Opinion – Mastering the Art of Goal Setting

Milan Mena Espinosa, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Accomplishing a goal can be very difficult for most of us, it can be utterly overwhelming, especially when it comes down to figuring out what one’s future will be beyond high school. Psychologists have tried to crack the successful goal code with theories such as Goal Setting Theory, Social-Cognitive Theory, and Self-Determination Theory. All are highly efficient towards success, but it all boils down to will-power. 


Before even pursuing a goal, one should specify what their goal actually is. For example, ‘I want to be the best athlete I can be’, isn’t a specific goal. Whereas, ‘I want to be able to run a mile in under eight minutes’, is. Specifying a goal leads to the reduction of varied outcomes and the risk of failure. ‘Do-your-best goals’, as described by Edwin A. Locke, an American psychologist, have no reference for success and any level of performance is good enough; which will plateau one’s chance of true success. Finding out why the goal one chooses is worth doing and what strategy best fits their goal is much easier to accomplish when one knows exactly what they’re aiming for.


In Goal Setting Theory, finding a deeper meaning in the goal is essential. This also bleeds into other theories as well. The mechanisms one chooses to use is deeply bounded by the moderators one is willing to do. Moderators are how one can sustain their pursuitment towards their goal: commitment, importance, feedback, and excelling in harder tasks. Performance in accomplishing a goal should feel rewarding and satisfying enough to push one to create new goals, this overall creates high self-efficacy.


Self-efficacy is being able to produce wanted outcomes. Social-Cognitive theory heavily uses self-efficacy as a measurement of predicting success. Having high self-efficacy is where one has completed a wide range of hard-to-easy goals. Low self-efficacy is the exact opposite; where one hasn’t had the experience of completing a goal or has stuck to the same level of easy-to-moderate goals. When one knows their control limitations in pursuing a goal, the overwhelming stress and anxiety diminish due to high self-efficacy, according to Locke and Albert Bandura in Negative Self-Efficacy and Goal Effects-Revisited. The more complex a goal is, the more confidence and knowledge one gains, leading towards high self-efficacy as both Locke and Gary P. Latham, former president of the Canadian Psychologist Association (CPA), have repeatedly said in, Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task-Motivation, A 35 Year Odyssey.  


Both Goal Setting and Social-Cognitive theories focus more on the how and what in goal pursuitment whereas Self-Determination Theory (SDT) focuses on the why’s and what’s of a goal. SDT explains the internal meaning (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) of why the individual needs to achieve a goal. Autonomy is the need of controlling one’s destiny or overall life and competence in achieving mastery in wanted activities. Whereas relatedness is the need of connecting or becoming apart of something. For example, wanting to run a mile in under eight minutes is for the need of either controlling your physical health, becoming a better runner, or preparing for track season. 

Kennadee Mecham, Abby Anderson, Anika Slade, Anna Goodwin, and Kambrie Wilde at tennis practice. Photo by Olivia Ethington

Overall, these theories are somewhat simple to understand but they’re difficult to actually do. Creating a plan is critical when pursuing any of these helpful theories because many steps are involved to guarantee success. The only way to guarantee success is by

accepting the hard work of goal pursuits and accepting one’s self along the way. Failure is inevitable but being transparent and developing one’s own standards of success will amazingly help. High school isn’t forever and the scary reality of adult-hood is emerging quickly. Becoming better at goal setting is an essential life skill and by practicing these theories for school will open opportunities for those who do the hard work.