Psychological Self-Help

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30
The Importance of Setting Effective Goals 
Motivation is trying to reach our goals. But, it isn't just a matter of
setting high, noble goals, as discussed in chapter 3, although that is a
critical step. It is common to wish for higher goals than we are willing
to do the work to attain. We want to be a lawyer but goof off in high
school. Many college students with a 2.7 GPA want to become PhD’s.
We want to be a star performer but don't like to practice. Even when
trying to better ourselves we may lack the motivation. For example,
Rosen (1982) found that only half of the people in a self-help program
completed the work. Those who stuck with it got good results
(overcoming their fears). Similar results have been found in toilet
training of children and self-administered treatment for premature
ejaculation. Likewise, Schindler (1979) reported that only 17 of 60
subjects made full use of an assertiveness book. What determines
these vast differences in motivation among us? Why are some of us
fantastic achievers while others take the easy route? We don't know
for sure (but see learned industriousness later), but having explicit
goals and certain attitudes help. 
Life goals set our sails and give us a push, e.g. "I want to help
people." People who reach many or most of their life goals are usually
calmer, happier, healthier and less stressed or emotional. However,
there seem to be certain life goals that harm our mental health, e.g. "I
want to have the power to control or impress people." Wanting to be
close to and good to others is associated with better emotional health
(National Advisory Mental Health Council, 1995). Likewise, seeking to
improve your skills ("mastery goals") results in feeling good about
trying hard and in increased effort when an obstacle is met. But
wanting to beat others ("performance goals"), such as having a
winning season in football or being the best student in your math
class, result in avoiding tough challenges, giving up when starting to
lose, feeling more anxious, and less gain in self-esteem than with
mastery goals. This is why enlightened coaches are teaching players to
focus on mastering their basic skills, not on their won-loss record. It is
also easy to see the connection between mastery vs. performance
goals and intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation or satisfaction. The
importance of intrinsic satisfaction and the problems with extrinsic
rewards are discussed thoroughly later under "Why behavior is hard to
understand." 
In any area where we are hoping to self-improve, both short-term
and long-range goals are needed. If your long-term goals clearly
contribute to your most important values and your philosophy of life,
they should be more motivating. Good goals are fairly hard--they
stretch us--but they are achievable taking small steps at a time. As
much as possible, you should explicitly describe your goals in terms of
very specific behaviors. Danish, Petitpas & Hale (1995) provide
examples of specific behaviors in sports psychology: 
Physical skills--"I'll do 3 more sit ups and 3 more push ups this
week than I did last week." 
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