the importance of goal-settingPhoto courtesy of Saint Leo UniversityIf you read most any article offering advice about how to achieve success, you will typically find two common suggestions: set goals and reward yourself for your accomplishments. But what makes these two elements so important? In other words, what does each one offer you as you strive to create a better life? Let’s look at each factor individually to best answer these questions. 

The Importance of Goal Setting

Put simply, goals are the things that you want to accomplish in your life. Or, as described by Katie Curran, MAPP and founder of Strength Based Behavior Consultants, and Karen Reivich, PhD and co-director of the Penn Resiliency Project, in an article that they co-wrote for the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), “a goal is anything that an individual desires to experience, get, do, or become.” So, why set one, two, or ten?

First, by recognizing and setting your goals, you bring awareness to the fact that you have them. This directs your actions in a way that leads you closer to accomplishing your goals. For example, if you set a goal to get an “A” on an upcoming test, you’re more inclined to study your materials and do everything you can to obtain that score than if you set no goal in regard to your desired test outcome.

Curran and Reivich also point out that setting a goal has a way of energizing you. It takes whatever it is you want from something that you would simply like or dream about to something you can actually achieve. This makes it easier to take the steps necessary to reach the goal as you feel more motivated and inspired to achieve it.

Setting goals also increase the amount of effort you’re willing to spend on the task at hand, as well as making you more accountable for the actions you need to take to reach them. It pushes you to do whatever it is you’ve set out to do, helping you to persevere through the hard times as you complete the actions necessary to lead you wherever it is you want to go.

Why Creating Rewards is Imperative Too

Just as it is important to set goals, you also want to create rewards for yourself once you’ve achieved them as this serves a number of purposes. For starters, it gives you something to look forward to, a little external motivation to help you increase the likelihood that you will achieve your goals.

It also helps you reach big goals by celebrating little ones along the way. For example, imagine that you have a goal to graduate with a 3.75 GPA, allowing you to walk with all of the other honors students. While it certainly would feel good to achieve this goal, the fact that it is so far off in the distance may make it hard to stay committed during difficult times, such as when you’re really struggling with a particular class or life at home throws some curveballs your way. However, by giving yourself rewards every time you get a grade that positively contributes to a 3.75 GPA, you’ll keep the goal in the forefront of your mind, making it much easier to reach.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, also reminds us that, “When we don’t get any treats, we feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful.” This can lead to decreased motivation and energy, possibly even causing you to give up on the one thing you’ve set out to do. It will also likely contribute to negative feelings toward the goal, especially if you feel like you’re not getting there fast enough or as easy as you had hoped.

How to Put Goals and Rewards to Work for You

Based on these reasons as to why both are so important, setting goals and rewards is a great way to do all of the amazing things you want to do. To create your own personalized goal and reward program, here are some pointers to consider:

  • Make sure your goals are specific so you know exactly what it is you want.
  • Set goals that are reasonable so you’re not chasing after something that is unrealistic.
  • Come up with goals that are attainable to keep you from getting frustrated by goals that are too lofty or impossible to reach.
  • Be sure to set a deadline for your goals or you won’t have an urgency to complete them.
  • When setting your goals, figure out how you are going to measure your progress along the way to ensure you are moving in the right direction.
  • Share your goals with a trusted friend to help hold you accountable.
  • Reward every accomplishment you make, no matter how small, to give you momentum to keep going forward.
  • Use rewards that mean the most to you, making it easier to push past the difficult times. Some to consider include giving yourself the afternoon off, going to see a movie, getting a massage, reading a book you’ve been dying to read, and watching your favorite show.

Set goals so you know what you want; set rewards so you enjoy the fruits of your labor. Do this and you will also set something else—you will set yourself up for success.

Resources

Curran, K, & Reivich, K. (n.d.). Goal Setting and Hope. NASP Communiqué.http://www.nasponline.org/publications/cq/39/7/goal-setting-and-hope.aspx. Accessed July 24, 2015.

Rubin, G. (n.d.). The Psychology of Rewarding Yourself with Treats. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/12/13/psychology-rewarding-yourself-with-treats/. Reviewed December 9, 2014. Accessed July 24, 2015.