The importance, utility and value of goal setting (2023)

The importance, utility and value of goal setting (1)How often do you set goals? How often do you review your list?

We all know that setting goals is important, but we often don't realize how important they are as we go through life.

Goal setting doesn't have to be boring. There are many benefits and advantages to having a set of goals to work towards.

Setting goals helps trigger new behaviors, helps guide your focus, and helps maintain that momentum in life.

Goals also help align your focus and promote a sense of self-control. In the end, you can't manage what you don't measure and you can't improve something you don't manage properly. Setting goals can help you do all of that and more.

In this article, we'll review the importance and value of setting goals, as well as the many benefits.

We'll also look at how goal setting can lead to greater success and performance. Setting goals not only motivates us, but can also improve our mental health and our level of personal and professional success.

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This article contains:

  • The importance and value of setting goals
  • Why set goals in life?
  • What are the benefits of setting goals?
  • 5 Proven Ways Goal Setting Is Effective
  • How can goal setting improve performance?
  • How goal setting motivates people
  • Why is it important to set goals for students?
  • Does setting goals lead to success?
  • A look at the importance of goal setting in mental health
  • The importance of setting goals in companies and organizations
  • 10 Quotes on the Value and Importance of Setting Goals
  • A message to take home
  • References

The importance and value of setting goals

Until 2001, objectives were divided into three types or groups (Elliot & McGregor, 2001):

  1. mastery goals
  2. Performance Approach Objectives
  3. Performance Prevention Goals

A mastery goal is a goal that someone sets to achieve or master something like “I will score higher in this event next time.”

A performance focus goal is a goal in which someone tries to do better than their peers. This type of goal could be a goal to look better, lose 10 pounds, or get a better performance review.

A performance avoidance goal is a goal in which someone tries to avoid doing worse than their peers, as a goal to avoid negative feedback.

Elliot and McGregor's research in 2001 changed these assumptions. Until the publication of this study, it was assumed that mastery goals were best and that performance focus goals were sometimes good and sometimes bad. Performance prevention goals were considered the worst and, in fact, bad.

The implicit assumption, as a result of this, was that there were no bad mastery goals and no mastery avoidance goals.

The Elliot and McGregor study challenged these assumptions, showing that there are key prevention targets and showing that each type of target can, in fact, be useful depending on the circumstances.

Elliot and McGregor's research used a 2 x 2 achievement goal framework made up of:

  1. domain approach
  2. Dominance-avoidance
  3. performance focus
  4. performance prevention

These variables were tested in 3 studies. In experiments one and two, explanatory factor analysis was used to divide 12 goal setting questions into 4 factors, as shown in the diagram below.

The importance, utility and value of goal setting (2)

Confirmatory factor analysis was then used to show that mastery-avoidance and focus-mastery fit the data better than mastery alone.

The questions for these studies were created from a series of pilot studies and previous questionnaires. After combining all the questions, a factor analysis was used to confirm that each set of questions expressed different components of goal setting.

The results of these studies showed that those with a strong motive to achieve were much more likely to use focus targets. Those with a strong motive to avoid failure, on the other hand, were much more likely to use avoidance targets.

The third experiment examined the same four achievement goal variables and revealed that those who were more likely to use performance focus goals were more likely to have higher test scores, while those who used performance avoidance goals were more likely to have higher test scores. more likely to have lower test scores.

According to research, motivation in achievement environments is complex, and achievement goals are only one of several types of operating variables to consider.

Achievement goal regulation, or the actual pursuit of the goal, involves both the achievement goal itself and some other typically higher-order factors, such as relevant motivational variables, according to research by Elliot and McGregor.

As we can clearly see, the research on goal setting is pretty solid.

Why set goals in life?

The truth is that some goals are achieved while others are not and it is important to understand why.

Mark Murphy, the founder and CEO ofLiderazgoIQ.comand author of the book "difficult goals: The secret to getting from where you are to where you want to be”, he went through years of research in science and how the brain works and how we are wired as human beings when it comes to setting goals.

Murphy's Book"Difficult Goals: The Secret to Leave Where You Are and Get to Where You Want”combines the latest research inpsychology and brain science in goal settingas well as the law of attraction to help fine tune the process.

A DIFFICULT goal is an accomplished goal, according to Murphy (2010). Murphy tells us to put our present cost in the future and our future benefit in the present.

What this really means is not putting off until tomorrow what you can do today. We tend to value things in the present moment much more than we value things in the future.

Setting goals is a process that changes over time. The goals you set for yourself at 20 are likely to be very different from the ones you set for yourself at 40.

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Whatever your age, in the end it doesn't really matter, as long as you continually check yourlife goalsand work to update them.

What are the benefits of setting goals?

Edward Locke and Gary Latham (1990) are leaders in goal setting theory. According to his research, goals not only affect behavior and performance at work, but also help mobilize energy, which leads to greater overall effort. Greater effort leads to an increase in persistent effort.

Goals help motivate us to develop strategies that allow us to reach the required goal level.

Reaching the goal can generate satisfaction and greater motivation or frustration and less motivation if the goal is not achieved.

Goal setting can be a very powerful technique under the right conditions according to research (Locke & Latham, 1991).

According to Lunenburg (2011), the motivational impact of goals can, in fact, be affected by moderators such as self-efficacy and also ability.

5 Proven Ways Goal Setting Is Effective

Locke and Latham's research has shown us that goal setting is actually very effective.

In the 1968 article “Towards a theory of task motivationLocke showed us that clear goals and appropriate feedback served as good motivation for employees (Locke, 1968).

Locke's research also revealed that working toward a goal is an important source of motivation, which in turn improves performance.

Locke reviewed more than a decade of research from laboratory and field studies on the effects of goal setting and performance. Locke found that more than 90% of the time, goals that were specific and challenging, but not too challenging, led to better performance compared to easy goals or very general goals, such as the goal of doing your best.

Gary Latham, MD, has also studied the effects of goal setting in the workplace. Latham's results supported Locke's findings and demonstrated that there is, in fact, an inseparable link between goal setting and performance in the workplace.

Locke and Latham published work together in 1990 with their work "A theory of goal setting and task performance.” emphasizing the importance of setting goals that are specific and challenging.

Locke and Latham also stated that there are five goal setting principles that can help you improve your chances of success.

  1. Clarity
  2. Challenge
  3. Commitment
  4. Opinion
  5. Task complexity

Clarityis important when it comes to goals. Defining clear and specific goals eliminates the confusion that occurs when a goal is defined more generically.

challenging goalsstretches your mind and makes you think big. Helps you achieve more. Every success you achieve helps build a winning mindset.

Commitmentis also important. If you don't commit to your goal with everything you've got, you're less likely to achieve it.

Opinionit helps you know what you're doing right and how you're doing it. This allows you to adjust your expectations and your plan of action going forward.

Assignment Complexityis the final factor. It is important to set goals that are in line with the complexity of the goal.

How can goal setting improve performance?

Locke and Latham (1991) studied goal setting and task performance. Goal setting theory is based on the simplest of introspective observations, namely that conscious human behavior is purposeful.

This behavior is regulated by the objectives of each one. The direction of these goals characterizes the actions of all living organisms, including things like plants.

Goal setting theory, according to research, states that the simplest and most direct motivational explanation for why some people perform better than others is because they have different performance goals.

Two attributes were studied in relation to performance:

  1. Feliz
  2. Intensity

Content-wise, the two aspects he focused on include specificity and difficulty. The content of the objective can range from vague to very specific, as well as difficult or not so difficult.

The difficulty depends on the relationship you have with the task. The same task or goal can be easy for one person and more challenging for another, so it's all relative.

However, on average, the higher the absolute level of a goal, the more difficult it is to achieve. According to the survey, there were more than 400 studies that examined the relationship of goal attributes with task performance.

According to Locke and Latham (1991), achievement has consistently been found to be a linear function of goal difficulty.

Given an appropriate level of skill and commitment, the more difficult a goal, the higher the return.

What the researchers found was that people typically adjust their effort level to the difficulty of the goal. As a result, they put more effort into difficult targets compared to easier ones.

The principle of goal-directed action is not restricted to conscious action, according to research.

Goal-directed action is defined by three attributes, according to Lock & Latham.

  1. self generation
  2. significant value
  3. meta-causality

Self-generation refers to the body's integral energy source. Value-meaning refers to the idea that actions not only make it possible, but necessary for the survival of the organism. Meta-causation means that the resulting action is caused by a goal.

While we can see that all living organisms experience some form of goal-related action, humans are the only organisms that have a higher form of consciousness, at least as far as we know at this time.

When humans act with a purpose, they set goals to achieve them.

How goal setting motivates people

Research tells us that goal setting is important for both the individual and the group. Locke and Latham also showed us that there is an important relationship between goals and performance.

Locke and Latham's research supports the idea that the most effective performance appears to result from specific and challenging goals. When goals are used to measure performance and linked to feedback on results, they create a sense of commitment and buy-in.

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The researchers also found that the motivational impact of goals can be affected by ability and self-efficacy, or the belief that they can achieve something.

Timelines were also found to help improve the effectiveness of a goal and a learning goal orientation leads to superior performance compared to a performance goal orientation.

Why is it important to set goals for students?

Research by Moeller, Theiler, and Wu (2012) examined the relationship between goal setting and student performance in the classroom.

This research examined a 5-year quasi-experimental study that looked at student goal setting and performance in the high school Spanish classroom.

The LinguaFolio tool was used and implemented in 23 secondary schools with a total of 1,273 students.

The portfolio of studies focused onstudent goal setting, self-assessment and a collection of language acquisition tests.

The researchers used a hierarchical linear model and then analyzed the relationship between goal setting and student performance. This research was conducted at both the individual student level and the teacher level.

A correlational analysis of the goal setting process as well as language proficiency scores revealed a statistically significant relationship between the goal setting process and language acquisition (p < 0.01).

The survey also looked at the importance of autonomy or the ability to take responsibility for their learning. Autonomy is a long-term goal of education, according to the study, as well as a key factor for success in language learning.

There has been a paradigm shift in language education from teacher-centred to student-centred learning, which makes the idea of ​​autonomy even more important.

Goal setting in language learning is commonly considered as one of the strategies that stimulate the student's sense of autonomy (Moeller, Theiler & Wu, 2012).

The results of the study revealed that there was a constant increase over time in the scores of the main purpose, the action plan and the reflection of the Spanish high school students.

This trend continued at all levels except the progression from 3rd to 4th year of Spanish to writing action plans and setting goals. The greatest improvement in goal setting occurred between the second and third level of Spanish.

The "Harvard Study"

There has been some question as to whether a study done at Harvard University in 1979 is really a valid study.

The Harvard MBA Study, reportedly conducted in 1979, was designed to assess how written and planned goals affected outcomes later in life. While some believe the study was real, others have confused the research with an alleged study conducted at Yale.

In the study, students were asked: “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to achieve them?

Of those surveyed, only 3% of graduates had written goals and plans. 13% of the students had goals, but these goals were not in writing.

84% of the students interviewed did not have a specific objective.

Ten years later, the students were supposedly interviewed once more. The findings were surprising. The 13% who had goals but didn't write them down actually earned twice as much as the 84% who didn't.

The 3% who had goals scored earned ten times as much as the other 97% combined.

If these results are indeed true, they are surprising because they clearly show that setting goals, even the ones that aren't written down, makes a world of difference when it comes to being successful in life.

Does setting goals lead to success?

Dr. Gail Matthews, a clinical psychologist at the Dominican University of California, has done some really valuable research.

Matthew's research shows that those who write down their goals and share them with a friend, as well as send weekly updates, were on average 33% more successful when it comes to reaching their stated goals compared to those who just formulate goals.

Matthews became interested in the study of procrastination after reading an article in Fast Company magazine about the 1953 Yale goal study.

The findings of this study, similar to the alleged Harvard study, have inspired the teachings of many self-help gurus.

However, many believe that the two studies never took place, and some even call them urban legends.

However, Matthew's investigation is real. In his study, which involved 267 participants from various companies and organizations, he studied how writing goals and committing to goal-directed actions influence goal achievement in the workplace.

The study was divided into 5 groups.

  1. Group one was asked to think of the business-related goals they hoped to achieve in approximately four weeks. The group also rated the objectives based on their difficulty.
  2. Group two was asked to go a step further by writing down their objectives and ranking them in terms of difficulty.
  3. Group three was asked to write down their goals and write some kind of commitment to action for each one.
  4. Group four was required to do everything group three did, plus share these commitments with a friend.
  5. Group five was asked to do all of the above, plus send weekly progress updates.

149 people completed the study. At the end of the study, group one achieved only 43% of their stated goals.

Those in group four achieved 64% of their stated goals. Those in group five were more successful, achieving 76% of their goals.

This study clearly provides empirical evidence on the effectiveness of three things, responsibility, commitment, plus taking the time to write down your goals.

Without a goal, your chances of success are slim at best.

A study by Statistic Brain, looking at New Year's goals, states that only 8% of people reach their New Year's goals, and 92% of them end in failure.

The study also proclaims that:

  • 45% of Americans usually score goals.
  • 17% of Americans score goals infrequently.
  • 38% of Americans never score.

A look at the importance of goal setting in mental health

Goal setting is also an important part of mental health. In itA study, which looked at goal setting and well-being, people participated in three short, one-hour sessions in which they set goals.

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The researchers compared the goal setters with a control group, which did not complete thegoal setting exercise🇧🇷 The results showed a causal relationship between goal setting and subjective well-being.

Weinberger, Mateo, and Sirey (2009) also discussed perceived barriers to mental health care and goal setting among depressed older adults living in the community.

Forty-seven participants completed the study, which examined various barriers to mental health and goal setting. These barriers include:

  1. Psychological barriers such as social attitudes, beliefs about depression and stigmas.
  2. Logistical barriers such as transportation and availability of services.
  3. Illness-related barriers that are modifiable or not, such as severity of depression, comorbid anxiety, cognitive status, etc.

For people who perceive there are a lot of barriers to overcome, a mental health referral can seem like more than a handy burden.

According to the study, setting a personal goal for treatment can be helpful and even something that can increase the relevance of seeking help and improve access to care.

Goal setting has been shown to help improve treatment outcome in studies of adults with depression. (Weinberger, Mateo and Sirey, 2009)

The goal setting process has become a major focus in many of the current psychotherapies used to treat depression. Some oftherapies that used goal settinginclude:

  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
  • Cognitive and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CT, CBT)
  • Problem solving therapy (PST)

Participants who set goals, according to the study, were more likely to accept a mental health referral. Goal setting seems to be a necessary and good first step when it comes to helping a depressed older person take control of their well-being.

The importance of setting goals in companies and organizations

Setting goals is vitally important for everyone, especially those in the business world. Most of us learned early on that setting goals can help us achieve more and stay better organized.

Goals help us motivate ourselves and organize our thoughts. Throughout evolutionary psychology, however, a conscious activity like goal setting is often underestimated.

Psychoanalysis focuses on the unconscious part of the mind, while cognitive behaviorists argue that external factors are of greater importance.

In 1968 Edward A. Locke formally developed something he called goal setting theory as an alternative to all of this.

Goal Setting TheoryIt helps us understand that goal setting is a conscious process and a very effective and efficient means of increasing productivity and motivation, especially in the work environment.

According to Gary P. Latham, former president of the Canadian Psychological Association, the basic premise of goal-setting theory is that our conscious goals affect what we achieve. Our goals are the object or purpose of our action.

This view is not in line with traditional cognitive behaviorism, which views human behavior as something that is driven by external stimuli.

This view tells us that just as a mechanic works on a car, other people often work on our brains, without our realizing it, and this, in turn, determines how we behave.

Goal setting theory goes beyond this assumption and tells us that our internal cognitive functions are just as important, if not more so, in determining our behavior.

For our conscious cognition to be effective, we must direct and guide our behavior in relation to the world. That is the true purpose of a goal.

According to Locke and Latham, there is an important relationship between objectives and performance.

Research supports the prediction that the most effective performance generally occurs when goals are specific and challenging in nature.

According to research, an objective learning orientation generally leads to higher performance compared to an objective performance orientation.

Deadlines also improve the effectiveness of a goal. The objectives have a general influence on the behavior and performance of employees in organizations and in managerial practice, according to Locke and Latham (2002).

According to research, almost all modern organizations have some kind ofpsychological goal setting programin your operation.

Programs such as Management by Objectives (MBO), High Performance Work Practices (HPWP), and Management Information Systems (MIS) use benchmarking to stretch goals and plan strategically, all of which involves setting goals up to certain point.

Fred C. Lunenburg, profesor de Sam Houston State University, resume esses pontos no artigo do periódico International Journal of Management, Business and Administration “Goal-Setting Theory of Motivation” (Lunenburg, 2011).

Specific:Specificity tells us that for a goal to be successful, it must also be specific. goals likeI'll do better next timethey are too vague and general to motivate us.

Something more specific would be to say:I will dedicate at least 2 hours a day this week to finish the report on time.🇧🇷 This goal motivates us to act and holds us accountable.

Difficult but still achievable: The goals should, of course, be achievable, but they shouldn't be too easy. Very simple goals can even make us give up. Goals should be challenging enough to motivate us without causing undue stress.

Acceptance Process: If we continually receive goals from other people and don't really accept them, it is likely that we will continue to fail. Accepting a goal and owning a goal is the key to success.

One way to do this at the organizational level is to bring team members together to discuss and set goals.

feedback and rating: When a goal is achieved, we feel good. It gives us a feeling of satisfaction. If we don't receive any feedback, that feeling of pleasure will quickly disappear and the achievement may even be meaningless.

In the workplace, continuous feedback helps us feel that our work and contributions matter. This goes beyond measuring a single objective.

When goals are used for performance appraisal, they are often much more effective.

Learn beyond our performance: While goals can be used as a means of giving ourselves feedback and evaluating our performance, the real beauty of setting goals is that it helps us learn something new.

When we learn something new, we develop new skills and that helps us move up in the job market.

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Learning-oriented goals can also be very useful in helping us discover meaning in life, which can help increase productivity.

Performance-oriented goals, on the other hand, force an employee to demonstrate what they can and cannot do, which is often counterproductive.

These types of goals are also less likely to produce a sense of meaning and pleasure. If we don't have that sense of fulfillment when it comes to setting and achieving a goal, we're less likely to learn, grow, and explore.

group goals: Defining the objectives of the group is also of vital importance for companies. Just as individuals have goals, so do groups and teams, and even committees. Group goals help bring people together and allow them to develop and work toward the same goals.

This helps create a sense of community, as well as a deeper sense of meaning and a greater sense of belonging and satisfaction.

10 Quotes on the Value and Importance of Setting Goals

A well defined goal is half the battle.

zig ziglar

Everyone has their own Mount Everest that they were put on this earth to climb.

Seth Godin

You cannot change your destiny overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.

jim rohn

It's better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than at the top of the ladder you don't.

Esteban Kellog

If you don't make your own life plan, you are likely to fall for someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.

jim rohn

Everyone who has achieved great things has had a great goal, has set his eyes on a lofty goal, which at times seemed impossible.

orison swett marden

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our goal is too high and we don't reach it, but that it is too low and we reach it.

Miguel Angel

Give me an employee with a purpose and I'll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I'll give you an employee.

J. C. Penney

Intention without action is an insult to anyone who expects the best from you.

Andy Andrews

This one step, choosing a goal and sticking with it, changes everything.

scott cana

A message to take home

Setting goals can help us move forward in life. The objectives give us a roadmap to follow. Goals are a great way to hold ourselves accountable even if we fail. Setting goals and working to achieve them helps us define what we really want in life.

Setting goals also helps us prioritize things. If we choose to just wander through life without a goal or plan, surely the choice is ours. However, setting goals can help us live the life we ​​really want to live.

That being said, we don't have to live every moment of our lives as planned because we all need those days when we have nothing to accomplish.

However, those who have clearly defined goals may enjoy more downtime than those who do not set goals.

For a more insightful read, take a look at our selection ofgoal setting books.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Do not forgetdownload for free our three goal achievement exercises.


  • Elliot, AJ and McGregor, H.A. (2001). A 2 x 2 achievement goal framework.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(3), 501-519.
  • Locke, E.A. (1968). Towards a theory of motivation and incentives for tasks.Organizational Behavior and Human Performance,3(2), 157-189.
  • Locke, E.A. and Latham, G.P. (1991). A theory of goal setting and task performance.A Management Academy Review, 16(2), 212-247.
  • Locke, E.A. and Latham, G.P. (2002). Building useful theory in practice about goal setting and task motivation.American psychologist, 57(9), 705-717.
  • Lunenburg, FC (2011). Motivation theory for goal setting.International Journal of Management, Business and Administration, 15(1), 1-6.
  • Moeller, AJ, Theiler, JM, & Wu, C. (2012). Goal setting and student performance: a longitudinal study.The Journal of Modern Language, 96(2), 153-169.
  • Murphy, M. (2010).DIFFICULT GOALS: The secret to getting from where you are to where you want to be.New York, NY: McGrawHill.
  • Weinberger, MI, Mateo, C., and Sirey, J.A. (2009). Perceived barriers to mental health care and goal setting among depressed older adults living in the community.Patient preference and adherence, 3, 145-149.
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