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A goal is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, plan and commit to achieve.[1] People endeavour to reach goals within a finite time by setting deadlines.

A goal is roughly similar to a purpose or aim, the anticipated result which guides reaction, or an end, which is an object, either a physical object or an abstract object, that has intrinsic value.

Goal setting

Goal-setting theory was formulated based on empirical research and has been called one of the most important theories in organizational psychology.[2] Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham, the fathers of goal-setting theory, provided a comprehensive review of the core findings of the theory in 2002.[3] In summary, Locke and Latham found that specific, difficult goals lead to higher performance than either easy goals or instructions to "do your best", as long as feedback about progress is provided, the person is committed to the goal, and the person has the ability and knowledge to perform the task.[4]

According to Locke and Latham, goals affect performance in the following ways:[3]

  1. goals direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities,
  2. difficult goals lead to greater effort,
  3. goals increase persistence, with difficult goals prolonging effort, and
  4. goals indirectly lead to arousal, and to discovery and use of task-relevant knowledge and strategies.

A positive relationship between goals and performance depends on several factors. First, the goal must be considered important and the individual must be committed. Participative goal setting can help increase performance, but participation itself does not directly improve performance.[3] Self-efficacy also enhances goal commitment.[5] For goals to be effective, people need feedback that details their progress in relation to their goal.[3]

Some coaches recommend establishing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bounded (SMART) objectives, but not all researchers agree that these SMART criteria are necessary.[6] The SMART framework does not include goal difficulty as a criterion; in the goal-setting theory of Locke and Latham, it is recommended to choose goals within the 90th percentile of difficulty, based on the average prior performance of those that have performed the task.[7][3]

Goals can be long-term, intermediate, or short-term. The primary difference is the time required to achieve them.[8] Short-term goals expect to be finished in a relatively short period of time, long-term goals in a long period of time, and intermediate in a medium period of time.

Mindset theory of action phases

Before an individual can set out to achieve a goal, they must first decide on what their desired end-state will be. Peter Gollwitzer's mindset theory of action phases proposes that there are two phases in which an individual must go through if they wish to achieve a goal.[9] For the first phase, the individual will mentally select their goal by specifying the criteria and deciding on which goal they will set based on their commitment to seeing it through. The second phase is the planning phase, in which that individual will decide which set of behaviors are at their disposal and will allow them to best reach their desired end-state or goal.[10]:342–348

Goal characteristics