Missing your goals? Maybe they’re not big enough.

It’s that time of year: Our major races for 2018 are in the rear-view mirror. Now we turn our attention to 2019.

If you’re like me, you may even grab a spiral-bound notebook and start writing down possibilities. Fun, right? Checking dates, locations, travel schedules.

Let’s harness that enthusiasm and talk about goals.

Pop quiz:

Which goal are you most likely to reach?

Or, to put it another way: Which goal will bring the highest levels of effort and performance, and even increase the probability of success?

A. An easy goal

B. A moderately difficult goal

C. An extremely difficult goal

Believe it or not, the more difficult the goal, the higher the probability of success.

Other studies put it another way: Consistently, the highest or most difficult goals produced the highest levels of effort and performance.

So the answer? You got it: C.

As strange as it sounds, you have a higher probability of success in reaching an extremely difficult goal than you do a moderately easy goal.

Of course, that goal must be reasonable – that is, within the limits of your human ability.

But let’s back up for a second.

What’s the purpose of a goal?

Goal-setting theory says a goal is the object or aim of an action, typically within a time frame.

And the goal itself – this far-off thing in the future – has a very real effect on our actions now.

Think about it this way:

In one scenario, you are faced with an easy goal. There’s little fear of embarrassment if you fail, and little reward if you succeed. Your motivation and dedication toward that goal is going to be very low. Odds are high you might actually never achieve that goal as easy as it is.

In another scenario, you are faced with an extremely difficult goal. In this case, fear of failure is extremely high. Your anticipated rewards of success are huge. This is a formula for high motivation. And, though seemingly counterintuitive, odds are high that you will succeed – higher than with the easy goal.

Crazy, right?

How can that be?

Goals affect performance in four ways (from the “Science of Swimming Faster” 2015):

1. They provide a direction for attention and effort.

2. They provide an inspirational force that moves us to action. The higher the goal is, the greater the effort required to accomplish the goal. Lower goals will see less effort associated with the pursuit of those goals.

3. Goals affect persistence, particularly when people face obstacles.

4. Goals directly and indirectly affect arousal levels and personal discovery in the pursuit to achieve.

Did you fall short in 2018?

Aim higher in 2019.

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