There are many compelling reasons to set goals in life. As American author, salesperson, and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once famously said, people tend not to wander about and then suddenly find themselves at the top of Mount Everest. The basic premise behind this is as relevant for a client who wants to lose a significant amount of weight as it is for an athlete who wants to break into their country’s elite squad.
Numerous studies have shown that the successful participants are those who first set an overall goal and then break this into a series of sub-goals, thus creating a step-by-step process which psychologists believe – among other things – removes the fear and hesitation often associated with trying to achieve something significant.
Development of Structured Goal Setting
Initially, the world of business and management used goal setting as an essential aspect of training and defining success. At the heart of the use of goal setting as a motivational technique is a theory developed by Edwin Locke.1 The key foundations of the theory is the premise that our behavior is regulated by our values and goals and that our goals are conscious intentions. It wasn’t until the 1970s that sport utilized this approach and borrowed the basic principles.
Studies across a wide range of individuals undertaking a range of tasks in differing situations have illustrated clearly that setting goals can lead to improved performance. Setting goals provides the following four main benefits:
- Focused attention
- Increased energy
- Long-term willingness to persist
- Creating the opportunity for new learning
However, there are sport psychologists who are concerned by the way theories are enthusiastically adopted by trainers and coaches without due consideration to how sport differs from the business world. For example, sports participation is often driven by intrinsic motivation while work-related rewards are often extrinsic. Also, those involved in developing athletes may want to focus on the performance, not the outcome, while the relative emphasis in the workplace is generally outcome-based.
In sport, the framework of the relationship between outcome, performance and process goals can be illustrated by the following example:
With outcome and performance goals, the person setting the goal retains as much control over the goal as possible. Often a goal may be to reproduce the correct technical aspects worked on in training, in the competitive environment, irrespective of the position the athlete will finish.
Critics of goal setting in sport are concerned firstly that, for some athletes, a goal-setting program may increase anxieties and self-doubt. Secondly, that over-emphasis on process-orientated goals can lead to competitions being used as little more than time trials, with competitors happy finishing last as long as their individual time or performance target is met. Sport participation pays significant homage to competition and many feel this must be preserved.
Goal Setting and Motivation
Whether for a recreational performer or elite athlete, goal setting benefits all different sporting levels. In each situation, the key is finding answers to two simple questions:
- With regard to your performance, what would you like to achieve?
- How important is it to you?
Absolute honesty is imperative when answering these questions. Personal trainers must ensure their client examines each area of life (e.g., family, social, financial) to ensure there is no contradiction between the goals within each of these areas. Does the family and social goal marry with the demands of training, traveling and competing?
Other common questions an individual should consider before committing to a goal-setting approach to training may include:
- What obstacles am I likely to face?
- What may I reasonably expect to lose?
- What skills do I need to achieve?
- Who is best placed to help me?
- What is success to me?
- Is it worth the effort with no guarantees of the outcome?
- When and how am I going to reevaluate this goal?
What if a Client is Failing to Reach their Goals?
Conduct a review regarding the appropriateness of them, based on physical and technical profiling. It may be that the regime is doomed to fail before it starts if the goals set were not realistic. However, if both potential and motivation are evident, then the results must be examined and some prioritization carried out where there is room for improvement. As a coach or trainer, we are not often looking for a massive change in something to get exponential results. We are frequently looking for a small change in thinking and the actions that create momentum.
Research illustrates that those who make and maintain change in their lives tend to frequently remind themselves of the benefits associated with achieving their goals. Furthermore, successful participants make their plans, progress, benefits and rewards as concrete as possible – often expressed by explicitly writing them down.
Maintaining Motivation After a Goal Has Been Achieved
To a large extent, using performance or process-directed goal setting means that, despite achieving measurable success (e.g., winning a race), the quest for continued improvement is ongoing. Remind your clients that goals aren’t set in stone. Just because a goal has been achieved, it doesn’t mean that the process has ended – further goals can be introduced.
Some people find it useful to employ what is sometimes called third party motivation.2 Simply speaking, this is the involvement of other people in the process and can vary from simply telling them what you are aiming for to requesting they inquire about your progress from time to time. For instance, getting a client to tell their goals to their family and friends. Furthermore, even just thinking about having friends by your side may make life seem a little easier.3
On the issue of helping someone maintain their motivation, some coach education courses refer to Douglas McGregor’s X-Y theory,4 which he first discussed in 1960.
McGregor believed that environments should be arranged so that people can achieve their own goals best by directing their own efforts. This means the client or athlete has a real input into their preparation program. Their goals are self-initiated, albeit in discussion with their coach or trainer, and self-maintained.
Goal setting must be applied with common sense for it to be an effective tool in helping continually improve personal performance and in sustaining personal motivation. Apply the goal-setting rationale carefully, as there may be distinct differences in how individuals respond.
- Locke, E.A. (1968), Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives, Organizational Behaviour and Human Performance, 3, 157-189.
- Hays, S.C., Rosenfarb I, Wolfert E, Munt E, Korn Z and Zettle RD (1985), Self-reinforcement effect: An artifact of social setting? Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 18(3), 201-214.
- Schnall, S., Harber, K.D., Stefanucci, J.K. & Proffitt, D.R. (2008). Social support and the perception of geographical slant. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
- McGregor, D. (2006). The human side of enterprise, annotated edition. McGraw-Hill Professional, USA.
Source: Fitpro Network