Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – May 1, 1996 – Dr. John F. Murray – Goal setting is a powerful motivational strategy … if utilized properly. Research has shown that goal setting enhances performance across a variety of situations. This month the focus is on how goals work, the benefits they provide, and specific ways in which you can use goal setting to reach your next “goal” in tennis.

Definition of Goals

Goals are defined as “something we consciously want to attain, accomplish, or achieve.” They are also thought of as “aims, targets, or tracks to run on that give our energies specific direction.” Goal setting provides a sense of control over what we do in our lives and allows us to move beyond beliefs or fears that may be preventing us from realizing our peak performance.

Achievement: A Self-Test

Since goals are a way of maximizing achievement, let’s engage in a brief self-analysis to determine what achievement means to you. Do you view achievement primarily as: (1) beating others and/or demonstrating superior competence or (2) improving your level of skill and/or getting to the next level regardless of competitive outcome. Think about this a moment and decide whether you agree more with statement (1) or (2).

What Did You Choose?

Which approach to achievement did you endorse? If you chose the second approach, you are on your way toward maximizing the effectiveness of goal setting. This approach is called “task involvement.” Task-involved athletes have been shown to display high intrinsic motivation, produce maximal effort, and persist longer across a variety of performance situations. They set goals to master skills.

The first approach is termed “ego-involvement.” Ego- involved athletes define their performance in comparison with others. Their approach appears to work only when they are confident of their abilities and not threatened by the possibility of losing. Unfortunately, “ego-involved” athletes often avoid challenging situations that might have otherwise taken them to the next level.

One’s philosophy of achievement often directs the type of goals that are set. Research indicates that performance goals (e.g., hitting a higher percentage of 1st serves in) are usually superior to outcome goals (e.g., winning the tournament). In my opinion, focusing on “winning” is an irrelevant distraction. Attentional resources are needed for more specific needs (See my November 1995 article). Rather than worry about the outcome, stay interested in improving your performance and the outcome will take care of itself.

There are distinct advantages to setting goals. Here are a few of the benefits noted in the research on goal setting in sports:

Improved Performance
Enhanced Quality of Practice
Clarified Expectations
Greater Challenge and Boredom Relief
Higher Intrinsic Motivation
Pride, Satisfaction and Self-Confidence
Decreased Anxiety
Improved Concentration
Greater Sense of Purpose
Time Management
Better Search For Strategies

Although there are no exact rules to follow in goal setting, here are some guiding principles which have been effective in maximizing performance:

Set specific, measurable goals, with a target date to completion
Set both long- and short-term goals
Set difficult, yet attainable goals, that will push you toward your limits
Set performance goals rather than outcome goals
Reevaluate goals periodically and adjust them when necessary
Set goals for practice as well as match play
Set goals that will lead to a steady progression of improvement

Goal setting is a marvelous tool. Add it to your arsenal of mental equipment.