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The Benefit of Setting Difficult Goals

I can almost hear you now, groaning and thinking to yourself, “what is she talking about? Isn’t she all about celebrating small steps to get where you want to go?” Yes! I am! Really! So what’s this about setting difficult goals? Turns out research has shown that goals that are a bit more difficult and a bit out of a reach for us are actually more helpful than super easy goals. Not that you can’t break down difficult goals into manageable steps but that as a whole it pays off to set the goal a little bit toward tough.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, is a social psychologist who studies this very issue at Columbia University’s School of Business. She has found that more difficult goals bring us a higher level of gratification than those goals which we know to be easy and achievable. There’s science behind her recommendations, which makes them all that much more manageable to put into action.

Think about for a minute: if we decide to do something off of our to do list that is simple we get to cross it off the list but in the back of your mind aren’t you thinking, “but that was the easiest thing on my list”? I know when I cross off a task that was more of a challenge it’s a different feeling, usually a feeling more along the lines of “wow, I did that”. As a Thriver you’ve no doubt set up that to do list too!

We’ve gone over SMART (specific, measureable, action oriented, realistic and time lined) goal setting in the past, and its an excellent method for sure but there are other ways of going about this task that you might find just as useful to get to your difficult goal.

Another set of approaches encourages us to visualize our goal and then head in that direction. A great plan for sure but not what you might be thinking it is. Using the tool of visualizing to help you anticipate obstacles as well as how to overcome them is much more helpful than just plain visualizing a goal. Think of it as using the SMART format in your visualizations. Just because we can see something in our mind’s eye doesn’t mean it will magically happen.

Halvorson also points out as very important the need to distinguish between “be good” goals, which are those that are based in achieving a certain, specific outcome and “getting better” goals, which are based on growth and improvement. There are reasons for setting each type of these goals but as you might imagine “getting better” goals allow us to move and challenge ourselves in new directions.

It’s the First of the New Year and I just know that some Thrivers out there can’t help but set up a series of New Year’s Goals. Does this information perhaps put a different light on setting up of those goals? Can you use this to shape an unusual type of goal for yourself this year? Whatever goal you set up, or goals, I have all the faith in the world (see previous article!) you’ll meet it!

Happy New Year!

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