Motivation Article #4: Reaching One’s Personal Goals
Autonomous goal motivation can lead directly to greater goal progress by allowing
individuals to exert more effort, experience less conflict, and feel a greater sense of
readiness to change their behaviour. It also allows individuals to make better use of
implementation plans specifying how, when, and where they will enact goal-
directed behaviours. Support from other people can play a vital role in facilitating
goal pursuits. Successful goal progress results in enhanced positive affect and
reduced negative affect, particularly if the goal pursuits involved satisfaction of
intrinsic psychological needs.
New Year resolutions reflect individuals’ attempt to motivate themselves to achieve
an important personal goal. Despite the importance of their goals and their
commitment to achieving them, most individuals who make a New Year’s resolution
fail to achieve them. People who fail at their resolutions report that the failure
results in negative affect and lowered self-esteem.
Polivy and Herman argued that the cycle of failure and renewed effort was
maladaptive and rooted in unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount,
ease and consequences of self-change attempts. Polivy and Herman’s false-hope
syndrome may be uniquely relevant to weight loss attempts, which appear to be
particularly unresponsive to long-term sustained change. Other types of goals may
be more amenable to self-change efforts.
Although it is true that individuals typically must make six or more attempts before
they succeed at their New Year’s resolution, the majority who fail at their resolution
report that they learned something valuable that can help them in a future attempt.
Why Individuals Fail to Reach their Personal Goals
There are 3 major reasons why people typically fail in their goal pursuits:
1) They lack clear, specific goals
2) They fail to monitor their progress toward the goal
3) They do not possess sufficient self-regulatory strength to maintain goal
pursuit in the face of obstacles and distractions
Self-regulatory strength refers to a person’s capacity to exercise self-control so as
to alter their typical way of responding. Self-regulatory strength is a limited
resource that can be quickly depleted.
Goal setters need to find a way to pursue their goals in a manner that minimizes the
demand on self-control resources.
Overcoming our Limitations in Self-Regulatory Strength
One way in which self-regulatory strength can be preserved is by automating goal
pursuit. Carefully formulated implementation plans can transform conscious goals
into automatic habits that allow individual to overcome typical resource barriers.
Implementation plans are mental planning exercises in which goal setters specify when and where they will initiate their goal pursuit and how they will ensure their
persistence in the face of distractions and obstacles.
The process by which people select and frame their goals may also influence
whether they will be able to call forth the self-regulatory strength needed to
The two best prospective predictors of resolution success were participants’
readiness and self-efficacy toward the goal. Readiness refers to the extent to which
individuals felt they were well prepared to pursue their goal at this particular time.
Self-efficacy refers to a sense of confidence in one’s ability to perform specific
actions that lead to desired outcomes. Self-efficacy is associated with important
motivational processes such as enhanced effort and commitment, selection of more
challenging goals, keener focus on goal pursuit, and perseverance in the face of
difficulties, all of which facilitate goal attainment.
The Role of Autonomy in Goal Pursuit
1) Setting ambiguous goals
2) Setting too many goals
3) Goals that are in conflict with each other
4) Proclaiming low feelings of self-efficacy
5) Stating goals in terms of avoidance rather than approach
The way in which individuals organize and frame their goal however is not sufficient
to ensure their success.
A person can have many different reasons for setting a goal, and these reasons
vary in the extent to which they represent autonomy. The issue of autonomy
concerns whether a goal reflects an individual’s interests and personal values
versus whether it is adopted because of social pressures or expectations of what an
individual “should do.”
Whether a goal is autonomous may well influence how goal pursuit is regulated and
whether it will meet with success. Goals that are not endorsed by the self are likely
to generate intrapersonal conflict, whereas autonomous goals allow individuals to
draw on volitional resources such as the capacity to exert sustained effort.
Autonomous motivation has been associated with active information seeking,
resistance to persuasion, consistent behaviour, emotional congruence regarding
one’s behaviours, positive emotions, effective interpersonal functioning, resilience
in face of setbacks and better learning.
Autonomous goals were defined as those that reflected personal interests and
values rather than something one feels compelled to do by external or internal
pressures. Studies found that autonomous goals were significantly associated with
greater goal progress over time than non-autonomous goals.
Feelings of goal self-efficacy could be improved by using techniques recommended
by Bandura. Specifically, participants who did a brief written exercise in which they
a) listed previous mastery experiences for a similar goal, and b) listed examples of people who were similar to them who succeeded at a similar goal, showed an
increase in subsequent goal efficacy.
The size of the relation between goal autonomy and goal progress was found to be .
20, which, although statistically significant, is small. As well, research on autonomy
and goals is almost entirely correlational in nature, thus leaving open the possibility
that some unmeasured third variable is accounting for both the level of autonomy
and the goal progress.
A study found that a brief self-reflection exercise increased the level of autonomy
for goals, and that goal autonomy was associated with goal progress.
Indirect Effects of Autonomy on Goal Progress
When people have autonomous goals, they are better prepared to use