Goal Setting and Hope

Article excerpt


The science behind the mechanisms and mediators that lead to successful goal accomplishment has been a focus of research since the 19703. When an individual desires to make a change or accomplish an outcome, research tells us that he or she will be more successful if he or she attends to a number of variables that are key in goal setting (Locke, 1996). Specifically, keys to achievement include: setting difficult but attainable goals, setting explicit and precise goals, having a strong commitment to one's goals, andhaving the belief in one's capacity to achieve the goal (self-efficacy), among other variables. Noted repeatedly in the literature is the importance of choosing goals that are not only important to the individual but also that he or she is capable of reaching. Teaching successful goal-setting strategies to school-age children is critical for students' success in and outside of the classroom.


Centr al togoal accomplishment is the ideaof hope. In accordance With hope theory, a goal is anything that an individual desires to experience, get, do, or become. Lopez et al. (2004) present the importance of hope in goal accomplishment and provide researchbased suggestions for producing higher levels of hope in students. Hope theory refers to "individuals' perceptions of their capacities to clearly conceptualize goals, develop the specific strategies to reach those goals, and initiate and sustain the motivation for using those strategies" (Lopez et al., 2004, p. 388). Hope theory posits that hope plays a critical role in goal achievement through several mechanisms. Hope finding is when an individual becomes aware of hope and understands its application potential. Hope bonding is when social bonds (e.g., friendships or the bond between a teacher and student) facilitate successful change. Hope enhancing is the explicit experience of change and the increasing hope that comes when a student sees himself or herself achieving a step along the way to goal achievement. Agrowing body of literature shows the benefits of hopeful thinking in academic and athletic performance, physical and psychological well-being, and connections to others (Lopez et al., 2004).


How does goal setting increase performance, achievement, and ultimately well-being? In an article chronicling the findings of 35 years of research, Locke and Latham (2002) provide an overview of the mechanisms that underlie the positive outcomes associated with goal setting.

First, goals are directive. That is, they direct attention toward the behavior that will lead to the desired aim. If a student sets a goal to read three chapters of a book by the end of the week, the student has heightened his awareness of this activity and will be more likely to devote his energy to reading. In a study of the effects of goal setting on performance, Locke and Bryan (1969) provided feedback pertaining to multiple aspects of participants' performance related to automobile driving and found that performance improved only on the dimensions for which there were previously set goals. This research indicates that when a student sets a goal, he or she is more likely to notice behavior related to that goal and more likely to respond to feedback regarding goal-directed behaviors as compared to behaviors not specifically linked to a goal. This research points to the importance of being specific about the behaviors that will help a student achieve his or her goal, because by naming the behaviors or strategies, they will then be on the student's "radar" and thus will be more likely to be noticed and monitored.

A second reason that goals lead to positive outcomes is that they are energizing. Goals increase effort toward performance, and when an individual is engaging in goaldirected pursuits, he or she often experiences positive emotion and the state of flow. Research indicates that when an individual sets a goal, that individual shows increased direct physical effort, cognitive effort on repeated tasks, self-reported subjective effort, and physiological indicators of effort (Locke & Latham, 2002). …