Are all goals created equal?

Last week I spoke at the Work 2.0 Conference on Positive Leadership and the impact of applying the science of Positive Psychology at Work. Many of you know I’ve rabbiting on about this for years! And it was certainly inspiring to see some exemplar organisations like Google, Amex and Atlassian moving ahead in leaps and bounds when it comes to pushing the well-being@work boundaries beyond the office gym or even massage and yoga.

This year I set a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) to complete the Blackmore’s Half-Marathon in Sydney. It was a huge accomplishment for me given the longest I’ve ever run is 14 kms (last year’s City to Surf). And while it took a few days to recover, the positive emotions that I felt from the sense of accomplishment will last a very long time!
I’m also not the first person to recognise the impact that a sense of accomplishment or achievement can have on our psychological well-being. In fact, those of you that are familiar with Positive Psychology, will know that one of the popular models of well-being created by Prof Martin Seligman is PERMA with A standing for accomplishment!

So far, I’ve not seen the A of Accomplishment unpacked particularly well within the field of Positive Psychology however there has been a lot of research done in the psychological literature on goal striving/attainment and its impact on well-being.

What does the science say?

Research has consistently found that individuals who feel personally involved in the pursuit of goals indicate higher psychological well-being and display better health than do individuals who lack a sense of goal directedness in their lives (Brunstein, Schultheiss & Maier, 1999).

However, not all goals are equally likely to contribute to our well-being (Emmons, 1999).

Research has generally shown that it’s the striving towards personally meaningful goals that leads to well-being!

Are all goals created equal?

“Material strivings” (ie, goals for fame, fortune and success) have been repeatedly shown to detract from well-being and are more likely to lead to psychological and personal problems.

Whereas the presence of intrinsic goals (eg goals relating to relationships, personal growth and leaving a legacy) lead to increased well-being!

Research has also shown that pursuing goals from an intrinsic motivation leads to greater goal attainment and greater levels of well-being, for example, pursuing goals that you love or find meaningful rather than pursuing goals for extrinsic reasons – because you “have to” or feel that you “should”.

What does accomplishment mean (to you)?

The Miriam Webster dictionary defines accomplishment as:

• something done, achieved, or accomplished successfully

• the successful completion of something : the act of accomplishing something

• a special skill or ability gained by practice or training.

In my work in the education, health and corporate sector I meet a lot of accomplished people. However, what I also observe is that there is often a cost to that accomplishment. For senior high school students, the pressure to achieve often results in clinical levels of anxiety or depression and in the workplace, the pressure to achieve often unrealistic KPIs or to keep a job can lead to similarly high levels of psychological distress – often manifesting in serious issues in relationships at work and/or home and unhealthy behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse or retail therapy gone wrong!

I think it’s high time we all took a step back and really considered what accomplishment means to us personally! Perhaps achieving a 99.9 ATAR and getting into medicine or law is not the only measure of accomplishment. Perhaps achieving something that’s personally meaningful to you, whether that’s in an occupation you love or another type of life goal, may really be the key to living the good life!

Research also tells us that “competence” is a core psychological need – essential for our well-being – so I’m not saying let’s not strive for goals at all but the focus should be on setting and striving for “personally meaningful goals”.

When it comes to achievement, we need to ask ourselves WHY? Knowing why you’re investing so much time and often money into a pursuit can not only boost your chances of attaining that goal but it can also significantly affect the way we feel during the process of attainment. Whilst motivation can wax and wane, research tells us that when we’re pursuing “self-concordant” or “authentic goals” we’ll experience greater levels of well-being.

This month’s challenge:

This month I’m going to challenge you to review your goals whether they’re explicit (ie, written down/spoken) or implicit (you have a general internal sense of what they are but you’ve not made them explicit).

1. Are they authentic? – Are you pursuing goals that are aligned to your core life values? If you don’t even know what your values are, then how on earth are you going to be able to set and strive for authentic goals! Feel free to email us for a core values list.

2. Set a SMART Goal – Most of us are familiar with the acronym SMART when it comes to goal setting. Please note the though that we’ve replaced the A for achievable/attractive with authentic as noted above. Spending time though in ensuring your goal really is SMART on all fronts will aid your goal pursuit.

3. What’s your motivation? – Not sure if your goals really are personally meaningful ie,, intrinsic versus extrinsic? If you’d like to assess your motivation for your goals, email us for a personal strivings scale.

We’d love to hear more about your #positiveaccomplishments on our Facebook page and or Instagram. Remember life’s too short to languish!

Until next month, may you achieve (or make progress towards) everything that your heart desires…

Lots of love, PI & I (Suzy)