Setting goals can be a constructive practice. Whether you are setting career goals, relationship and familial goals or daily goals, it is pertinent to understand what your objectives are in order to establish goals that you can ultimately attain.
There has been a lot of research in positive psychology on the benefits of goal setting to help maintain a happier and healthier life. Being happy takes a lot of practice and a lot of work, and goal setting is one part of the equation.
Your dopamine system, which is a chemical that is released every time you experience a reward, is reliant upon goal setting and achievement. So as dopamine is released into the part of your brain responsible for positive rewards, you are essentially motivated to repeat this occurrence. When you set goals and accomplish them, you and your brain are rewarded (Mehta, 2013).
Goal Setting Theory
This is why the types of goals you set are associated with your happiness. According to Bruce Headey’s study on life goals and happiness, it is pertinent to establish non-zero goals as opposed to zero-sum goals.
Non-zero goals will encompass the welfare of other people, besides yourself, and they will promote complete life satisfaction. Zero-sum goals are those goals that offer more commitment to your own desires.
These kinds of goals have been proven to be detrimental to life satisfaction because they are basically concentrated on material gains.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek to achieve your own personal goals, but putting too much emphasis on them can be dangerous especially when non-zero goals are ignored. Branching out your goal setting to include other people, and how you can help and serve them will benefit you more in the long run.
Ken Sheldon did comparative research on extrinsic and intrinsic goals. He and his colleagues discovered that goals which increase feelings of autonomy, competence, or connection to others lead to greater happiness.
For this reason, intrinsic goal setting is imperative. Intrinsic goals aim to build deep and lasting relationships with others and yourself. In contrast, emphasizing too greatly on achieving fortune and fame, while disregarding intrinsic goals, can lead to less contentment in life (Niemiec, 2009).
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of flow, describes the necessity of effective goal setting in order to attain the euphoric state of flow. The activity being performed needs to be challenging yet attainable.
The goal has to be clearly defined. There has to be an immediate evaluation of how close you are to reaching the goal. And finally, you need to be completely involved in the activity itself.
Without thoughtful and proper goal setting sustaining a flow state is not possible. If you want to achieve flow and invigorate your life with happiness, set the right kind of goals.
How to start setting goals
Efficient goal-setting is about setting the appropriate intention. You need to know what it is you want to achieve.
Whether your goal is short-term and small, such as doing one random act of kindness per day or long-term and grandiose, like solving world hunger, you need to designate specific, actionable steps that you can take in order to reach your goals.
Make sure your goals are difficult enough to motivate you and pique your interest but not so laborious that you really have no chance of achieving them.
For example, setting the goal to become a world-class air pilot compared to setting the goal to literally fly like a bird are two entirely different goals. And finally, you need to always check back on your goals to ensure you are on the right track to accomplishing them. It is meaningless to set goals that you have no intention of meeting.
Headey, B. (2007 July 3). Life goals matter to happiness: A revision of set-point theory. Springer Science and Business Media. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11205-007-9138-y#/page-1Mehta, M. (2013 January 3). Why our brains like short-term goals. Entrepreneur. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225356
Niemiec, C., Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (June 2009). The path taken: Consequences of attaining intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations in post-college life. US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2736104/
Sheldon, K., Gunz, A., Nichols, C., & Ferguson, Y. (2010). Extrinsic value orientation and affective forecasting: Overestimating the rewards, underestimating the costs. http://sdtheory.s3.amazonaws.com/SDT/documents/2010_SheldonGunzNicholsFerguson_JOP.pdf