Summary: Whether you love setting goals or hate it, you probably want good things for yourself. So how do you actually accomplish those things? Understanding the motivation behind your goals can help you make goals that last.
Some people love goals, some people hate them.
For some of us, we love the gratification of checking things off a to-do list and thrive on setting goals for ourselves. For others, goals feel like pressure, expectations, and an opportunity for failure.
But the thing is, most of us are trying to improve ourselves, develop new skills, and feel better about who we are. The way we go about it might look different, but those desires are pretty universal.
So, if you’ve got goals for yourself (whether they are carefully delineated in a pretty planner or just quietly kicking around in your brain), how do you actually accomplish them? How do you get yourself to do the things you want yourself to do? Because we all know it can be easy to fall short of where we want to be.
Understanding Human Motivation
To talk about this, I want you to think of a goal that you currently have for yourself. I’ll wait while you do.
OK, now I want you to stop and consider what it is that makes you want whatever it is that you thought of. Why do you want this for yourself? (Be honest.)
Let’s use a physical goal as an example because those are quite common. Let’s say I have a goal to work out more this year. (Pretty common goal, am I right?!)
Why Do I Have That Goal?
Looking at my motivation for that goal is important (and I will tell you why in a minute).
- I might have that goal because I want to lose weight.
- I might have that goal because I want to look good.
- I might want to improve my health, physical and/or mental.
- I might notice that my body is slowing down or needing movement and I want to strengthen it and stretch it and treat it with love.
- Maybe I want to get out of the house and make some friends and a fitness class sounds like a great way to do that.
- Maybe I want to try something new.
Any of those (and others) could be reasons that I have this goal.
But Here’s the Important Part:
Some of those reasons are extrinsically motivated, meaning they are dictated more by what I think others want from me than what I want for myself.
Working out to look good would fall in this category. If I am exercising with the sole purpose of achieving a certain weight or appearance (“tank top arms,” for example), that has more to do with what society is telling me I should look like than with me wanting it for myself. Maybe I’ve seen people who look the way society says they “should” look, and I’ve convinced myself that if I look that way too, I will be more valuable and accepted.
In other words, I am doing it because I think other people want me to or are more likely to approve of me if I do.
(Be honest with yourself on this. It can be easy to mix this up with your own desires and say to yourself, ‘no, I really want to weigh that much or look like that’ but if you stop and think about it, is that because others have convinced you that it’s important to do look that way?)
Now contrast that with choosing to work out because I know that it improves my mental and physical health when I do. Maybe I notice that when I go to the gym, I get sick less often and my health improves. Or that my mood is better after I’ve lifted weights.
In this case, my motivation for working out is more intrinsic, meaning I am doing it because I want it for myself. I value myself enough to want to do things that are important to me and my body. I’m not doing it for others’ approval, I am doing it for me.
Can you see the difference between these two types of motivation? The actions I am taking might look exactly the same, but the reason that I am doing them is different.
Why Does That Matter?
So, if the actions are the same either way, why does it matter what my motivation is?
Here’s the thing—research shows that when we are intrinsically motivated to do things, we are much more likely to accomplish them. We will also find more fulfillment in doing them.
That means that if my goal is extrinsic, or dictated by “shoulds,” I am not as likely to stick to it.
But if I can make a goal that truly matters to me and is something I want for myself, I will be much more likely to find success in that goal.
One thing to note though—this is a spectrum. A goal might not be entirely intrinsic or extrinsic but might fall somewhere in the middle. Maybe I go to the gym because it helps me maintain the weight that I prefer, and I know I feel good when I do it. That would land me somewhere between extrinsic and intrinsic. And that’s ok. But the closer I move to the intrinsic side of things, the more those goals are going to stick.
What’s Your Motivation?
Now think about the goal you have for yourself and where it lands on this spectrum. Is it something you want for yourself or something that you think others want for you?
If it’s not something that matters to you all that much or something you are doing because you think you are “supposed to,” it might be time to ditch it. Or maybe take some time to consider the goal and whether it’s something that does matter to you.
If it is something that matters to you, consider your motivation and how you can move closer to the intrinsic end of things. Could it be more intrinsic than you are allowing it to be? When you take ownership of your goals because they are things that matter to you and because you value yourself enough to want those things, you are much more likely to keep those goals (not to mention feel a lot more happiness while you do them).