Okay, so I know this sounds super obvious, but hear me out.
You are more likely to succeed pursuing a goal that you intrinsically believe in than a goal you are pressured into pursuing by the expectations of others.
- Throughout their whole life, every human is socially pressured and influenced by family, friends, peers, and society. These pressures are constant and can be both direct and subliminal. Such pressures can include:
- your mom telling you that she wishes you would take better care of your health
- someone you romantically like telling you that they find athletes more attractive
- A friend telling you they expected you to be stronger than you are
- Pictures of athletic people on social media showing off their physique
- These pressures cause people to pursue goals that do not coincide with their values and belief systems
- People who pursue goals for external reason tend to fail more often
This step is to make sure that you legitimately desire this goal and that you are not being purely pressured or forced into it. If you are pursuing this goal for both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons, that’s awesome. Pressure from others can be incredibly useful and beneficial for pursuing goals. In fact, later on, I’ll discuss how to use external pressure to help you as a motivation source. However, if you’re only motivation is external, then that can be a significant problem.
This exercise can also help you realize all the various values and desires which are motivating you towards your goal. Even if you are already 300% sure that you are motivated by intrinsic factors, it would still benefit you to follow along with the exercise because the better you understand the reasoning behind your goal, the more motivated and connected you will be to it.
Think about the future.
- Will this goal change your future?
- Realistically, how much would this change your future?
- How will your future look after achieving this goal?
- What are some of the key components that are different about this future than your current life?
- Why do you want these changes?
- Can you point out any of the motivating values and are they intrinsic or extrinsic?
- Is it a future that you desire?
- How badly do you desire this future?
Once you’ve answered all of those questions, it’s time to determine whether or not you should pursue this goal. If this future isn’t very appealing to you, then it’s best you stop and reconsider.
- Becoming a professional photographer will change my future, yes.
- It could change my future a little bit and potentially, a ton. Most likely, it will only impact my future by a modest amount.
- If I became a professional photographer, I would be working more hours every week. I would be spending between 4-16 hours every week attending photoshoots, some events like weddings, and photo editing. I would have a source of extra income that will allow me to travel more often and visit friends. That money could also be used to buy tools for my hobbies and side-projects as well as improve my quality of living. Possibly, in that future, I will move away from my current job to spend more time as a photographer.
- The significant components of that future are: more work, more work as a photographer, and extra money.
- I do not want more work. I would like to spend more time working as a photographer because it is work which I enjoy. I enjoy it because it is artistic, fun, mutually beneficial for all parties involved, has a very high skill-ceiling, it’s technical, hands-on, requires a lot of traveling outside of an office, and involves working with other people. I also really want the extra income so that I can travel, visit friends, improve my quality of living, and buy tools and software for my hobbies and side projects. I want to travel because it is one of my favorite things to do. I love backpacking, exploring new places, taking in different cultures, and eating new food. I love visiting all my close friends who have moved far away from me and are people I love spending time with and miss dearly. There are some aspects of my current lifestyle which absolutely infuriate me such as having to watch certain television shows on questionable websites. The extra income will allow me to purchase subscriptions which will alleviate me of such annoyances. Lastly, I’m very passionate about a few hobbies such as music and content creation and as a perfectionist, I would love to be able to purchase the tools which will allow me to perform at a higher level.
- Yes, I can recognize some of the values which are motivating me. I value helping others, spending time with those I care about, new experiences, learning and pushing myself to become better, being efficient, and creating work I am proud of. Some of those values are partially extrinsic, such as creating work I am proud of, but most are intrinsic.
- Yes, this is a future I desire.
- This is a future I really, truly desire.
Koestner et al.
“A second reason for ineffective goal pursuit is that people often fail to sufficiently weigh why they want to reach their goals. Instead of setting goals that reflect their interests and personal values, people often adopt goals for external reasons such as social pressure or because of expectations of what they should do (Sheldon & Kasser, 1998). Recent research suggests that the source or impetus that gives rise to a goal has direct implications for how goal pursuit is regulated and whether it will meet with success (Ryan, 1995; Ryan, Sheldon, Kasser, & Deci, 1996). Goals that are not endorsed by the self are likely to generate intrapersonal conflict, whereas self-concordant goals allow individuals to draw on volitional resources such as the capacity to exert sustained effort (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999; Sheldon & Houser-Marko, 2001).”
Sheldon & Elliot:
“The present studies clearly demonstrate that autonomous motivation for personal goals positively predicts attainment, whereas controlled motivation does not. This pair of findings emerged consistently across three different samples, across concurrent and prospective methodologies, across Likert-0type and GAS measures of attainment, and across short-term and longer-term personal goals (personal projects and personal strivings, respectively). In addition, mediational analyses from the two prospective studies revealed that autonomy promotes attainment by engendering sustained effort.”
“Why do autonomous goals receive sustained effort, or, stated differently, why are autonomous goals more continuously energized? Notably, both the intrinsic and identified facets of autonomy independently predicted effort and attainment, indicating that both provide distinctive motivational benefits. For goals pursued for intrinsic reasons, these benefits are obvious; intrinsically motivated behavior is by definition interesting and enjoyable (Deci & Ryan, 1985), and is thus likely to be self-energizing or autotelic (Omodei & Wearing, 1990). That is, the positive emotions and experiences afforded by the very process of striving for intrinsic goals may serve to reinforce and maintain such goals.
Sheldon & Houser-Marko
“Two studies used the self-concordance model of healthy goal striving (K.M. Sheldon & A. J. Elliot, 1999) to examine the motivational processes by which people can increase their level of well-being during a period of time and then maintain the gain or perhaps increase it even further during the next period of time. In Study 1, entering freshmen with self-concordant motivation better attained their 1st-semester goals, which in turn predicted increased adjustment and greater self-concordance for the next semester’s goals. ”
“The self-concordance model is rooted in self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991). Extensive research in the SDT tradition has demonstrated the negative effects that controlling social contexts can have on individuals’ motivation, performance, and adjustment within that domain. Specifically, such contexts may sap individuals’ intrinsic motivation, depress their well-being, and forestall their ability to internalize the doing of what has to be done. For example, an overbearing teacher might take the fun out of mathematics and also fail to persuade children of the importance of mastering math concepts. The self-concordance model extends SDT by focusing on people’s broad personal goal statements, rather than focusing on domain-specific motivation and the situational factors that can influence it”
Koestner, Richard & Lekes, Natasha & Powers, Theodore & Chicoine, Emanuel. (2002). Attaining personal goals: Self-concordance plus implementation intentions equals success. Journal of personality and social psychology. 83. 231-44. 10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.52.
Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1998). Not all Personal Goals are Personal: Comparing Autonomous and Controlled Reasons for Goals as Predictors of Effort and Attainment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(5), 546–557. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167298245010
Sheldon, Kennon & Houser-Marko, Linda. (2001). Self-concordance, goal attainment, and the pursuit of happiness: Can there be an upward spiral?. Journal of personality and social psychology. 80. 152-65. 10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.206.