Goal Setting Theory

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Goal Setting Theory & Motivation

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Goal Setting Theory & Motivation


Success in any sort of endeavor is intrinsically linked with the ability to set goals and the motivation to achieve them. These concepts appear in most self-help books, but they are not new. For centuries employers, teachers, coaches, parents and therapists have explored the relationship between goal setting and motivation.


Goal setting theory, like many behavioral philosophies, dates back to Aristotle's philosophy of final causality, which states that purpose can incite action. Centuries later, in the the 1960s, Dr. Edwin Locke published an article titled "Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives." The article, which was published in a 1968 "Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Performance," explained that employees are motivated when they are given clear goals and provided feedback about their performance.


The SMART goals acronym has become the standard in businesses and coaching situations. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-framed.


Locke explained that clear, concise goals produced the best results. For example, saying "do your best" or "work hard' is less effective than saying "try to answer at least 80 percent of the questions correctly" or "try to beat your best time."

Time Frame

Time frame is crucial to goal setting and motivation. Setting a time frame for your goals requires you to take specific actions and monitor your progress. Your progress then becomes a form of feedback, which in turn enhances motivation.


People are sometimes urged to have "big dreams," but "big" is a relative term. Goals, as...