Saturday, 24 September 2011

Goals and motivation

There have been numerous studies conducted on the benefits to motivation and performance, of setting challenging goals. A quick search on Google Scholar will find almost all of them, including Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. This blog post describes the challenges that I’ve faced with motivation and how goal setting has helped me to succeed.

High school and university – last minute man
During high school and university I was a “last-minute man”. If it wasn’t the last minute before an assignment was due, then chances were good that I hadn’t even started the assignment, which I’d been given weeks ago. I needed the fear of failing to motivate me to work, which obviously isn’t a recipe for success.

Zero motivation – contemplating quitting
Very early in my career I was working in a role that I detested; I found the work boring and time seemed to crawl from 9am to 5pm. I visualized horrifically, spending the rest of my life working eight hours a day, doing a job that I hated and having nothing to show for it except a small amount of money. Needless to say, I was seriously contemplating quitting my job.

A challenging goal – the key to motivation
I’m not exactly sure what lead me there, but a few days into that detested role, I began contemplating the following:
- What if I looked back on my career and didn’t just see the money I had made, but saw the things that I had achieved?
- What if I could achieve something I’d be proud of in this role?
- What if I produced the most output, with the least errors? What if I found ways of making the entire team more efficient?
- What if I were the best employee that this team had ever had?
And that became my answer… being “the best employee ever” was something I could be proud of and it motivated me to work and ultimately succeed, all while enjoying my role.

Looking back now, it wasn’t the specifics of the goal that were important, especially as I had no way of knowing whether I was better than any of my predecessors, it was the fact that the goal was challenging and something that I really cared about that mattered. 

Since that day, I have found ways to set relevant goals in many aspects of my life, not just in business and I am certain that it has contributed to my happiness. I encourage you to find your own challenging, yet worthwhile goals, with just one note of caution: be very careful when setting your goals and make sure to have fun!

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