Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Long-term goal achievement

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Long-term goal achievement:
What motivates people to complete their long-term goals?

Overview[edit | edit source]

A long-term goal is a goal that is achieved over a long period of time. According to the Fare Fax dictionary long-term goals are "goals that are the ultimate result desired when a plan is established or revised" (Miller-Keane, 2003). This definition signifies that this type of plan requires a certain level of motivation and passion yet also a particular level of mastery of the task/activity. This chapter focuses on long-term goals and the effects of motivation and goal setting theories have on the likelihood to complete goals.

The study of goal setting began in the late 1800s to attempt to improve work productivity (Latham & Locke, 2007). However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Edwin Locke pioneered the study and began to develop a theory. Gary Latham began work on goal setting and in the late 1990s. The two authors published the first theory of goal setting. They identified that long-term goals could be achieved by following five key steps. They discovered that for a goal to be achievable over a long period of time it needs to be specific and difficult. Further scholars (*add their references here*)[factual?] extended Locke and Latham’s theory discovering that goals also need to have an element of feedback, goals need to be achievable (or broken down into smaller tasks or activities) and that the goal setter must be committed or driven by intrinsic motivation. While Locke and Latham’s theory pioneered scholarship on goal setting their theory fails to account for the differences in motivation that people have for setting long-term goals in the first place. An additional theory called ‘Gritt’ addresses such differences in motivation[factual?]. Gritt theory specifically considers how different personalities can impact upon a person’s ability to successfully complete long-term goals and further highlights the importance that motivation can have on long-term goal achievement.

Learning outcome

This chapter aims to inform the reader about the following:

  • The difference between long and short term goals
  • The history of goal setting theory
  • Lockes' theory of motivation, cognition and goal achievement theory
  • Locke and Latham’s theory of goal achievement
  • The theory of Grit
  • Motivation and goal setting
  • How to apply to your life

Why is long-term goal achievement important?[edit | edit source]

Athletes launch off at the starting line[explain?]

Many scholars have said that setting goals is linked to success (Locke, Latham, 2003, Jung 2014, Gbadmosi 2009, Duckworth et al 2007). For example Jung (2014) highlights that setting goals improves staff turnover, increases productivity and reduces workplace boredom (Jung, 2014). Goal setting has also been shown to enhance a person’s perception that their job is important and improves overall job satisfaction (Jung, 2014).

Cognitive dissonance is the feeling someone gets when a person holds two or more pieces of knowledge that are relevant, but not consistent, with one another (Gbadamosi, 2009). This dissonance, or conflict, creates a mental strain as the person tries to make sense of these two separate pieces of information (Gbadamosi, 2009). In relation to goal setting, people can experience a similar feeling of conflict when they want to change a current behaviour, action or personality trait into one that is desired, but as yet, unrealised as it exists in the future. In order to remove this discrepancy between the person you are and the person you want to become, a person can do one of two things: either they can change their ideals to match their current abilities or they can actively change themselves by setting challenging, yet specific, long-term goals.

Reader Activity What long-term goal attempts have you made? Which ones failed? Which one's succeeded. What long-term goals are you striving towards now? Write them down somewhere to relect on as you read this chapter.

Difference between long and short-term goals[edit | edit source]

There are many different types of goals and measures of success. Perhaps the greatest difference is between long-term and short-term goals. At a simplistic level the difference is obvious: the length of time set to complete a goal. However, another important difference is in relation to the level of motivation required to complete the goal. Short-term goals are often easier to achieve because these goals tend to be simple and can come from ether an intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. In contrast, studies have shown that long-term goals are more likely to be achieved if motivation is intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation is being motivated to do something because it leads to a desired outcome though the task itself even if the task is not necessarily enjoyable (Ryan, Deci, 2000). In terms of goal achievement, goals set through extrinsic motivation are harder to obtain over a long period of time as the sense of reward and challenge simply isn't there (Ryan, Deci, 2000). Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from doing a task because it is interesting or enjoyable (Ryan, Deci, 2000). In relation to goal setting, intrinsic motivation can increase the likelihood for success as well as enjoyment and sense of accomplishment that a person can experience at the completion of the goal (Ryan, Deci, 2000). Intrinsic motivation is therefore much more desirable when setting long-term goals, as this type of motivation helps keep individuals driven to accomplish goals.

A brief history of long-term goal achievement[edit | edit source]

History book[explain?]

An interesting aspect of long-term goal achievement is that although there have been numerous studies that have separately researched goal setting, these studies appear to only really state that there are benefits to setting goals (Locke & Latham, 2007). For example, Wyatt, Frost and Stock (1934) found that when time limits were placed on workers through different aims their productivity would increase and boredom was reduced. Mace (1935) studied expectations and maximising ability through difficult but achievable tasks and found that individuals enjoyed completing challenging tasks more so then non-challenging tasks. Countless studies found similar results and the actual process of setting goals has been around for centuries.

However, although goal setting has been a key subject of concern and interest to researchers, no one really constructed a comprehensive theory until Locke and Latham’s published on this topic in the early 2000s. Locke and Latham’s original study aimed to understand whether tree loggers’ productivity could be enhanced through goal setting. The authors discovered that when the loggers set specific and challenging goals, productivity increased up to a staggering 90%. They also discovered that goals can positively impact performance regardless if the time spans one minute or 20 years. It is from such findings as these that Locke and Latham then developed a theory on goal setting (Locke & Latham, 2007).

Theories[edit | edit source]

There are a [vague] number of theories and research that have looked into the human psyche with the intention of understanding success, drive, determination and what factors make successful people stand out from the rest.

Locke and Latham’s goal setting theory[edit | edit source]

Locke and Latham were the first to develop a comprehensive theory on goal setting. This theory was developed over a 25-year period based on 400 laboratory and field studies (Locke & Latham, 2006). Their theory of goal setting was originally applied within to logging companies to improve workers’ productivity and moved away from the previous ideas behind monetary rewards, and instead focussed workers attention onto work related goals (Gómez-Miñambres, 2012). Before the development of the goal setting theory most workplaces used bonuses to help boost productivity (Gómez-Miñambres, 2012). Locke and Latham moved away from this tradition and found that goal setting was much more affective at improving productivity then a monetary reward (Gómez-Miñambres, 2012). Their research found that when workers were given clear specific goals there was an increase of 90% in work productivity.

From their studies, Locke and Latham concluded that for goals to be completed successfully they need to be specific and they need to be hard (Locke & Latham, 2006). They later went on to expand on their theory to include the positive influence that feedback can have on achieving goals, as well as the level of commitment on the part of the goal-setter and the complexity or difficulty of the goal being achieved (Locke & Latham, 2006). Further, their work highlights that when it comes to goal setting, goals need to be specific to the individual who is attempting to achieve them. If esteem is low, or difficulty is not there, then it is more likely that the individual will give up on their goal (Locke & Latham, 2006). Locke and Latham’s theory on achieving long-term goals requires the following factors to be present:

"The most effective way an organization can promote job satisfaction of its employees is to enhance the mental challenge in their jobs, and the most consequential way most individuals can improve their own satisfaction is to seek out mentally challenging work (Judge 2000, p. 107)."

Specific[edit | edit source]

For a goal to be specific it needs to be easily defined by the individual and have a clear outcome (Locke & Latham, 2007). For example, a person might have an intention to lose weight. While the outcome of this goal is easily defined – to lose weight - it does not have a clear finishing point. For instance, how much weight needs to be lost or what is the target end weight that a person wants to be. Therefore, Locke and Latham would suggest that this goal – to lose weight – needs to be re-structured and made specific and measurable. For example, “I want to lose 30kgs” or “I want to be 65kgs”[when?].

Difficulty[edit | edit source]

Locke and Latham found that the difficulty of a task has a direct effect on performance of goals (Locke & Latham, 2002). They determined that individuals performed best on tasks that they viewed to be moderately difficult to highly difficult[factual?]. Tasks that were deemed to be easy resulted in boredom and were difficult for a person to sustain over time (Locke & Latham, 2002). An example of this is setting a goal for an Olympic runner to walk their running track each day.

Complexity[edit | edit source]

A large portion of individuals have the ability to complete a goal but are unable to sustain enough concentration to achieve long-term goals, such as losing weight. This is because a goal such as this is multifaceted, requiring undivided attention for a substantial period of time (Locke & Latham 2006). Locke and Latham observed that long-term goals be difficult to follow through on without a proper definition and can become overwhelming (Locke & Latham 2007). However, they discovered that by breaking complex goals down into smaller tasks, individuals were more likely to be successful in achieving their goals (Locke & Latham, 2007).

Commitment[edit | edit source]

By adding commitment to the theory an element of motivation is involved. Locke and Latham noted that in order for a person to complete a long-term goal they need to have a degree of commitment towards wanting to complete the goal (Locke & Latham, 2007). Here is where intrinsic motivation becomes important to setting long-term goals. Although Locke and Latham found that goals that are set by others can be achieved, it is important for the individual to have some level of intrinsic motivation to complete long-term goals (Locke & Latham, 2007)

Feedback[edit | edit source]

Feedback is an essential key to goal achievement, and can be given externally or internally (Locke & Latham, 2006). An example of self-feedback is looking at your specific goals and critically assessing your progress. Receiving feedback can be from having someone notice your progress through physical or mental changes or even discussing your goals with others. It is important to use feedback in goal setting as it allows the person to monitor progress (Locke & Latham, 2006). It is important to be careful about how you approach receiving feedback (Sivers 2010). Sivers found that by telling people about your goals before working towards them leads to a higher risk of not following through with goals (Sivers 2010). This is because by telling people about goals, without yet achieving them, individuals can be left with a false sense of accomplishment (Sivers)[factual?]. An example of how to avoid this would be by instead of saying I am going to loose 10kg by summer, saying I am working towards losing 10kg by summer, I have a really long way to go and I need to start running every morning at 6, eating five servings of vegetables and parking further away from my building to walk more.

Self-efficacy[edit | edit source]

Goals say a lot about an individual, what they want in life, where they are now, and how much they believe in change. However it is not enough to write down a goal and simply hope that it will happen. Nor is it enough to make a plan for a goal if the individual does not feel they can complete it in the first place (Locke & Latham, 2002). This is where self-efficacy becomes important to Locke and Latham’s theory. Self-efficacy is the view that a person has about themselves and their own abilities (Bandura & Locke, 2003).

Bandura and Locke (2003) studied the effects of self-efficacy on goals by studying the affect that self-efficacy can have on motivation and performance (Bandura & Locke, 2003). These researchers looked at the ways peoples, perceived self-efficacy affected results on tasks. They collected pre-test data on self-efficacy and found that the lower a person’s perceived self-esteem was, the worse these people would do on tasks (Bandura & Locke 2003). Bandura and Locke (2003) then manipulated the by adding positive or negative wording during the tests. They found that when positive affirmations were used performance improved, even if the person had a perceived lower self-efficacy (Bandura & Locke 2003). The overall findings from Bandura and Locke’s study suggest that higher perceived self-efficacy and setting goals enhances overall performance and overall motivation (Bandura & Locke, 2003).

Motivation, cognition and goal achievement[edit | edit source]

Climbing mountain[explain?]

The first humans understood that food was a need, therefore they planned a way to get food to fulfil that need. This is where Locke's (2000) motivation, cognition and goal achievement theory can be applied. This theory looks at goals as originating from an individual’s needs (Locke, 2000). Originally such needs were things like food and water, yet as society developed, such needs have changed to include values such as social status and success (Locke 2000). Regardless of the need or value, the theory remains the same: goals are a direct result of a person’s needs and values (Locke 2000).

Locke (2000) determined that motives, values and goals affect a person’s action in three ways: focus, emotions and persistence of action. Firstly, Locke found that individuals will focus their attention and act in certain ways depending on their own personal motives and goals (Locke 2000). This means that by choosing to focus on a career, family and a social life are temporarily overlooked to achieve the main goal (Locke 2000). This theory states that in order to be successful, a goal will need to be the primary focus in daily life (Locke 2000). Secondly, Locke (2000) looked at the way in which goals affect intensity of actions or emotions. He found that the more important a goal is, the greater the action or emotion will be as the person has more invested into it (Locke 2000). For example, if a goal is deemed of high importance to a person, the more likely that person is to invest time and energy into achieving the goal (Locke 2000).

Thirdly, goals affect persistence of an action, which is defined as effort sustained over time (Locke, 2000). Locke found that, to increase persistence of an action, there needs to be an element of mastery within the goal (Lock 2000). Locke would see that in order to increase a persons' effort the goal should provide a feeling of success or an opportunity to learn and master a new skill or task (Locke 2000). An example of this is Climbing Mount Everest. To climb a mountain of this magnitude will require persistence of action because at each stage of the ascent a new level of mastery or personal best will be reached.

Combined, these three points state that needs can create values, which in turn, leads to developing a goal (Locke, 2000). The important message that the theory of motivation, cognition and goal achievement adds to the literature is that even when an individual views a goal as important there still need to have an element of motivation if the goal is to be achieved.

The theory of grit[edit | edit source]

Locke and Latham’s theory discusses some of the hallmark steps required in setting goals and achieving them. However, their work fails to fully consider or explain how motivation is essential to long-term goal achievement. According to Locke and Latham’s theory, anyone can climb Mount Everest as long as they follow the steps in their theory; setting specific goals, being committed, seeking feedback having a level of difficult and reducing complexity. Their theory seems to imply that goals can be achieved regardless of motivation. Locke’s theory of motivation, cognition and goal achievement, mentions motivation and cognition, however, this appears to only extended on Locke and Latham’s original steps in goal achievement by adding elements such as commitment, difficulty or mastery and choosing goals that are applicable to you. This is where the theory of Grit, in conjunction with Locke and Latham’s theories, adds an important element to understanding long-term goal achievement by explaining how motivation impacts upon goal achievement[factual?].

Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly’s (2007) conducted a longitudinal study to determine whether IQ is linked to the likelihood to achieve in tasks over a long period of time. They began by studying students in the classroom and wanted to understand why students with high IQs weren’t necessarily performing the best on tests. From this study they developed a concept called ‘Grit’. Grit is defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals and is a factor that determines success and achievement for obtaining long-term goals (Duckworth et al, 2007). The difference between individuals with grit and those without was stamina; the ability to pick yourself up after failure and an ability to remain focussed despite boredom (Duckworth, et al, 2007). Duckworth (2007) conclude that even with a high IQ or natural talent without grit students were unable to achieve long-term goals.

While Grit is an important predictor of success the theory may not necessarily help people who do not have grit (Duckworth et al. 2007). Therefore, in order to be successful in long-term goal achievement it may be beneficial to consider more than one theory.

Reader Activity Look over the long-term goals that you are working on. Choose one of these goals now and progress through these [which?] steps.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter has highlighted some of the differences in long-term goal setting and what theorists have found to be more or less effective in achieving goals. While this chapter has discussed Locke and Latham’s theory of long-term goal achievement and Duckworth et al.’s theory of Grit, there are still many more theories that can be applied to goal setting this chapter has been linked with both The theory of Grit and Exercise motivation and personality as they discuss other theories in more depth[vague].

The take home message is that you can achieve your long-term goals. Remember to break goals down and keep them simple, remain specific, seek feedback and ensure that you are prepared to commit and that the goal will test you in some way.

What if I lose motivation?[edit | edit source]

While all goals are important, it is vital to remember that some may be more significant than others. When you consider Maslow's hierarchy of needs you can see that basic needs come first (Lee, & Hanna, 2015). Locke and Latham said the same about goals, in the sense that if there are goals that go against your current needs it will be difficult to achieve them. For example, although weight loss might be an important goal to you, if eating unhealthy food and socialising with friends instead of exercising is more important then it may be difficult to achieve this type of goal. Losing motivation often comes when goals are not the main priority or they are not receiving feedback. Reconsider if you really want to achieve the goal and are you measuring your success through feedback.

If a person is trying to achieve a goal over a long period of time and that goal is not specific and it is not simplified they can become bored and lose motivation. Keep your goals specific and simple, and check back in to make sure they remain this way.

How do I find the time?[edit | edit source]

If you are committed to a goal, it is difficult and you are committed you will find the time. A long term goal should be something that you really want. Try setting smaller steps every day to reach larger goals

How can I maintain momentum?[edit | edit source]

Breaking large goals into smaller ones can help maintain momentum and focus. Therefore, instead of deciding to run a marathon straight away, try setting the goal of running 2km a day and then add more kilometres every week, until you are eventually running a marathon. This increases the sense of achievement across the time period rather than one large achievement at the end.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Syntax error

1 Is your goal specific enough to tell in a few words?


2 does this goal offer you personally some level of difficulty or challenge?


3 do you have someone or can you give yourself feedback?


4 Are you willing to commit to this goal?


5 Do you believe in yourself?


See also[edit | edit source]




Motivation and goal setting (Book chapter, 2010)


Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation



Grit (Book chapter, 2016)

References[edit | edit source]

Ariely D. (2012, October), What makes us feel good about our work?, retrieve from

Angela Lee Duckworth, (2013, May, 9th), Grit: the power of passion and perseverance, retrieved from

Bandura, A., & Locke, E. A. (2003). Negative self-efficacy and goal effects revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(1), 87-99. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.88.1.87

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087

Gbadamosi, A. (2009). Cognitive dissonance. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 37(12), 1077-1095. doi:10.1108/09590550911005038

Gómez-Miñambres, J. (2012). Motivation through goal setting. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33(6), 1223-1239. doi:10.1016/j.joep.2012.08.010

Judge, T.A., (2000). Promote job satisfaction through mental challenge E.A. Locke (Ed.), The Blackwell handbook of principles of organizational behavior, Blackwell Publishers, Malden (2000), pp. 75–89

Jung, C. S. (2014). Why are goals important in the public sector? exploring the benefits of goal clarity for reducing turnover intention. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 24(1), 209-234. doi:10.1093/jopart/mus058

Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (2007). New developments in and directions for goal-setting research. European Psychologist, 12(4), 290-300. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.12.4.290

Lee, J. M., & Hanna, S. D. (2015). Savings goals and saving behavior from a perspective of maslow's hierarchy of needs. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 26(2), 129.

Locke, E. (2000). Motivation, cognition, and action: An analysis of studies of task goals and knowledge. Applied Psychology an International Review, 49(3), 408-429. doi:10.1111/1464-0597.00023

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.57.9.705

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265-268. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00449.x

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

Mace, C.A. (1935). Incentives: Some experimental studies. In Industrial health research report (Great Britain), No. 72

Miller-Keane, (2003), Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition, retrieved from

Wyatt, S., Frost, L., & Stock, F.G.L. (1934). Incentives in repetitive work. Industrial Health Research Board (Great Britain) Report, No. 69

External links[edit | edit source]

Grit: the power of passion and perseverance, Angela Lee Duckworth

Setting Goals

If you want to achieve your goals, don't focus on them: Reggie Rivers at TEDxCrestmoorParkED

Lock and Latham's Goal setting Theory: Goal Setting Help Motivation

What makes us feel good about our work? Dan Ariely

Keep your goals to yourself - Ted Talk