Do goals make a difference? The positive impacts of goal setting

Do goals make a difference? The positive impacts of goal setting

We have talked time and again about how setting goals can boost motivation but is there more to it? How can goal setting really affect your performance? Research published in the November 2013 issue of Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology showed that a person’s goals at the outset of a competence-based task, such as sport, can influence the levels of shame or pride felt on completion. The research was carried out by Penn State and Central Queensland universities.

The research suggests that when you set a goal to outperform others then your feelings of pride will be exemplified when you succeed. However, having the goal of avoiding being outperformed by others will result in shame if you are to fail.

The research involved getting a team of 58 test subjects to play the video game Tetris and instructed to earn as many points as possible. Before each round the participants were presented with different criteria for earning points. The goal of each of these criteria was to elicit different achievement goals in the participants. As each round finished the researchers gave the participants falsified feedback so they could rate their shame or pride.

Results suggest that a person’s motivation and purpose for a task, regardless of whether it was a simple video game or a competitive race, impacts on the amount or pride or shame felt as a consequence. Shame equates quite closely to guilt which we have discussed previously in terms of its healthiness. The amount of pride or shame felt can have a huge impact on whether a person continue to play a sport, compete in a competition or get involved in anything they feel strongly about.

The conclusion of the research is clear that although comparing yourself to your competitors or even team mates can be dangerous, the best thing to do is look at what you can achieve rather than what you could lose. Working towards achievement goals is the best way to maximise your fitness and sporting endeavours.

How to set goals

Setting your goals in from a health and fitness perspective involves creating your own road map from where you are now to get you to where you want to be. You need to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of your current position and outline what you want to improve. It could be highly specific, such as toning your abs or running a particular race or relatively generalised such as losing a certain amount of weight.

The thing you want to improve or work on is your destination, your ultimate goal. However, to get there it is sensible to set a number of smaller, achievable goals, for the benefit of staying motivated and proactive.  Without a long-term goal your journey is pretty pointless however so it’s important to get it set in stone before you begin. It does need to be relatively specific, so if you’re thinking ‘I just want to lose weight’ specify an amount and stick to it.

Intermediate term goals are a great way of managing your longer term ones. It gives you the chance to pit stop along the way and have milestones to celebrate and be proud of. These should be things you’re dedicated to accomplishing but aren’t your long term goal. They could be things such as fitting into your favourite outfit from before you gained weight or taking up a new exercise class and attending regularly.

You could even add in smaller short term goals too. These could be daily or weekly challenges such as making sure you eat 5+ fruit and vegetables every day to avoiding caffeine and carbonated drinks on weekdays. They may only seem small but once you begin sticking to them you’ll feel a sense of achievement and it’s a step closer to your larger, long-term goal.

It’s important not to underestimate the importance of ensuring your goals are specific. Rather than saying “I want to work out harder” say “I want to carry out 10 or 20 more squats than yesterday”. Your goals also need to be challenging and attainable. You want them to be difficult but not beyond your capabilities and you don’t want to make them too easy – otherwise you’ll never get that positive sense of achievement.

It’s a tricky business planning goals that will work for you but evidence shows that your body and mind will be boosted by hitting the achievements you set for yourself. It could take some trial and error but you will soon find a certain type of goal works for you. If food goals aren’t successful then move onto exercise-based options.

The positive impacts of goal setting are well-documented and research backs up how they can benefit your mind set as well as your body. If your mind is on the right track then your body will soon follow.




Olga N.
23 January 2014

Olga N.

I want to run my first marathon this year but know I am a long way from being ready. I've set lots of small goals to see if they help. Each week I plan to run a little further and make sure my regular gym routine is in check with the running schedule. I've hit my first small goal of 2014 and it feels really great. I've set myself a challenge which is within my reach but just so far it feels like a proper challenge - just like this article says - I hope I pull it off!

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