Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Goals Theme - A Generation B.C Recap on the Theme of Goals

For the past few weeks Generation B.C has been focused on the theme of Goals.

First we learned to set high goals in the post Goals: Reach for the Stars, Land on the Clouds. If we have the requisite ability then setting "high goals lead to greater effort and/or persistence than do moderately difficult, easy, or vague goals.[1]"

Next we learned about Goal Contagion, the idea that goals are highly contagious. Even if we do not actually know an interaction partner’s goals we will infer on their traits, stereotypes, and goals and then unconsciously copy them. Furthermore, in the accompanying TAG post we learned that “merely thinking of an important other leads to activation of goals.[2]

In the following post we learned about the differences between performance goals (ego involved) and learning goals (task-involved). Performance goals are outcome focused. An example of a performance goal is the goal to make 15/20 free-throws. On the other hand learning goals are process focused. An example of a learning goal is the goal to learn proper free-throw shooting techniques. Learning goals are better for a novel or complex task. Therefore, if a task involves learning, a specific high learning goal should be set. Performance goals are better when you already possess the requisite knowledge and skill to perform a task. Therefore, once you have mastered a task to a point where the routine has become automatic, performance goals should be set.

The lesson on performance goals and learning goals can also be extrapolated to an organizational setting. When a merger has taken place and new management and employees must learn to work with each other, it may be advisable to set learning goals until the team is used to each other[3]. Conversely, in such a situation it is not advisable to set performance goals such as a target revenue.

After that we learned about implementation intentions and how they are superior to mere goal intentions. Whereas goal intentions are merely forming an intention to do something (“I wish to achieve X”), implementation intentions are planned out concrete responses when faced with a given situation cue (“If situation Y arises, then I will initiate goal-behavior Z!”). They can be in the form of “if/then” or “when, where, how” strategies that specify the behavior a person must engage in to achieve their desired goal. The importance of implementation intentions comes from an understanding that despite good intentions, we often fail to achieve our goals. However, meta-analysis shows that forming implementation intentions significantly bridge the gap between what we intend to do and what we actually do. This is because they work like instant habits. Much like habits, situational cues (If or when & where of the plan) and automatic responses (the then or how of the plan) control the pursuit of your desired goal as opposed to relying merely on motivation and willpower.

The next two blog posts will also be on the topic of goals. The first will be about Mental Imagery and how the strategy can help increase the effectiveness of your implementation intentions. When told to vividly imagine the "when" and "where" of their implementation intentions, participants had higher goal attainment that those in the control group that were not prompted to use mental imagery[4].

The following post will focus on how to use implementation intentions to resist temptations (such as that diet crushing pastry) and to perform well in pressure situations (think clutch time ex: Robert Horry). 
I hope to conclude the theme on goals by the end of this week. If you have enjoyed this theme be on the lookout for the next Generation B.C theme on Creativity.

[2] Ap Dijksterhuis & Pamela Smith,  et al., The Unconscious Consumer: Effects ofEnvironment on Consumer Behavior, 2005, 198.
[3] Gerad Seijts, Gary Latham, et al., Goal Setting and Goal Orientation: An Integration of Two Different Yet Related Literatures, The Academy of Management Journal, 238.


  1. How do people feel when they land on the clouds instead of the clouds? Any studies done on that? I for one may still beat myself up for landing on a pretty cushy & nice cloud.

  2. Good question. Most of the literature I have posted about goals assumes the proper motivation is present. That is why it is profound in my opinion. Because it shines light on the awful truth that even with the proper motivation our intentions are often poor indicators of our behavior.

    That's where I find the research on goals helpful - how we can bridge this intention-behavior gap?

    If you're having a problem of "landing on the cloud" instead of the stars, then essentially you wish to bridge your intention-behavior gap - the gap between what you aimed for (the stars), and where you actually landed (the clouds).

    There's an extensive amount of research on just this, the intention behavior gap. Prior research on the topic focused on "goal-orientation" or "action-state" orientation, basically all things that are innate about a person. However, more leading research has found bigger effects by the use of different strategies that a person can learn. Therefore even if one is not naturally disposed to have a low intention-behavior gap (i.e. by having high self-efficacy or strong self-regulation of ones emotions), just by learning the proper strategies you can have a lower intention-behavior gap than anyone working with nurture alone.

    These strategies are things like Goal-Setting theory- knowing what goals to set. As a default you should always set learning goals. Once you've automated that task set performance goals.

    And also employing implementation strategies, as well as enchaining the effect by mental imagery. Moreover, you can employ implementation strategies to help with self-regulation of emotions that often leads to poor performance. I hope to write more about these last two topics this week.