30 July 2021 13:14
Put simply, goals are usually things we want to have, or, to have happen to us. For instance, when we talk about say, a new year’s resolution, we are essentially goal-setting - reflecting upon ourselves and addressing certain things we want to change to reach our desired outcomes.
However, attaining these goals requires intervention. To actively pursue a goal may involve adopting new behaviours, strategies and abandoning old habits. This may be difficult at first, however, overcoming limitations strengthens our personal drive, productivity and boosts our mental wellbeing.
The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a key role in motivation and working towards our goals. Dopamine is released as we gain a sense of pleasure from achieving our goals and setting ourselves subsequent new tasks. Research has found that there are interactions between the prefrontal cortex brain areas, dopaminergic networks, and cognitive networks, including areas regulating executive functioning (Botvinick & Braver, 2015).
More specifically, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex appears to be a central area where motivation and decision making are integrated. This means it has a key role in relaying difficult actions, which require more cognitive control as opposed to easier actions that tend to require less effort and be more pleasurable.
Goal setting and attainment involves a number of key cognitive processes which together constitute what is called 'Executive Functioning.' These processes are:
Successful functioning in people depends on higher-level cognitive skills which come under the 'executive functioning,' which involves learning new information, re-directing attention, and disregarding irrelevant or distracting information. Executive function and attention specifically are key components for our ability to take on new ideas and perspectives within goal setting.
Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura-1984, 1997) suggests that having goals can stimulate and direct motivational outcomes. Personal, environmental, and behavioural processes contribute to the goal setting and attainment process:
Binswanger (1990) highlighted that goal-directed actions are defined by three attributes:
These core aspects are also presented in Locke and Latham’s (1984, 1990) research and theory of goal setting, with a more detailed explanation of how goals can be effectively met.
Locke and Latham’s research helped to bring forth five goal setting principles that can improve chances of succeeding:
Goal-setting tends to be integrated into many therapeutic sessions and psychological interventions. It is introduced to clients during their sessions, through a consensual agreement in discussing what the client wants to gain from the therapy and addressing short term and long-term goals. The psychologist supports the client’s decision to work towards their own personal goals, which aims for clients to successfully move on from therapy and have their goals met.
2021 has been a challenging year for most of us, with the unpredictability of the pandemic affecting all of us on varying levels. However, we can all agree that it’s a good idea to put our best foot forward for this new year, be proud of what we have already accomplished in 2021 and look ahead to setting new goals. It can be helpful to reflect and discuss your year with others, such as loved ones and friends. Exploring goal setting with another person can help to fuel your inner drive and increase your motivation in carrying out the necessary tasks to accomplish your goal. It can also feel good to help others in their goal-setting and show your support towards their progress in reaching them.
Celebrating achievements is also important - it helps your wellbeing to take a moment of pride in what you have accomplished and value your hard work and effort. Taking a moment to relish in your achievements is a form of self-care and helps to strengthen your confidence and motivation for completing your next goal…