How Goals Affect Us
It’s that time of year when it seems everyone is talking about goals and resolutions and whilst some of it can be inspiring, some of it can be down right deflating. When you’re not feeling particularly optimistic about what lies ahead, what with economic concerns and political concerns and more, this can be a time when you perhaps feel anxious and lacking in resilience. For this reason, I want to remind you that this is your life, and whether you want to set some big goals or seemingly some small goals, setting any goals, however small, can be really impactful and here’s why.
Firstly, small changes and achievements result in big changes and achievements. For example, you may have decide to introduce some brisk walking to your week and find that, over time, a simple walk a few times a week ends up boosting your mental health, slimming you down, tones your body, boosts your self-esteem, makes you work harder in your job or career, and inspires you to set more achievable goals.
Secondly, as Maxwell Maltz said, ‘Man maintains his balance, poise, and sense of security only as he is moving forward.’ There is something about stagnation that derails our inner peace and inner strength, whilst progress, however small, empowers us, helps us to feel calm and safe, as well as confident, happy and optimistic.
In Resilient Me I cover research into goal setting, here is a small excerpt about ‘How Goals Affect our Performance and Achievement’ to help you understand why goal-setting helps us to achieve what we want so that you can be inspired to set some goals for yourself, however big or small…
‘If you have never really been convinced of the power of goal-setting, this is especially for you. In a review of empirical goal-setting research spanning thirty-five years, researchers summarised four main mechanisms through which goals affect us.
‘First, goals direct our mental attention and physical behaviours towards activities that will help us to achieve them and away from activities that are irrelevant to achieving them. So, setting a specific goal stops us wasting our time, energy and focus on other pursuits and helps us to more quickly achieve our goals. This is likely to explain why affirmations help: because they can keep us focused on and moving towards the affirmed statement, or goal. This may also explain one way in which reviewing our goals frequently, whether as written goal statements or images depicting the goals, helps us to achieve those very goals.
‘Second, goals that stretch us lead to more effort than goals that don’t. Perhaps this is because we know that a higher goal will require more effort than lower goals. Perhaps this is also because higher goals make us feel more excited than goals that are easy to reach, possibly because we attach our own worth and confidence to the obtainment of the goal, i.e. the bigger the goal, the prouder you’ll be of yourself for achieving it and the more confidence you’ll have.
‘Third, goals affect our persistence. When given the choice, we will work longer on a difficult task than on an easy task. We will also work faster when we have tight deadlines than when we have loose deadlines. This again demonstrates that goals influence our focus and behaviour.
‘Fourth, goals affect our behaviour indirectly. Goals propel us to discover information and strategies that will help us to achieve our objectives.
‘I always say to my clients that when we keep a specific goal at the forefront of our mind via affirmations and goal reminders (e.g. vision boards, goal statements or visualisation – see page 168) our brain is reminded to: (a) spot, (b) grasp and (c) create opportunities to make those goals a reality. It’s also why it is so important to always focus your mind on what you do want, not on what you don’t want. As I often say, whatever we focus our mind on, we consciously and subconsciously work towards. A large body of research supports this and helps explain why things like affirmations, vision boards and written descriptions help move us towards our goals. These constant reminders of our goals influence our thoughts, behaviours and motivation – as do goals themselves – both directly and indirectly.’
So, set yourself some goals. A great way to define them is by asking yourself, (a) ’What specifically do I want to achieve?’ and (b) ‘When or when by? Split your goals into categories such as career, family and friends, and me, and set some realistic goals.
More on goal setting research, how to set realistic goals and setting goals that we can resiliently achieve, in Resilient Me: How to worry less and achieve more.