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Goal Setting

Goal setting is a mental training technique that can increase an individual's commitment to achieving a personal goal. Having a short or long-term goal can encourage an individual to work harder, focus more on the task, and overcome setbacks more easily.

Goal setting is a technique pioneered by Locke (1968)[1], and effects performance in four ways:

  • focuses attention
  • mobilises effort in proportion to the demands of the task
  • enhances persistence
  • encourages the individual to develop strategies for achieving their goals

Outcome Goals

Outcome goals are to do with winning or performing better than someone else. They refer to the desired result, e.g. selected to represent your national team. These can be highly motivating long-term goals, but as they are not under the individual's control and are affected by how others perform, they are limited without related processes and performance goals.

Process Goals

Process goals, over which the individual has complete control, deal with the technique or strategy necessary to perform well. Process goals can also be established to map the route to achieving the desired Performance Goals.

Examples of process goals are:

  • maintain controlled rhythm in the long jump run up
  • run at a 5-minute mile pace
  • engage legs before arms when throwing the discus
  • use a pre-event routine before each high jump

Process goals help focus attention and are very effective in helping to control anxiety.

Performance Goals

Performance goals specify a specific standard to be achieved. Performance goals are about personal standards (for a runner, this might be a time for a particular distance {33 minutes for 10km}) and are unaffected by others' performance and so totally under the control of the individual.

Performance goals can be used to monitor process goals and progress towards the desired outcome goal.

Performance goals encourage mastery and make a performer feel satisfied with a performance even if they do not win.


Outcome Goals, Process Goals and Performance Goals all need to be SMARTER:

  • Specific - make them as precise and detailed as possible
  • Measurable - a method by which you can quantify or rate your current position and then determine the amount of improvement required
  • Accepted - goals need to be shared and negotiated with all others involved
  • Realistic - the goal is real yet challenging
  • Time-phased - the date is set for when the goal is to be achieved by
  • Exciting - goal motivates the individual
  • Recorded - the goal and progress towards it are recorded

GROW Model

As a coach or mentor, you may help others solve problems, make better decisions, learn new skills or otherwise progress in their role or career. One proven approach is the GROW model (Whitmore 1992)[2].

  • G for goal - find out what they want to work on/discuss, their specific goal for the mentoring session and the short and long-term goals
  • R for reality - ask questions that help them to think about the current situation related to the goal. This means asking questions that raise awareness and promote self-reflection and thinking.
  • O for option - encourage them to generate as many options as possible without judging them. This is the time to help them think outside the box to find more creative solutions. If they have run out of ideas, they may ask you for further ideas, or you may wish to offer suggestions (if agreed)
  • W for will - use questions to help them determine which option to take, and how and when to take it. Agree on the first step(s)


Goal setting is about identifying what you want and how you will achieve it (process goals) and measuring that achievement (performance goals). Commitment and self-confidence will grow when challenging goals are broken down into realistic steps and then systemically achieved motivation.

Goals must be set according to the individual's age, stage of development, confidence, ability and motivation. Beginners require short-term, easily achieved goals to boost their self-confidence, whereas individual professional needs more challenging yet realistic goals.


  1. LOCKE, E. (1968) Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives. Organ. Behav. Hum. Perform, 3, p. 157-189
  2. WHITMORE, J. (1992) Coaching For Performance: Growing People, Performance and Purpose, 4th ed. London, Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2007) Goal Setting [WWW] Available from: [Accessed