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More PsychNotes: Performance, Success and Goal Attainment

Setting Goals Isn't Enough for Success
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Do you set goals for yourself? How often do you evaluate your current performance against those goals? Research has clearly shown that setting goals improves performance and success. However, setting a goal isn't enough. How often have you seen people set goals to only fail time and time again? Often the problem is they aren't evaluating their current performance against the goal they have set for themselves. As a result they have no way of determining their progress towards the goal which is likely to interfere with achieving the goal.

The desire to know your efforts are effective leads to self-evaluation of goals against performance. Self-evaluation leads to achievement of those goals. Evaluating performance against a goal improves performance due to several means:

1) Focuses attention and effort. When you evaluate your current performance regularly you are more likely to engage in the activities to achieve your goal and reduce activities that distract from goal. For instance, if you have a goal of losing weight and you evaluate what you are eating and whether it is compatible with weight loss you are more likely to lose weight.

2) Increases energy. You are more likely to spend greater energy on a goal when you evaluate your current performance against the goal. For instance, if you have a goal of increasing your walking or running distance to a certain amount and you routinely evaluate your progress you are likely to spend more energy trying to achieve the goal.

3) Increases persistence. You are more likely to keep working towards your goal when you evaluate your progress.

4) Identify and use knowledge and strategies. When you evaluate your performance and determine your strategies to reach the goal are not effective, you are likely to obtain more knowledge or switch strategies. For instance, if you want to increase the productivity of your employees and your strategy isn't working you may seek knowledge to determine a better way. Otherwise, without evaluation you are likely to continue an ineffective strategy (Martin et al., 2016).

One important criteria to evaluate your performance against goals is that the goals need to be measurable. Otherwise you can't determine your progress. For instance, a goal of “I want to be successful in business” is not measurable. However, “I want to obtain five new contracts a week” is clearly defined and measurable. A goal of “I want to win this game” may seem measurable but it doesn't give a means of getting there. So, a more measurable goal might be “If I increase my cardiovascular endurance by 5 minutes weekly it can help me win the game.”

Martin, B., McNally, J. and Taggar, S. (2016). Determining the Importance of Self-Evaluation on the Goal-Performance Effect in Goal Setting: Primary Findings. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 48, 91–100. DOI: 10.1037/cbs0000025

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