Goal Setting Psychology

Putting the time in at the beginning will not only set you up for when things get harder or your motivation starts wavering, and will mean you don’t have to wait for reaching your end goal to get that feeling of  accomplishment.

In the 1960’s, American psychologist, Edwin Locke,  published a theory around goal setting in the workplace and to this day, many companies still incorporate some of Locke’s underpinning theory to improve productivity and performance amongst employees. Now, although there is a high probability your skills around goal setting and achievement will transfer into your working life, we mustn’t forget these articles centre around personal growth and development, luckily, Locke’s key messages are also transferable into personal goal setting.

Locke’s Goal Setting Theory

 5 key traits to goal achievement;

  1. Clarity
  2. Challenge
  3. Commitment
  4. Feedback
  5. Complexity

Now, let’s apply these traits
to your personal goal.


This can be known as ‘SMART’ planning, but by breaking it down to specific, measurable and timely it not only helps you commit but also to break down the goal into achievable chunks.

Here’s some examples:

I will be able to run 5k in under 60mins in
6 months [enter date]

I will be able to support myself self
employed [detail business] by next year [enter date]

I will write 500words of my novel, every
week for the next 8 months


No one is motivated to achieve something they deem as easy, everyone is unique and easy to one person is another person’s mountain. When making your goals make sure it’s slightly out of reach, we’re not saying aim for Mount Everest but something you’re going to have to break a sweat for.


We’re already touched on the importance of commitment in the last article but is good to recap. Commitment to personal goals can come in different shapes and sizes; tell friends and family about your goals to get their support, make it public to others, keep it in sight – use your fridge to keep reminders on or put your plans on a board that you see regularly.

Keeping it at the forefront of your mind will help you keep your mind on moving forward.


Seeking feedback will help you to adjust your journey and keep yourself on track. Feedback can come from different channels, if your goal is fitness orientated a personal trainer can provide feedback. If it’s business orientated regular check in with your business partner or local enterprise centre can help keep you on track. If your biggest cheerleaders are friends and family, they’ll be able to provide support and thoughts on how to keep working towards your goals.

Another way to give yourself feedback is to track your own progress, or keep a journal. This allows you to look back at where you were but also see how much progress you’ve already made even though you might not be at the point of accomplishing your specific goal.


This could be one of the most important aspects of long term goal setting.

A goal that provides consistent motivation while still being challenging more often than not involves a level of complexity. A complex goal is often made up of different elements or stages, this means it can be broken down into smaller, arguably more achievable, chunks. Having staggered goals or deadlines provide short term achievements which can sustain long term motivation that is required to meet longer term, complex goals.