence, efficacy, self-reliance, and gives us the motivation to continue setting practical goals in all subsequent stages of life.

4 Steps To Successful Goal-Setting

here are four steps to break this down and set some goals for yourself...

1. Make a plan

The first step to successful goal-setting is a brilliant plan.

Chalking out our goals by our strengths, aspirations, and affinities is an excellent way to build a working program. The plan makes habit formation easier – we know where to focus and how to implement the actions.

2. Explore resources

The more we educate ourselves about goal-setting and its benefits, the easier it becomes for us to stick to it. We can start building our knowledge base by taking expert advice, talking to supervisors at the workplace, or participating in self-assessments.

Assessments and interactions help us realize the knowledge gaps and educate ourselves in the areas concerned.

3. Be accountable

A crucial requisite of goal-setting is accountability. We tend to perform better when someone is watching over us, for example, it is easier to cheat on a diet or skip the gym when we are doing it alone.

But the moment we pair up with others or have a trainer to guide us through the process, there are increased chances of us sticking to the goals and succeeding in them.

4. Use rewards and feedbacks

Rewarding ourselves for our efforts and achievements makes sticking to the plan more comfortable for us. Managers who regularly provide feedback to their employees and teammates have better performance in their teams than ones who don’t interact with employees about their progress.

Types of goals

There are three main types of goals in psychology:

  1. The Process Goals These are the ones involving the execution of plans. For example, going to the gym in the morning or taking the health supplements on time, and repeating the same action every day is a process goal. The focus is to form the habit that will ultimately lead to achievement.

  2. The Performance Goals These goals help in tracking progress and give us a reason for continuing the hard work. For example, studying for no less than 6 hours a day or working out for at least 30 minutes per day can help us in quantifying our efforts and measuring the progress.

  3. The Outcome Goals Outcome goals are the successful implementations of process and performance goals. They keep us in perspective and help to stay focused on the bigger picture. Examples of outcome goals may include winning a sport, losing the desired amount of weight, or scoring a top rank in school.

The E-E-E Model Of Goal-Setting

The E-E-E Model of goal-setting was mentioned in a journal published by the American Psychological Association (APA, 2017). It is a person-centered approach that describes the way a successful roadmap contributes to bringing about the change.

Goal-setting ensures success by serving three purposes:

  1. Enlightening Us Providing meaningful insight into our abilities and weaknesses, and by helping us prioritize our goals depending on our needs.

  2. Encouraging Us It provides the motivation and courage to implement the goals and execute the plans efficiently.

  3. Enabling Us Goal-setting enables us to achieve the balance between our real and ideal self. By implementing the goals and succeeding from it, we regain self-confidence, social support, and can evaluate our achievements.

Goal Setting and Positive Psychology

Goals direct our actions and open us to a host of new possibilities. They help us stick to the relevant activities and get rid of what is irrelevant for goal-satisfaction.

Martin Seligman’s research and findings on positive psychology aimed to shift the focus of psychology from problems to solutions. His works emphasized on interventions that would increase managerial productivity and help leaders enhance their performance holistically (Luthans, 2002).

Positive psychology incorporates the principles of goal-setting in several ways:

  • It commits to a specific set of actions for goal-setting.

  • It considers individual ethics and core values before setting goals.

  • It aligns actions to individual capacities and character strengths.

  • It has space for introspection and insight into one’s thoughts, emotions, and perceptions.

  • It helps in setting realistic goals and expectations, thereby aiming to boost self-confidence and energy by task accomplishments.

Professor Gary P. Latham (University of Toronto) emphasized the role of positive psychology and the interconnection of it to goal-setting in his groundbreaking work on life goals and psychology. He mentioned that optimistic people have a strong sense of self, which helps them derive the motivation to set goals and extend them for self-improvement.

Positive psychology, according to Latham, intersects with goal-setting in the sense that it calls for building self-efficacy and create a sense of mastery over our internal and external environments.

Author Doug Smith (1999), in his famous bookMake Success Measurable! A Mindbook For Setting Goals And Taking Actions” mentioned that successful goal-setting mainly involves asking three questions to the self:

  • How important is the goal for us?

  • How confident are we about reaching and accomplishing the goal?

  • How consistent is the goal with our core values and beliefs?

Smith said that successful leaders and management professionals use this systematic approach when striving for goal accomplishments and use threads of positive psychology such as optimism, thought replacement, strength, and resilience.

The emerging field of positive psychology provides a stronger base for effective goal-setting and management.


so there is a lot that is involved with setting goals. With this extra information, you can begin to create your new goals for this upcoming year. You can do it in a manner that will be best achieved by you and only you. Setting strong achievable goals using these methods will help you sustain those goals and be able to achieve them.

Now, that leads me to ask...

What are some of your goals for this next year?

As always happy holidays!


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