Positive psychologist Professor Martin Seligmann identified attainment as an area of vital importance when it comes to fulfilling our potential to be happy. Through his studies he discovered that when we foster new skills and focus on working towards meaningful goals, we are directly investing in our psychological resilience and wellbeing.
So it's official: having goals is good for our mental health, and this has been backed up by many outstanding studies. For example a research study of 30,000 people at Melbourne University revealed that the happiest people in the participant sample were those that were actively pursuing their own goals. The goals spanned a wide area: they concerned studies, careers, recreation, relationships, hobbies, health and leisure. The goals included short term, medium term and long term ones. The one thing that the goals did have in common is that they were instrinsic goals. An instrinsic goal is one that holds personal meaning for the person pursuing it. That is to say it is not a goal that has been imposed on them by the expectations of others.
Another study found that people who focus on and actively enjoy the process of working towards their goals gain a greater boost to their psychological wellbeing than those who are focusing just on getting across the 'finishing line', and not allowing them to enjoy the process at all, Merely viewing it as a means to an end.
But why are goals so good for us? There are many reasons, here are just three key ones: For one, goals help us master the use of time, when we are pursuing a goal we feel strongly about we develop schedules and become more efficient at using the time that's available to us, rather than wasting time procrastinating or watching too much TV. In this way they bring structure and meaning to our lives. A second reason is goals lead to positive emotion: every step we complete that brings us closer to our goal gives us an emotional boost and a sense of accomplishment. Linked to this, goals increase our confidence in ourselves. As we actively determine what we are doing with our time and energy, we get a sense of our own power. Thirdly, goals can help us through difficult times. When situations beyond our control challenge our emotional wellbeing, our goals gives us a life line – something to hold on to and pull ourselves forward through the difficult period.
If you think you could benefit from a few more active goals in your life, here is a good way five step method you can use. 1. Brainstorm as many instrinsic goals as you can come up with and then pick out the few you are most drawn to. 2. Breakdown the goals in to smaller subgoals, the stepping stones of the journey to get there. 3. Break the sub goals down further into micro goals if needs be. The point it to get the goal into small enough chunks that they are not boring but enjoyable. 4. Take the very first few sub goals and make a schedule for when you will have achieved them by. Writing the deadlines in your calendar, diary or phone is an important part of this step. Also, remember it is better to start slow and give yourself more time than you need than feel rushed and fail to meet your deadlines. 5. Pick your mile stones and decide how you will celebrate them. Ask yourself what are the key subgoals that will mark out that you're well on the way to achieving the end goal. Write the reward you'll give yourself (eg music, some clothes, a weekend away) at each stone and do not forget to give it!
Begin your own experiment today to see if the powerful effect of goals on wellbeing holds up as much in your life as it does in the research papers. What would you love to have or become or achieve? Ask yourself this honest question and then sit back and enjoy the journey.