Setting the right goals for ourselves

Trevor Eddolls (published on the AfSFH Blog – 01 Apr 2019) has written an insightful article below about Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and goals in life :

When you first visit a solution-focused hypnotherapist, you’ll be asked a little about yourself, and you’ll be asked what brought you here today, and, most importantly, you’ll be asked how you will know hypnotherapy has worked for you. The answer to that last question will, in effect, be your goal. It will be you doing something – going on a plane on holiday without feeling panicky, being able to visit the dentist, going for a whole day without a cigarette, enjoying a small piece of cake rather than a large one, etc. Hypnotherapy can help people to achieve their goals and to lead happier lives.

Goals in life, according Erich Fromm (1976), can be divided into two categories or orientations. There are those with, what he called, a ‘having orientation’ (like having wealth and status) and there are those with a ‘being orientation’ (like self-actualization). He found that people with a being orientation goal are happier on average. That all sounds very good so long as you know what self-actualization actually means. Abraham Maslow came up with a hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of his triangle were physiological needs such as food, water, warmth, and rest. Once you had those, you could satisfy your security needs. And then move up to belongingness and love needs, and then esteem needs, and, finally, self-actualization. Self-actualization is the realization or fulfilment of a person’s talents and potential. It’s being creative and similar activities. So, those are the best kinds of goals to set yourself.

Goals can also be divided into intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals are all about doing or chasing something that’s personally meaningful to you. These goals fuel your core needs and wants, and they fit with your passions, interests, and core values as well as your relationships and your personal growth. Extrinsic goals help you achieve something outside of yourself. They are often about obtaining other people’s validation and approval or external signs of self-worth, eg becoming famous, earning lots of money, or seeking power over others.

Now, Kasser & Ryan (1996) found extrinsic goals are associated with lower self-esteem, more drug use, and more TV watching. However, Oishi et al (1999) found that the important thing was not the content of the goal but how congruent it was with a person’s values. Congruent here means how well they matched.

So, what are a person’s values? Values are the things that are important to us. Values form the basis of why we do what we do. And a person’s values can change during their life. Shalom Schwartz (1994) identified ten values that he thought could be found in all cultures. They are power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, tradition, conformity, and security.

Although goals are important to wellbeing (which is often used as another name for happiness), sometimes people don’t pursue them. Why? Ford & Nichols (1991) found that people may pursue goals that are less important, but urgent and attract more attention (like housework or events). Sometimes people fear that they won’t be able to accomplish something, so they don’t try. And sometimes people give up before achieving their goal because it’s just too hard to keep going.

According to Lyubomirsky (2001), wellbeing is enhanced when people choose to pursue goals that are:

  • Feasible, realistic, and attainable
  • Being progressed towards
  • Personally meaningful
  • Highly committed to
  • Intrinsic
  • Concerned with community, intimacy, and growth
  • Self-concordant and congruent with their motives and needs
  • Valued by their culture
  • Not conflicting.

So, if people set themselves goals, how can they be motivated to actually achieve them? Brown & Ryan (2004) had some advice for getting children to do their homework (or other tasks). They said to avoid rewarding, forcing, or cajoling children because this can lead to a lack of responsibility. They suggested that parents provide a meaningful rationale for an activity, make it more interesting, empathize with any difficulties that the child faces, and give plenty of praise. They say that parents, who support autonomy and who are interested and caring, help children to become self-motivated. I’m sure the thinking must also apply to a degree to adults.

When it comes to motivating ourselves, there’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the natural, inherent drive to seek out challenges and new possibilities. Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources. Ryan and Deci (2000) came up with four different subtypes of extrinsic motivation. They were:

  • External motivation occurs when we feel driven by outside forces, performing an activity either to obtain a reward or to avoid a punishment. People do things because they have to.
  • Introjected motivation is based on self-control, acting in order to avoid guilt, pressure, and anxiety. We do something because we would feel guilty if we didn’t.
  • Identified motivation is where we do something because we can see why it’s important (even though we may not enjoy it).
  • Integrated motivation is where we do something because we fully subscribe to the values underlying our behaviour, which have become part of ourself.

As mentioned above, autonomy is important for intrinsic motivation because when we are free to choose our actions, it’s easier for us to appreciate the reasons for performing them. If we’re compelled to do something, then it becomes harder to internalize the motivation. And that’s why offering rewards for activities that should be internally motivated can undermine performance and achievement.

So, when deciding on goals for ourself, it’s important to bear this information in mind in order to be happy and successful at achieving our goal. Make sure the goal is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Don’t give yourself rewards for tasks that you want to accept need to be done. Try to make the goal a self-actualizing one. And try to match it to your values.