Six Considerations in Setting and Pursuing Healthy Goals

1. What Do You REALLY Want?

Before you "go for your goals," "do it now," "make it happen," it is important to assess your goals in terms of healthiness and practicality. First, many people have goal conflict. People may not even realize they have goal conflict -- they are either trying to achieve too much at once, or they want too many different things and cannot start any one thing due to their confusion. It is very helpful to have a coach or mentor to assist you in sifting through the "muck" and determining what it is you REALLY want, and what it is you can actually do at this time toward attaining it. Healthy goals will be congruent with your core values. Your goals must correlate with your interests, value system, and life-long goals in order to be meaningful to you.

Your goals should "put a fire in your belly." The idea of them will make your heart sing. They will reflect your true self, your spirit, your soul. When goals come from your spirit, they inspire you, and therefore motivate you. The root words in the word inspire are in spirit.

2. Is Your Goal Healthy?

Second , the goal may not be a healthy one. Healthy goals are those that take into account your own well being, in addition to the well being of others. If you are rebounding from a painful experience, it is important to work through that experience before focusing on goals that stem from the residual pain. Goals are born from values and desires. It is also important to uncover your motives for the goal, as motivation stems from one's motives. A healthy goal is one that is "optimally challenging," that is, not to easy but not too difficult.

3. Is Your Goal Balanced?

The third element to address is your overall health, by looking at your goals within a holistic framework. Healthy goals encourage health and balance in mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, interpersonal, and professional areas. Realistic and healthy goals will complement the rest of your lifestyle, will mesh with your other goals, and will therefore serve to build self-esteem. Moreover, the more attractive the goal is to you, the better your performance is likely to be, so it is important that the goal selected is one that you really care about.

It is always beneficial to keep a balanced life. Some motivational experts propound the idea of focusing single-mindedly on one goal, to the exclusion of everything else, yet there is an element of danger in prescribing such a path. We have all heard stories of people who have done this, first becoming extremely successful in a particular field and then "bombing." These people may end their success by overdosing on drugs or alcohol, they may suffer a heart attack or other serious health problem, they may commit a crime for which they must serve most of their remaining life in prison, or sabotage their success in other ways.

This situation is exemplified in the case of top athletes, who sacrifice everything to train in their sport. The single-minded focus pays off when they make it to the Olympics and perhaps even win a medal. However, the dangers of this narrow focus are revealed when the Olympics are over. Many athletes have attested to undergoing periods of severe depression after retiring from their sport. Because they have neglected academics, family, friends, and hobbies, they are suddenly confronted with a void and question their ability to pursue a new and unrelated goal of perhaps a less overwhelming nature. The other danger of pursuing one goal to the exclusion of all others is that one's whole sense of self rests on this one success. Should one fail, or even perform only at a mediocre level, it is easy to internalize this assessment as one that reflects on one's whole character rather than merely this one activity. In Life's Too Short!, Abraham Twerski writes, "The goal of changing the self-concept [of a narrowly-focused overachiever] to a positive one is not to convert an ambitious person into a beachcomber, but to allow the person to perform at the same level without jeopardizing his or her physical and emotional health."

4. Are You Confident in Your Ability to Succeed?

A fourth aspect to consider is whether or not you feel confident in your ability to attain the goal. Bandura's tests demonstrated that if a person believes that he/she is capable of succeeding at something, he/she has a much greater chance of performing well at that activity or task. Thus, ability is not fixed but depends on self-perception. Moreover, a sense of self-efficacy can be fostered by setting attainable goals -- ones that are neither too easy nor too difficult. In his study, Deci defined such goals as "optimally challenging." Success on these small goals fosters a greater intrinsic motivation for related activities, and can thus eventually lead to the achievement of larger goals for which the smaller ones were stepping stones.

For a person to be optimally motivated, his/her goals should correspond to his/her level of expertise and be able to be completed in a manageable time frame. Unlike a wish or fantasy, a goal must be attainable. Thus, for an individual who began playing the violin at age 30, playing in a string quartet at a friend's marriage is a more realistic goal than becoming concert master of the Berlin Philharmonic. In general, more difficult goals elicit higher motivation, but this is contingent both on the person's confidence about his or her ability to complete the task and on the goal being challenging without being unreasonably difficult.

5. Can You Adapt if Necessary?

Fifth , an important aspect of your pursuit of your goals is your ability to modify your behavior and adapt to changing circumstances. While pursuing your goal, you may find it has opened up a door to a new, better, more promising goal. You need to be able to consider other possibilities. This being said, people who bounce around from goal to goal never seem to get anywhere. As time goes on, you may find you no longer have the same desire for your goal, or ability to pursue your goal, and may need to look at modifying it. For example, a successful statistician, who had written statistics texts throughout his adult life, began at age 80 to write a history of statistics. He felt that he was no longer able to stay on the cutting edge of research but that his many years in the field gave him an advantage when he turned to the history of statistics.

6. What Motivates You?

A sixth factor to consider is whether or not you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated for this goal. The question of whether internal (self fulfillment) or external (fame, money, accolades) motivation produces more effective and/or longer lasting results is the subject of ongoing debate, and many theorists are now stressing the interrelation of the two types. Studies have shown that as one pursues a goal for extrinsic reasons, the motivation often transfers into intrinsic. For example, a person may start out on an exercise program in order to lose weight and "look better," and not really enjoy it. But they find after a few months that they enjoy the exercise and keep doing it mainly because it makes them "feel better." Thus, what starts out simply as a desire for an external or material thing, can evolve, over the course of time, into a part of your being, or core self.