Science-Based Goal Setting Practices


The beginning of a new year is often our favorite time to choose new year resolutions and set intentions for the year ahead. Should we even set goals or should we just go with the flow to reach our dreams? As many other spiritual seekers, I used to be a firm non-believer in goal-setting. I thought that specific goals restrict spontaneity and freedom of expression. Looking back at my life, I’m so happy I started to set clear, measurable, and achievable goals, because goal-setting doesn’t necessarily block creativity or inspiration.

On the contrary, а clear goal invites spontaneous action that is directed towards a specific area of focus. It saves our time and energy, and allows us to stay in our power. Without defining a specific focus, that wouldn’t be possible. Next time when you hear someone talking about the restrictive nature of writing down your goals, ask them what they have created in the last year or two. It is very likely to be another excuse that the subconscious mind feeds us to stay in the comfort zone of inactivity.focus-goals

In the video below, Brian Tracy recommends: “Continually bombard your mind with thoughts, pictures, and people consistent with the person you want to be and the goals you want to achieve.” He says that those of us who don’t set any goals, never fully materialize their dreams and give up before they even reach them.

On the other hand, those of us who are goal-setters are able to

4 Science-Based Goal Setting Practices with Examples

The best way to set and accomplish goals, according to a Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, includes:

  1. Set Meaningful Goals. “Give yourself permission and time to think about what it is you want to experience in your life or what’s getting in the way,” says McGonigal. As you think about what you want to create in 2017, ask yourself why you want to achieve that three (or more) times in a row. In my coaching practice, I call this knowing your Big Why.


– I want a new car.

– Why do I want a new car?

– So that I can drive to work without any trouble.

– Why is it important for me to drive to work without any trouble?

– I want to focus on my work during the day instead of thinking about the car.

– Why do I want to focus on my work during the day?

– I want to get a promotion by August.

– Why do I want to get a promotion by August?

– I want to be able to take my family for a trip to Ireland in September.

Now you know exactly why this goal is important to you. Knowing the deeper value it has for you, you will be more motivated to save or do whatever you need to do to buy a new car.

  1. Focus on Making Consistent Small Steps towards Your Goal until You Reach It.

Example: Ask yourself what are the two things I could do today to move closer to my goal. That is all you need to focus on.

  1. State Your Goal in the Positive.

Instead of saying what you don’t want, say what you want. When we say a negative statement, our brain is not able to build new neuropathways that are required to imagine new possibilities. So keep asking yourself what you want to have instead, until you have your goal.


– I don’t want to procrastinate anymore.

– What do I want instead?

– I want to carefully choose how many responsibilities I take on, so that I can give each task my full energy and attention.

  1. Have a Contingency Plan.

Decide what you are going to do, if there is a roadblock on your way.

Example: If I have a deadline at work and I can’t go to the gym today, I will do a 15-minute exercise at home.

8 Characteristics of Good Science-Based Goals

The process of achieving any goal, which is illustrated on the diagram below, begins with two elements:

The General Goal-Setting Model

Values ==> Emotions and Desires ==> Intentions (Goals) ==> Directed Attention, Persistence, Mobilized Effort, Strategies ==> Behavior or Performance ==> Outcomes

The goal-setting theory developed by Locke and Latham (2002, 2006) highlights several important characteristics of good goals. This theory is used in management systems to understand employees’ behavior.

Overall, to set good science-based goals, we need to:

  1. view a goal as important;photo-1473186505569-9c61870c11f9
  2. commit to a goal;
  3. believe in our ability to attain it (self-efficacy);
  4. have no conflicting goals;
  5. set a specific goal that provides specific target and allows them to measure their success;
  6. set difficult but attainable goals;
  7. if the goal is new and complex, we need to set a learning goal to master specific skills;
  8. create a way to receive feedback and be accountable.

Simple Goal-Setting Activity

  1. Choose on area of your life that requires transformation. It can be career, relationships, finances, spiritual development, self-care, etc.
  2. Set a specific goal you would like to achieve in this area and choose a timeline.
  3. Determine your Big Why and make sure that the goal is stated in the positive.
  4. Write down a few steps you can do today to start moving towards your goal.
  5. Create a contingency plan and a way to measure your progress.

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4 Comments on "Science-Based Goal Setting Practices"

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Just in time for all of us, who are catching up with the new year resolutions, plans, etc. ‘Big Why’ has been on my mind for a while now.

Right on! I like asking myself Why questions. It often reveals deeper motivation that wasn’t immediately apparent.


This is great! So much information and I love the real life examples you gave!

Thanks for your kind comment, Chrissie! I’m glad it as helpful to you.