I have put together six types of goals that research shows are most likely to lead to happiness and well-being: Compassionate, Harmonious, Approach, Mastery, Challenging, Autonomous. (C.H.A.M.C.A.). The often least desirable counterparts of these types of goals are: Self-image, Obsessive, Avoidance, Performance, Easy, Controlled respectively (S.O.A.P.E.C.). Together these types of goals can be grouped into 6 dichotomies. Let’s take a look at each one.
Compassionate goals include helping others. With compassionate goals you are just as happy and satisfied to see someone else succeed, as you are happy about your own success. Self-image goals are all about being concerned about how you look to others. Having self-image goals are related to being stressed out and anxious, as you are constantly worried about being evaluated by other people. In contrast, having compassionate goals is related to happiness and well-being.
Harmonious goals are goals that blend nicely with other aspects of your life. Obsessive goals are goals that you pursue relentlessly despite obvious harm to yourself, others around you or important relationships in your life. For example, moving to another city to get the job of your dreams, despite uprooting your kids and threatening your marriage. You may achieve your goal but not be happy with it. Happiness and well-being comes from having mostly harmonious goals.
Set your goals so that you are moving towards something (approach) rather than to get away from something (avoidance). It is easier to devise an action plan that moves you towards something you need or want than away from something. Avoidance goals can be reformulated into approach goals. For example, “I want to lose weight” can be reformulated into “I want to be able to run up the stairs without running out of breath”. This goal will likely include exercising more as well as other health-promoting behaviors. Weight loss will also likely result from your new lifestyle.
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People with mastery goals seek to learn and understand something new. People with performance goals seek to obtained favorable judgment from others. Having mastery goals is more related to persistence in the face of adversity, which is normal because satisfaction comes less from the final outcome than from the learning that takes place during the process of striving towards a goal. People with mastery goals are also less concerned with their ability level. They see failure as a chance to grow as a person. People with performance goals are concerned with ability level and view effort as sign of a lack of ability. They are also more likely to choose easy goals with a higher probability of success, which prevents them from reaching their full potential.
To keep motivated goals have to be challenging enough as to not bore you but realistic enough as to not discourage you. A proper balance has to exist between your ability level and the goals you set. For example, lowering the bar for a high jumper is not likely to keep the jumper motivated. One the other hand, having the goal of making the high-jump Olympic team at 52 years of age may be unrealistic. This does not mean that you cannot set goals that are more challenging than your perceived level of ability can handle. However, you must be able to imagine that you are going to able to take necessary steps to achieve it. That is, to fill the gap between your current level of ability and the level of ability needed to achieve the goal. Achieving challenging goals provide you with a greater level of satisfaction, personal growth and self-worth than do easy goals. People often set easy goals when they are afraid that they will fail if the set more challenging goals.
Autonomous motivation means that you are driven towards a goal because of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation means that you do need any external rewards, such as money, praise or status enhancement for you to keep being interested in the activity. The activity itself is rewarding to you. For example, your goal to become healthier will carry its own reward in making you feel better about yourself. If you do get an external reward for the activity, you would keep doing the activity without it. This differs from controlled motivation. With controlled motivation, your goal stems from something that you have to do, for example, meeting quotas or work objectives imposed by your employer. Also, if the only reason you have for achieving a goal is external reward then it is a control-motivated goal. Well-being and happiness is associated with goals that are autonomously motivated.
Not all of your goals have to be C.H.A.M.C.A. The context is important. In some situations, we need to set goals that are easy, if something we perceive as being easy needs to be done. Sometimes our goals are also controlled by reward, as when we are at work and need to get a job done. We may also be concerned about our self-image so that we don’t show up to work looking like a mess. It is also sometimes, O.K. to want to perform, for example, while playing a competitive sport. We also may want to avoid things like catching a cold or be obsessive about getting homework done. The important thing is to have proper balance in the types of goals we have. Too many self-image, obsessive, avoidance, performance, easy and controlled goals are not desirable.