Mental Health

Why your goals matter

Every January our social feeds are full of posts about goal setting for the year ahead.

Whether it’s our friends, teammates, or the popular and professional people we follow, everyone seems like they’re putting down their dreams to achieve in the next 12 months.

If you haven’t already done it yourself and you’re wondering if it’s worth the effort, the answer is simple – yes.

Goal setting at the start of the year isn’t the same as making some celebratory-inspired New Year’s resolutions, it’s about achieving something positive, moving yourself forward and being the person you want to be in work, in your health and in your life.

Research shows people who regularly set and achieve goals have higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy.

Young men risk getting left behind

BetterUp previously published a report on how young American men were lagging in goal setting and this was resulting in a disadvantage in achieving success in work and life.

Although the report suggested many reasons why young men had the most difficulty in setting goals, compared to young women, and older men and women, it suggests men are taking longer to reach traditional milestones, such as first job, getting married, home ownership and parenthood.

The report also noted a connection with the gap in higher education between young men and women.

“It’s not surprising that in our increasingly educated and information-driven society, many young men who are missing this experience are feeling rudderless.”

Men perform better with set goals

Although men may be slower to take up goal setting, studies show men are able to better achieve targets when they set goals.

A study by the University of Leicester revealed how men are more receptive to goals in the workplace than women.

Using a timed addition task, research from the University’s Department of Economics examined the effect of non-binding goals – where no rewards or punishments are associated with success or failure – on effort, and found:

  • Men are more motivated by achieving goals than women
  • Goal setting generates the same effects on success as cash incentives
  • Having a goal leads to better focus and increased speed to complete a task

Research lead Samuel Smithers said the focus of the research was to determine how to motivate people.

“When we are given a goal, we feel a sense of purpose to achieve it, it naturally helps to focus us. The findings demonstrate that setting a goal induces higher effort,” he said.

Recent research published in the Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organisation supported the argument men use goals to great effect.

In the paper, Gender differences in private and public goal setting, researchers looked at how well men and women perform when setting private and public goals.

“In both treatments, when setting a goal (privately or publicly), men perform significantly better than women,” the report said.

Adapt a growth mindset with your goals

The right mindset is vital when planning and working towards your goals, just as the act of setting goals is good for your ongoing mental wellbeing.

Goals, and the steps you set along the way to reach them, give a sense of clarity to what your actions will be, which in turn relieves your anxiety or worries about where you are headed and your personal or professional development.

As you track your progress on your steps along the way, you reassure yourself that you’re heading in the right direction.

It enables you to identify and celebrate the wins in life, and to reset your goals with greater resilience when things don’t go to plan.

Nathan Clissold, National Rehabilitation Consultant for Acumen Health, says the right mindset can increase our sense of purpose for goals.

“I quite like ‘whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right’. In other words, being in the right mindset and the power of belief has a huge impact,” Nathan said.

“I think goals inspire hope and create purpose. Working towards them provides opportunities for reflection and comes with a sense of achievement which are all positive influences on mental health.”

Start with SMART

The popular method of SMART goals is still a helpful way of approaching goal setting.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

It adds structure to goal setting and helps ensure our goals are specific, held to a timeframe, and align with our values and life plan.

While there are proven benefits to setting challenging goals, setting the bar too high often leads to feelings of discouragement and disappointment.

Setting attainable goals helps us build momentum because we have more opportunities to celebrate small, but consistent wins.

Share your goals

One way to get the most out of your achievements is to share your goals.

Not only does it help you maintain accountability of your progress, it can increase the wins and provide support when you feel like you’re not moving forward.

Consider sharing your goals with a teammate, colleague, friend or your boss – and ask them to share their goals with you.

Together you can support each other to get where you want to be in the next 12 months.

The following resource has been provided for informational purposes only. As it does not consider your personal circumstances and needs, we recommend you obtain your own professional health advice to determine how this resource may apply to you.

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