How to Set Goals?


Goals are mental representations of desired outcomes to which people are committed.
Goals direct attention and effort away from goal-irrelevant activities and toward goal-relevant activities. Also, goals have an energizing function.
Hard goals prolong effort and enhance persistence (LaPorte & Nath, 1976).
Goals affect action indirectly by leading to the arousal, discovery, and/or use of task-relevant knowledge and strategies (Wood & Locke, 1990).


Distal versus Proximal goals

Distal goals

• Longer-term goals.
• More abstract, fuzzy visions of the future.
• Allow for greater flexibility in the development of action planning strategies (Khan & Quaddus, 2004).
• Can be more motivating than proximal goals.
Example: “I would like to have a better relationship” or “I would like to live healthier”.

Proximal goals

• Shorter-term than distal goals.
• Can stimulate more detailed planning than distal goals (Manderlink & Harackiewicz, 1984).
• Important tools in action planning.
Example: “I want to do yoga this week”

Approach versus Avoidance goals

Approach goals

• Expressed as a movement toward a specific state or objective
• Are geared toward reducing distance to some end-state, they have a definite criterion for success (reaching the end-state).
• Approach goals are associated with both higher levels of academic performance and increased well-being (Elliot & McGregor, 2001)
Example: “I want to enjoy a fulfilling balance between work demands and personal relaxation.”

Avoidance goals

• Movement away from an undesirable state.
• Does not provide a specific outcome target.
• People who tended to set avoidance goals have higher levels of depression and lower levels of well-being (Coats, Janoff-Bulman, and Alpert, 1996).
• Associated with increasing distance from an undesired end-state, so their criterion for success is not as clear-cut (one can always go further from the undesired end-state).
• The long-term pursuit of avoidance goals is associated with decreases in well-being (Elliot, Sheldon, & Church, 1997)
Example: “To be less stressed about work.”

Performance versus Learning goals

Performance goals

• Focus on the result, demonstrate ability to others.
• Often experienced as being competitive.
• Aim is to perform really well on a specific task.
• Receive a favorable evaluation from others.
• Can impede performance, particularly when the task is very complex or the goal is perceived as highly challenging and the individual is not skilled or is low in self-efficacy.
• In highly competitive situations, performance goals can foster cheating and a reluctance to cooperate with peers (Midgley, Kaplan, & Middleton, 2001).
Example: Wanting to score a 9 on an exam; Wanting to demonstrate to other students that your are better at speaking French than many of your classmates.

Learning/mastery goals

• Concern the desire to develop competence, increase the ability or master new tasks.
• Focus on the learning associated with task mastery.
• Associated with perception of a complex task as a positive challenge rather than a threat and greater absorption in actual task performance (Deci & Ryan, 2002).
• Enhances memory and well-being (Linnenbrink, Ryan, & Pintrich, 1999).
• Performance is enhanced in highly complex situations when team goals are framed as being learning goals (Kristof-Brown & Stevens, 2001).
Example: wanting to learn to speak English more fluently; wanting to learn to play music instrument.


• Multiple different goal types can be chosen at the same time.
• Select both proximal and distal goals.
• Formulate approach goals. Approach goals tend to be more effective than typical avoidance goals. Intervention strategy can reformulate avoidance goals into approach goals.
• Strive for learning/ mastery goals. Learning/mastery goal promotes self-efficacy and leads to more successful goal pursuit than performance goals.

I wish everyone happiness,

Ieva Kurmyte


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2002). Handbook of self-determination research. University Rochester Press.

Elliot, A. J., & McGregor, H. A. (2001). A 2× 2 achievement goal framework. Journal of personality and social psychology80(3), 501.

Elliot, A. J., Sheldon, K. M., & Church, M. A. (1997). Avoidance personal goals and subjective well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin23(9), 915-927.

Khan, M. S., & Quaddus, M. (2004). Group decision support using fuzzy cognitive maps for causal reasoning. Group Decision and Negotiation13(5), 463-480.

LaPorte, R. E., & Nath, R. (1976). Role of performance goals in prose learning. Journal of Educational Psychology68(3), 260.

Linnenbrink, E. A., Ryan, A. M., & Pintrich, P. R. (1999). The role of goals and affect in working memory functioning. Learning and Individual Differences11(2), 213-230.

Manderlink, G., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (1984). Proximal versus distal goal setting and intrinsic motivation. Journal of personality and social psychology47(4), 918.

Wood, R. E., & Locke, E. A. (1990). Goal-setting and strategy effects on complex tasks. Research in organizational behavior12, 73-109.