The Science Behind Goal Setting

Ashley Yakish
Published on
May 21, 2021

Goal setting is a very useful tool in life, but we often find ourselves unmotivated and lost in the process. Achieving your goals might be difficult because you do not know the right way to set goals. There are rules and ways to set achievable goals, which I will be talking about today.

1) Set specific goals

Setting broad goals has been shown to be less effective than setting specific goals. A 2002 study by Locke & Latham points out that setting specific goals led to a higher performance. This demonstrates that you need to be clear about what exactly you want to achieve when setting a goal.

EXAMPLE: You are studying for your calculus exam

X “I’m going to do good on the calculus exam”

O “I’m going to get at least 80% on the calculus exam.”

2) Know your capability

Setting difficult but achievable goals are not an easy task. You need to have a full understanding of your capability and know what is your limit. Goals that are too difficult for your ability will make you lose confidence in completing tasks and motivation. Knowing your limit will push you to your maximum capability.

EXAMPLE: You have not never studied for longer than 2 hours

X “I’m going to study for 14+ hours today.”

O “I’m going to study for 4+ hours today.”

3) Set goals with deadlines

If you do not set a specific date (deadline)  you need to attain the goal by, it will be less likely for you to achieve it. Knowing that the deadline is approaching, you will invest more effort and time into the goal.

Again, this deadline must also be attainable and reasonable. You should set it so that there is enough time but still not too long.

EXAMPLE: You have a project due by the end of the semester (4 months away)

X “I’m going to turn it in on time and do my best on the project”

O “I’m going to finish my project in the next 2 months”

4) Feedback / measurable goals

Your goal can be more achievable if there is feedback. Feedback of a goal is something that evaluates your hard work, like test scores and grades. Use the feedback to see how well your goal worked and if you set your goal correctly.

For example, let’s go back to #1. Your goal was to get 80%+ on the test and you got 84. You were able to understand your capability and set a goal that was appropriate for you.

Next time, your goal might be something like “I’m going to get 90+% on the calculus test.” You also might have gotten 72 because 80% was just too high for you and you did not have any motivation. You should have set your goal to 75+% and work your way slowly to your ultimate goal score.

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