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Effective Goal Setting

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up somewhere else”

Goal setting’s an extremely powerful technique for improving both performance and general well being. There’s overwhelming evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of goal setting in both sport and business; having an effective goal setting strategy enhances the chance of reaching long term objectives and can increase efficiency and enjoyment throughout the process.

Most high-achievers, in any walk of life will have benefited from the power of goal setting and it tops the list of BIG 4 Techniques in the US Navy Seals ground breaking Mental Toughness Programme. Goals provide direction, help you stay motivated and allow you to accomplish feats you may not have believed were possible. “You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things – to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals” (Sir Edmund Hillary – legendary mountaineer).

Whether you want to build confidence or happiness or deal with anxiety or pressure, goal setting is your map to guide you to get from where you are to where you want to go. Even though goal setting is widely used, most people don’t see goals through (as New Year’s resolutions and diets often prove). This is because most people don’t know how to set the right type of goals in the right ways and are not aware of the steps that can ensure perseverance throughout the setbacks.

Don’t be the person that just dreams and never sets clear objectives; MYND’s goal-setting modules will show you how you can set effective, worthwhile and productive goals to help you get to where you’d like be.

Types of goal

A goal is simply a target which an individual or team is trying to accomplish; it’s the object or aim of an action. There are three distinct types of goals that athletes use:

Outcome goals are about the long-term and refer to the ultimate prize – in sport it might be winning a match or a tournament; making it through to a certain stage of a competition or even an avoidance goal – for example, to avoid being relegated. In the English Premier League, with the ever increasing financial rewards of retaining Premier League status, avoiding relegation into the Championship is a huge goal, and managers are often given bonuses of up to a million pounds to do just that. Outside of the sport domain an outcome goal could be to gain a new job or promotion, lose weight or give up smoking.

Unfortunately, many outcome goals don’t just rely on your own efforts – they depend on the ability, action or decisions of other people, and so are not entirely under your control. In sport, for example winning is an outcome goal you can’t control.

Performance goals are more specific and focus on achieving certain performance objectives. They tend to be based on comparisons with your own previous performance and are often number based. For example, a 200m runner may want to achieve a particular time by a certain date, a midfield soccer player might run 12 kms in a match and set a performance goal of running 12.5km in the next; a tennis player who hits 50% first serves might have a performance goal of hitting 60%.

Performance goals are under your control. The better you are at achieving your performance goals, the better chance you give yourself of achieving your outcome goals.  Only setting yourself an outcome goal of winning could set you up for disappointment after a defeat; reducing motivation and confidence. However, if you also set and achieve a performance goal – say, getting four shots on target as a soccer center forward, you might be satisfied with that element of your performance; your confidence and motivation may increase – you may then set yourself a performance goal to achieve five shots in the next game. Gaining confidence from defeats is a key skill for successful people and setting performance goals can help you to do this.

Finally, process goals focus on ‘what you do’ –the actions or processes you have to go through to achieve your performance goals. For example, a swimmer might have a process goal to maintain a long, stretched-out arm pull in her freestyle stroke, or a basketball player might have a process goal of squaring up to the basket and releasing the ball at the peak of his jump. Research has shown how process goals can enhance confidence, ensure more effective thinking and reduce anxiety. Although athletes often use process goals well in training, when it comes to competition all other kinds of thoughts may interfere.

Most successful athletes will set and use all three types of goals. To be effective, you should learn when and where you might best use each one; using the wrong goal at the wrong time can be detrimental.  Take, for example a soccer player taking the final kick in a penalty shoot out to win the match – a focus on the outcome here – ‘if I score we win’ or ‘if I miss it’s going be disastrous’, could mount the pressure to the extent that the player completely miss-kicks the ball. Focusing on the performance goals for example, kicking the ball low into the left hand side of the goal with pace, along with process goals, for example, taking your time, taking a few deep breathes, striking the ball through the middle and following through – could give the best chance of achieving the outcome.

Outcome goals are generally the ultimate aim, the end product, and it’s how you use a combination of performance and process goals that’ll determine if you reach your outcome goal. So, your outcome goal is your driver, your motivation – use it when you’re away from the competition venue. For example, thinking about how you lost to a rival can give you massive motivation to train harder so you don’t lose again. However, if you focus on outcomes at competition, it’s much more likely to lead to anxiety and irrelevant or distracting thoughts, like worrying about the score rather than what you’re actually doing.

Performance and process goals are much more important in both training and competition. They are less likely to lead to feelings of anxiety as they are under your control and they also allow you to make much more precise adjustments when you’re performing.

Evidence continues to show that using a combination of these three types of goal is much more effective than focusing on any one type alone. Knowing when to use each type is the key. Outcome goals are essential…they’re where you want to go – but it’s the performance and process goals that’ll get you there.