There are at least five different types of what are called achievement goals by social scientists. Some goals increase your chance of failing and some increase your chances of succeeding according to the research.
I’m only going to discuss the two most important of these five types of goals. The one that can help you the most and the one that can hurt you the most (you can find a scientific paper describing all five here).
The type of goal to avoid is the ability goal – whose purpose is to prove you have the ability to do something. For example, if you need to give a presentation and you have the goal of proving how well you can speak, you have an ability goal.
The type of goal that is most helpful is a learning goal. In this type of goal you would approach a public speaking situation with specific ideas in mind for what you can learn from the experience. For example, you might decide you’d like to improve your ability to connect with the audience, your cadence or your use of pauses.
Learning goals are linked to many positive outcomes. Students with learning goals for example use deeper processing strategies in their courses such as “elaborating” and “networking.” People with learning goals also tend to increase their efforts after failure.
Although individuals with ability goals can experience high levels of motivation when they are succeeding, they tend to use more superficial learning strategies and when they experience failure they experience more negative feelings and reduced effort.
In one study pre-med college students taking a general chemistry course were tested to see whether or not they endorsed ability goals or learning goals or one of the other types of goal.
After the course their grades were tabulated.
It was discovered that overall the students with learning goals outperformed all other students. In fact many of those with low performance at the start of the course got better grades on the final exam than they had on any previous exam. Students with ability goals that performed poorly at the start of the course performed worst of all on the final.
So what does this mean for you?
To achieve the most out of life you should set learning goals whenever possible.
If you want to build a successful business focus on the outcome but also focus on what you need to learn to achieve that outcome.
If you want to be more organized, discover what skills you need to gain to achieve more organization and then set about learning those skills.
Focus on what you need to learn and avoid all focus on proving how smart or competent you are.
This can be challenging though as we actually set many goals without being consciously aware of them. And the types of goals you focus on are determined by your mindset.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the kind of mindset that allows you to naturally focus on learning goals. It’s a mindset that’s also been proven in over 20 years of research to increase your achievement.
Until then, please tell me what you think of the idea of learning goals in the comments area below.
Reference to study discussed above: