How To Increase Your Goal Motivation

Setting goals is a requirement for achieving your best life and living out your potential. Goals give you direction and focus. They are important for another reason as well — setting and achieving goals improves your well-being and positivity. But keep in mind that all goals are not created equal — some motivate you more than others. Choose goals that add to your positivity and keep you motivated to achieve them.

A Life Changing Gift

When I was in my early 30s, I was introduced to the man who changed my life. That man was Earl Nightingale. Of course, I didn’t literally meet Mr. Nightingale, but I received a program on audiotapes called Lead The Field as a birthday gift. In this series of audiotapes, Earl Nightingale provided numerous ideas on what it means to live a successful life. He expanded and expounded on the ideas he originally articulated in his program, “The Strangest Secret“.

I had more or less stumbled upon a career that I enjoyed but it was more by accident than by design. Through Lead The Field, I was exposed to a number of ideas that I had never been taught before. As I say, it was a life-changing experience for me. And it began my journey of learning and implementing ideas for self-growth and self-improvement. One of those ideas to which I was newly exposed was the concept of setting goals.

Goals: The What And The Why

My first attempts at goal setting were clumsy and not really fulfilling nor achievable. But I continued reading and studying and refining my abilities and methods.

Eventually, I was introduced to the field of Positive Psychology and I began learning – and I continue to learn – the ties between goal setting and well-being.

Goal setting is one of the “happiness activities” presented by Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, The How Of Happiness. However “committed goal pursuit” is different from the other activities Lyubomirsky discusses because, as she says, “no matter what our levels of happiness and fulfillment, all of us have some kind of goals.” [Lyubomirsky]

But all goals are not created equal. It isn’t only the content — what we are going after — that can enhance our life satisfaction and well-being. Our why – the reasons for pursuing a goal – also has a major influence. [Ackerman]

Extrinsic –> Intrinsic — A Continuum

A SMART+Plus goal is a good starting point for articulating a workable and beneficial goal. Here, I want to focus in on intrinsic and extrinsic goals and goal motivation.

Intrinsic goals are internally or self- motivated. The motivation for extrinsic goals comes from outside ourselves . . . our parents, spouses, friends, employers and society in general.

While research indicates that internal motivation leads to a greater sense of positivity and is in general a stronger motivating factor, we are all motivated by external sources as well. And that isn’t a bad thing. Both types of motivation influence our behavior and drive us to achieve our goals. [Ackerman]

The Self-Determination Theory Of Motivation

Edward L. Deci and Richard Ryan are experts in the field of human motivation. Working together, they developed the self-determination theory of motivation. This is “a theory of human motivation that differentiates between autonomous and controlled forms of motivation”[“Edward L. Deci”], what we know as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Self-determination theory tells us that it isn’t our goals themselves that determine our motivation and well-being. The difference lies in whether, in the pursuit of our goals, we meet three basic human needs. [Grenville-Cleave]

  1. Autonomy is the need to feel that we are masters of our own destiny. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” And not only control of our fate but that we control – at least to some extent – our own behavior. [Ackerman]
  2. Competence is the need to develop skills and then to master the ones that are important to us. [Ackerman]
  3. Relatedness refers to having a sense of belonging and connection with others. [Ackerman]

Bridget Grenville-Cleave, in her book, Positive Psychology, identifies these needs as the “3 C’s”: Control, Competence, and Connection. [Grenville-Cleave]

Goals And The Three Basic Needs

As you are considering goals to pursue, keep these 3 basic human needs in mind.

Control refers to our ability and need to choose how we act in pursuing a goal. We are motivated when we have a goal that we ourselves have selected and have decided what we’ll do and how we’ll do it. Interestingly enough, an external reward for performing actions toward a goal can be demotivating. [Grenville-Cleave]

Competence means that we feel confident and effective in our actions. We have a need to feel we are mastering skills that are important to us. [Ackerman] Receiving positive feedback for our work has been shown to improve self-motivation because it builds our confidence. (Conversely, negative feedback decreases motivation.) [“Self-determination theory”]

Connection speaks to our human need to be in close relationships with other people and to have positive support from them as we pursue our goals. [Grenville-Cleave] We are more likely to be successful in our goal pursuits “when we are supported by empathetic and supportive people, rather than controlling or directive people.” [Ackerman]

SMART Goals And Motivation

Let’s see how SMART – Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Relevant, Time Bound – goals can help us meet the 3 C’s – Control, Competence, Connection – of self-determination.

Specific – Choose precisely what you are going after, being certain it is your choice. This contributes to your sense of Control. Selecting specific goals that require you to practice skills you have and desire to master leads to Competency.

Measurable – How will you measure your progress to the goal? Selecting your milestones gives you Control. Meeting them can help you feel Competent.

Accountable – How will you be accountable for taking the steps to your milestones? Having an accountability partner is an effective way for many people and gives you a sense of Connection. But choose a partner who gives feedback judiciously. You want an honest and helpful appraisal but remember negative feedback can be demotivating.

Relevant – Choose goals that are relevant to your current life and situation. For our purposes, relevancy means that your goals contribute to the 3 C’s.

Time-bound: Setting a deadline for your goal puts you in Control of when you intend to achieve the goal.

Increase Your Goal Motivation

Why we are pursuing a goal can be a motivating factor as well as what we are achieving. If we pursue goals that someone else thinks we should or that society thinks we should (e.g., bigger car, bigger house, bigger paycheck), we diminish our feelings of control, competence, and connection . These goals don’t seem satisfying and we have trouble keeping ourselves motivated.

In contrast, when we choose goals that are inherently meaningful and important to us and that add to our sense of control, competence, and connection, we are intrinsically motivated to achieve them. This enhances our feelings of happiness and well-being. That is Excelerated goal setting. And that is embracing the Excelerated Life!

Excelerated Goal Setting™ — planning and achieving BIG goals — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


Ackerman, MSc., Courtney E. “Self-Determination Theory of Motivation: Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters”, 11 August 2019. Web. 14 November 2019.

“Edward L. Deci.” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 14 August 2017. Web. 14 November 2019.

Grenville-Cleave, Bridget. Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide. New York: MJF Books. 2012

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How Of Happiness. New York: Penquin Books, 2007

“Self-determination theory.” Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 1 December 2019. Web. 3 December 2019.


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