How many times have you approached the start of a new year with a list of positive goals you want to achieve, only to feel like you’re still stuck on square one when December rolls around again?
Creating and setting goals is great, but actually achieving them can be much harder. This is where utilizing some tried and tested goal setting exercises can help you, not only in setting a goal that is achievable but the individual steps and process needed to help you get there.
That’s what we’re taking a look at in this article: how goal setting exercises work, why they’re important, and a whole heap of resources to help you get started.
This article contains:
- How Goal Setting Exercises Work
- What are Goal Setting Tools?
- 6 Useful Goal Setting Tools (PDF)
- 3 Goal Setting Exercises (PDF)
- Planning with Goal Setting Sheets
- 16 Useful Sheets for Setting Goals (incl. PDF & Word Printables)
- 5 Goal Setting Questions to Ask
- 3 Goal Setting Workshop Activities for Adults
- 4 Helpful Goal Setting Models
- Do Visualization and Meditation Help Goal Setting?
- 3 Training Games & Exercises for Goal Setting Workshops
- 3 Goal Setting Exercises for Couples
- What is Group Goal Setting?
- Creating a Goal Setting Workshop Outline
- What is a Group Goal Setting Questionnaire?
- 4 Group Goal Setting Exercises and Activities (Incl. PDF and worksheets)
- A Take-Home Message
How Goal Setting Exercises Work
The author Annie Dillard once said in her book The Writing Life, ‘How we spend our days is how we spend our life’ and I think this is a great quote to contemplate in the theme of goal setting. How we spend our life – the things we want to do – is made up of all the smaller days in-between, and the same is true of achieving a goal. It’s the small steps in the middle that create success.
Goals are our aspirations. When we set a goal, we create an aim for a set of behaviors (Latham and Locke, 2002). Whether that’s achieving a level of proficiency or skill in an athletic endeavor, a weight-loss goal or paying off financial debt: Creating a goal helps us to know what we’re aiming for in life.
Change rarely happens magically overnight. It happens because we make a daily commitment to adapting our behaviors, mindset, and habits to work towards creating the change we want. Small, daily and consistent changes can lead to big results over time. This is how effective goal setting exercises work.
While goal setting can be short or long term, formal or informal, to really achieve results psychologists have found that goal setting exercises are most effective when the final aim is specific and measurable (Locke and Latham, 1991, Latham, Winter and Locke, 1994, Latham and Locke, 2002).
Locke (1964) came up with the very first Goal Setting Theory, where he focused on goal setting within the workplace. He found that employees were motivated more by clearly set goals and actionable feedback to help them achieve those goals.
While it probably makes a lot of sense today to be told to ‘secure four new clients by the end of the month’ rather than ‘increase the customer base’, this was revolutionary when Locke proposed his first paper. He provided the foundation for modern goal-setting techniques that many use today.
Locke also found that motivation is key to achieving our goals, and we feel more motivated when we’re not 100% certain we can achieve the goal we’ve set for ourselves. Taking on challenges is highly motivational as it allows us to develop our skills, flex our problem-solving muscles, and gain a deeper sense of personal achievement.
Based on Locke’s research, it seems for goal setting exercises to work they need two key things:
- To be small, achievable and measurable over time
- Set specific and clear outcomes
More recently Miner (2005) examined goal setting within organizational behavior and positive leadership strategies. He suggested the following three core principles for how goal-setting works. Goals:
- Motivate individuals to put in the required effort to set tasks
- Motivate individuals to keep persisting in the required behaviors or activities over time
- Motivate individuals to stay focused on the goals and tasks they are trying to achieve, rather than becoming distracted by irrelevant behaviors
While both Locke and Miner have focused on goal setting exercises in a work context, these core principles can be applied to personal goal setting too.
What are Goal Setting Tools?
It’s one thing to know about goal setting, and how it can help you, but another entirely to know how to actually set goals and stick with them. Goal setting tools are a great way to help you set goals, keep track of, and stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve.
These tools and can be informal, for example:
- A handwritten diary or journal tracking your goals and smaller daily achievements
- Using your mobile phone to set daily reminders or countdown apps for when you want to achieve certain things by
- Motivational notes and posters set around your home or work desk as friendly reminders
- Telling friends and family what you’re working towards so they can offer support
- Visualization activities including meditation, positive affirmations, and mindfulness
Or they can be formalized, such as:
- Regular meetings/reviews with your line manager at work to keep you accountable (if your goals are work related)
- Joining groups or meet-ups with individuals trying to achieve the same goals (such as weight loss, or athletic groups/fitness classes)
- Working with a peer coach or mentor to help motivate you to stay on track
- Utilizing goal setting software tools and apps to help keep you on track (Milestone Planner andGoalScapeto name a few)
Which tool is right for you will depend on what you’re specific goals are, how long you want to take to achieve them, and whether it is an individual or group goal.
6 Useful Goal Setting Tools (PDF)
Below I’ve collated a few useful goal setting tools I’ve found while researching this article. I’ve broken them down into two sections: non-digital goal setting tools and digital goal setting tools. Depending on your preference and goals, you might find one more beneficial than others, or prefer to use a mixture of both mediums.
Non-Digital Goal Setting Tools
1. Keep a Goal Setting Journal
This one is particularly good for personal development goals. Even ten minutes a day to review and write about your goals will help to keep you focused, motivated, and feeling more positive about the journey you’re on (Robinson, 2017).
Keeping a journal allows you to keep a record of your progress, any setbacks you come up against and how to overcome them. It’s a strong visual and physical representation of how far you’ve come already towards achieving your goals.
2. Try Backward Goal Setting
Backward Goal Setting is a nifty tool to try when you’re feeling a bit stuck. It’s all about switching up your perspective and approach, so if you have a goal you failed to achieve before, this could be a great tool to try to switch up how you tackle it.
With Backward Goal Setting, you start with your ultimate end goal (quite similar to traditional goal setting). But instead of thinking about what the first step might be, then the second, third and so on, you start at the end goal and work backward.
Essentially you reverse the process. As mentioned, this can help you think about your goal in more broader terms, and help you identify key milestones that traditional goal setting wouldn’t. Used alongside traditional goal setting tools, it can help you create a strong final plan for achieving success.
3. Get some social support
As a tool for success, nothing beats a good few people you can rely on to keep you motivated and encouraged towards achieving your goals (Adams Miller, 2015). Research has found that the people we surround ourselves with – even distant acquaintances – can have a dramatic impact on our behaviors (Christakis and Fowler, 2009).
By telling those you trust and value about your goals, they’ll respond with actions and behavior that will actively aid you towards success, and be great cheerleaders when your own motivation seems to be waning.
Digital Goal Setting Tools
You probably spend a fair amount of time in the day using your mobile phone, so have you considered how you can use it to help you with key areas in life such as achieving your goals?
Luckily, many app developers have thought about just this thing and there is a multitude of apps and functions on most phones to help you work towards successfully achieving your goals. Below I’ve listed three popular apps that focus on setting and achieving goals:
1. Way of Life
Way of Life is a daily habit tracker app that allows you to create multiple daily goals you’re hoping to achieve and check them off as you achieve them. It’s got a very user-friendly interface and the ability to set yourself reminders.
As a goal-setting tool, it’s great for simple things such as drinking more water, setting time aside to read more or avoiding sugary drinks but for more in-depth or layered goals, this is probably not the best tool to reach for.
2. Coach me Goal Tracking
This app offers more in-depth functionality. Not only can you create goals and milestones, but it also gives you access to a whole community of like-minded people all reaching for goal success.
It allows you to interact and motivate each other and also has professional coaches you can hire via the app for one-to-one support if you need it.
Another great function is the ability to add up to six family members or friends – great for team or group goal work!
Similar to Way of Life, Momentum helps you create set your goals and create smaller, daily habits to help you work towards achieving them. You can curate your home screen and set reminders to help you stay on track. It’s extremely user-friendly and has previously been rated as one of the ‘Best New Apps’ in the app store. Unfortunately, it’s only designed for iPhone and Macs at the moment.
You might also find this handy Goal Setting Toolkit PDF helpful. Created by Mindtools it’s a comprehensive write up of what makes successful goal setting, and a great resource of different tools you can try.
The tools that are right for you will depend on your specific goals and preferences for tackling them. For me, a handwritten goal journal works really well as I like having something tangible that I can sit down with every day away from digital distractions.
3 Goal Setting Exercises (PDF)
King (2001) asked students to write about a traumatic experience, their best future self, both topics or a non-emotional control topic for twenty minutes a day, across four days.
The student’s mood was measured before and after writing and followed up three weeks after the initial test. King found that writing about life goals – or best possible future self – was associated with a significant increase in feelings of well-being compared to writing about trauma.
What this tells us is that writing about positive, self-regulatory topics – such as what we want our future to look like – can be hugely beneficial for our well-being. It can also be hugely beneficial in helping us achieve our goals.
Below I’ve outlined three easy to do goal setting writing exercises to help you get started:
1. The ‘Average Perfect Day’ Exercise
You can do this exercise in a journal, blank notebook or on your computer, and as the title suggests it’s pretty straight forward – you write about what your average perfect day looks like.
Focus on what your perfect day looks like without any added extras or surprises (so no winning lottery tickets or surprise romantic getaways). The idea here is to create a detailed list of what an average day looks like, step by step. This could include:
- The perfect time for waking up and what that looks like – do you read for 20 minutes before getting up? Cuddle with your partner? Do a sun salutation or mindfulness to start the day?
- What do you do once you’re out of bed? Do you make coffee and breakfast first, or shower first? Do you pick out your outfit for the day or did you do that the night before? Is there music, the radio, morning TV in the background? Are the curtains or window blinds open fully or do you prefer them closed while you get ready?
- What happens next? Do you go to work – what does that look like? Whom do you engage with? What does your desk look like?
- Are you at home with the kids? What do you get up to? What activities or adventures do you do together?
- What does a nutritious lunch look like and include?
And so on. Create a day you will never get bored of, that you could happily repeat five or seven days a week. Create an ‘Average Perfect Day’ for your work day and your downtime days. With or without your partner or kids. Really think about the individual behaviors that go into that day. What you’ll begin to see clearly are little habits you can start actioning straight away to get you closer to your idea of a perfectly average day.
2. The ‘One Year from Now’ Exercise
Similar to King’s exercise of asking students to think about and write down what their best possible future self might look like, you can adapt this to think about what your best possible life might look like one year from now.
You can do this exercise alone, with a partner, family or a close friend. It can be really rewarding to share your ideas with someone you trust, who will also challenge you to consider things outside of your comfort zone. Some of the key areas to think about when completing this exercise include:
- Your Work – What job will you be doing? Where will you be working? How will you be working towards what you want this to look like?
- Your Home – Are you hoping to save up to buy a place? Are there some home improvements in your current place you’ve been putting off? Does the garden need some TLC?
- Your Finances – Do you have some debts you want to pay off, once and for all? Are you saving for something in particular? Do you want to get on top of your retirement plans?
- Your Relationships – Are you happy in love? Wanting to get married? How much value do your close friendships bring? Do you need to work more on connecting with people?
- Yourself – How do you want to feel about yourself one year from now? Mentally, physically, socially, personally? What does that look and feel like?
Once you’ve created what one year from now looks like for you, start thinking about the steps required to achieve those things. Be reasonable and don’t try and commit to achieving everything at once. Pick one or two achievable and measurable goals for each area and build a goal-setting plan for each. Include a rough timeline of when you’d like to achieve that by so you can keep yourself accountable.
Again, you can write this down on good old fashioned paper, in a journal, or use a computer – whatever works best for you. Make sure it’s written up somewhere you can refer back to it and add to if needed.
3. The ‘Treasure Mapping’ Exercise
The Treasure Mapping exercise begins with some basic visualization techniques and takes it one step further.
Visualization is a wonderful tool to help you build a picture of what you want certain aspects of your life to look like. When it comes to goal setting, visualization can become tricky as it takes time to concentrate and re-visualize what you’re working towards when you need a quick boost of inspiration and motivation. Visualization is a strong tool and the Treasure Mapping exercise can help to take it to a new level!
With Treasure Mapping, you create a physical representation of your visualization. You can do this with a drawing, painting, collage, or digital art. It serves as a manifestation of your goals and intensifies the work you put into visualizing them in your mind. A few tips on getting started:
- First, clarify the goal you want to work towards. Visualize what this looks and feels like. Is it a personal achievement or more tangible, like running a marathon or paying off your debt?
- Now, write it all down in detail, using visualization as you go to build a clear picture.
- Think about the outcome of achieving your goal: What will you have? What will you be? How do you celebrate? What do your friends and family say?
- Once you have written this all down, it’s time to get creative! Grab your art supplies, a stack of magazines or whatever else you want to use to create your treasure map. At the top of your map create the visual representation of what achieving your goal looks like – this is the treasure you’re working towards.
- Now start thinking about all the steps required from where you are at now, to achieving that ultimate goal. Begin the above process again for each step you can identify and work backward from your ultimate goal, creating a visual manifestation on your map as you go.
- Align your images – drawings or collage – in a way that you can see how they connect. This will help imprint in your mind how you are going to achieve them.
Once finished, place your treasure map in a place where you can see it easily for a regular hit of motivation and inspiration. If you created in using some digital art software, print it or keep it as your background screensaver so you see it daily.
These exercises are just a starting point. Some might work better than others for you, so it’s worth trying a few and getting a feel for what you respond to the most.
This PDF from Act Mindfully titled ‘The Reality Slap’ is another great goal-setting resource, despite the title! It contains five short and easy to follow exercises to help you on the way to set some realistic goals.
Planning with Goal Setting Sheets
As we know, achieving our goals successfully is best done when they are specific, clear and measurable (Locke, 1968). We’ve taken a look at some of the tools and exercises that can help you when setting goals, but there’s another resource you can tap into when planning your goals and that’s Goal Setting Sheets.
These are pre-built templates or worksheets readily available on the internet that can help you get over the hurdle of knowing where to start. Instead, you’ll have a simple and easy to use guide for setting your goal and creating your plan of action.
16 Useful Sheets for Setting Goals (incl. PDF & Word Printables)
I’ve scoured the internet for a variety of different goal setting sheets and below are some of the easiest, and most user-friendly ones I’ve found. I’ve broken these down into four categories: individuals, couples, families and children, and work/study groups.
Best for Individuals:
- Black Dog Institute – Goal Setting Worksheet
- Wise Goals – New Year Worksheet
- Wise Goals – Weight Loss Worksheet
- Develop Good Habits – Simple Goal Planning Sheet
Best for Couples:
- Of the Hearth – Goal Setting Workbook for Couples
- Live Well Play Together – Goal Setting Worksheet for Couples
- The One Thing – Kickass Goal Setting Retreat Planner for Couples
- Nextgen – Career Goal Setting with your Spouse
Best for Families and Children:
- Develop Good Habits – Family Goals Execution Plan
- Develop Good Habits – Children’s Goal Setting Sheet
- Spark Parenting – How to Set Family Goals Plus Worksheet
- Worksheet Place – From Dreams to Goals Simple Worksheet for Children
Best for Work and Study Groups:
- Smartsheet – Project Goals and Objectives
- Smartsheet – Business Goals Worksheet
- Worksheet Place – Better Work Habits Goal Setting Sheet
- Thriving Adolescent – Group Goal Setting Worksheet
5 Goal Setting Questions to Ask
Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint what you want your goals to look like, and what it is precisely you want to achieve in life. Often, we become so focused on what we’re already doing and it’s easier to stay stuck in the habits we already have, even if deep down we don’t feel they’re what we really want to be doing.
Handy (1996) and Covey (1989) both suggest that at the core of what we all really want is to make a difference and contribute to our wider communities in positive and constructive ways. Handy suggested three steps for achieving a meaningful life:
- You are secure – the fundamental basics of life need to be achieved before you can think about your purpose
- You know who you are – this means you have established a strong sense of identity for yourself, you know the path you want to be on and what this looks like for you
- You can make a difference – once the above two steps are in place, you’ll know the right ways you can contribute and make a difference in the world
You can use goal-setting questions at any of these three steps and drill down to the individual goals you need to set to achieve, to help you move closer to finding more meaning in life. Five great questions to start with could include:
- What are my values?
- What drives me?
- What do I ultimately want to achieve?
- Why do I want to achieve that?
- What would my best friend and/or partner say my goals are?
Take some time and meditate on the above the questions, the first answers that come to mind don’t have to be the final answers but can be great starting points to explore further. The best questions to ask are open-ended – think what, why, when, who and how – as these encourage you to think deeply about the answer.
You’ll probably find once you get started that more questions emerge and that’s great! Keep writing them down and exploring where they take you. Remember you can revisit your answers at any time, and it’s important to review and rethink on them every so often.
3 Goal Setting Workshop Activities for Adults
Keeping a goal journal or utilizing different templates can help keep you on track to achieving your goals, but it doesn’t have to be a singular effort. A goal-setting workshop with friends, colleagues or peers is a great way to bring people together to explore and share their ideas creatively.
Goal setting activities can inspire and motivate you, and you might even uncover a goal or two you hadn’t considered before. Below are five fun and creative goal setting workshop activities you can try:
1. The Winning Lottery Ticket Activity
This activity is great for giving the mind free reign to think about what you would do if you had no financial constraints. It can be really telling to see what you come up with – most of which can be quite achievable if you start putting in the effort and setting some goals!
The premise is easy: You’ve just won the lottery! The winning amount is $30 million. What is your first reaction? What do you do next? What are some of your key priorities to use the money wisely? What about savings? Whom do you help out?
You can write this down, visualize it, or discuss it openly if you’re doing the exercise with a partner, family or group. Once you’ve done this, restart the exercise, only this time you’ve won half the original amount – $15 million.
Think about what changes you’d make to your original plans (if any). Keep restarting the exercise, each time halving the winning amount. You’ll notice that you start to drill down to your core values and these can inform the goals you need to focus on.
2. The Retirement Party Activity
This activity flips the lottery ticket activity on its head a little bit. Instead of visualizing what you would do, you think about what you would regret not doing.
Visualize the following scenario: Fast forward a few years or so to your own retirement party. You’ve worked hard, held down a steady job and now it’s time to enjoy some free time. You’ve invited all of your close friends, colleagues, and family. You give a speech about all the things you’ve enjoyed in life and then someone asks: What do you regret not doing?
Look back over your life and think about the things you wished you had done but didn’t. Perhaps work got busy so some personal travel goals got pushed to the side. Or maybe you never ended up going back to school to study that degree in creative writing you wanted to. Based on how your life is heading right now, you’ll probably have a good idea of what these regrets might look like.
Now take each regret and rewrite as a positive. You’ve just created a list of goals to work towards.
3. The Six Months Left Activity
While the title of this activity might sound a little morbid, it’s still worth trying! When you think about it, knowing you only have six months left to live can be a freeing feeling: there’s no reason not to go after the things you really want in life and try to make them happen as much as you can. The very worst thing that could happen to you has already happened so what do you have to lose?
What will you do with this newfound courage? Questions to think about could include:
- Where do you want to spend your time? Are there any cities on your bucket list you want to visit?
- Whom do you want to spend this time with? Are there any old connections you want to reach out to?
- How do you spend this time? Relaxing with loved ones or cramming in as much as possible?
The key to this activity is to not spend too long and hard thinking about it. Write down as much and as quickly as possible the first things and ideas that come to mind. Review and reflect on these to help you develop some tangible goals.
All of these activities focus on helping you to get at the core of what your potential goals could be. It’s worth trying a few different activities and seeing what results you get, and especially worth revisiting them over time to see how your ideas change.
4 Helpful Goal Setting Models
Researchers, psychologists, and business leaders have all tackled the topic of goal setting. Over the last few decades, a number of models have been developed to help individuals and teams create successful goals. Below I’ve outlined four of the most popular ones and how they work.
SMART Goal Setting Model
The SMART model is one of the most well-known and used models when it comes to goal setting. It first appeared in 1981 in an article in the Management review (Doran, 1981) and built nicely on the work previously carried out by Locke in the 1960s. It has proven highly successful in its use for both individual and group goal-setting.
Here’s what SMART stands for:
- Specific – Each goal must be specific and as clearly defined as possible. You can have multiple goals, but each one must be clear.
- Measurable – Each goal must also have clearly defined metrics for how it can be measured – either for progress or the end goal.
- Achievable – It can be easy to get carried away when setting goals, but a goal that is ultimately not achievable will deplete your motivation. Keep goals small and achievable. You can always build on and add to them later.
- Relevant – This is where putting some time in to plan your goals can pay off. There’s no point in pursuing a goal that doesn’t add to your core values or ultimate desires for your life. Make sure each goal is relevant to you.
- Time-Bound – This links nicely with the achievable step. Make sure you set yourself realistic deadlines for each goal and it’s required steps to keep you focused and motivated.
The SMART model has been widely accepted as the go-to model and I think that’s because it can be applied to simple and complex goals, work goals, personal goals, individual and group goals. It’s a highly adaptable model with a very clear structure that can be used with other planning and business tools to achieve large goals.
GROW Goal Setting Model
There are a few different claims to the authorship of the GROW model, but most agree that it was created by Business Coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore in the 1980s (Nguyen, 2018). Although developed together, the three went their separate ways soon after and each has continued to develop the model in their own ways (Fine, 2018) but the core of the model still remains the same.
GROW stands for:
- Goal – What do you want to do? What is your ultimate aim?
- Reality – Where are you now? What are some of the barriers preventing you from achieving your goal?
- Options – What could you do? What are the resources available to you? What changes can you make to your own behavior to overcome barriers?
- Will – What will you do? How can you start making changes or tapping into available resources to achieve your goal?
Working through the GROW model allows individuals to build their own self-awareness of:
- Current aspirations
- Current belief and values systems
- Current resources available to them
- The actions and effort required to achieve set goals
CLEAR Goal Setting Model
Kreek (2018) felt that the traditional SMART model for goal setting was too limiting and didn’t meet the needs of modern business environments, so Kreek created a new model. Kreek uses the acronym CLEAR for setting goals. This model has a focus on supporting teams at work to achieve business and organizational goals.
Here’s what CLEAR stands for:
- Collaborative – The desired goal needs to include a team or social element that drives everyone to contribute to success.
- Limited – There must be a set timeframe in which to achieve the goal, and the scope of the goal needs to be achievable within this timeframe.
- Emotional – Goals need to be connected to your core values, as an individual, and as a group. When emotion is attached to a goal, energy and passion become key in achieving it.
- Appreciable – While the end goal can be large, the steps in between need to be small. This way they are highly achievable and appreciation can be shared for their accomplishment.
- Refinable – Things change, sometimes unexpectedly. Your goal needs to have a strong objective but it also needs to be adaptable and fluid to meet new challenges, changes, and information as they arise.
This model takes into account how modern teams often want to focus on their core values (the Emotional step) and how to do this collaboratively, so it could be a great one to use at work or within study/research groups.
SPIRO Goal Setting Model
Pfeiffer and Jones (1972) created the SPIRO model but it was quickly superseded by the SMART model in the early 1980s. It’s still a very comprehensive model, but not one that is used as much today. The model was first published in ‘The 1972 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators’ and was aimed at coaching or training facilitators helping individuals to set and achieve goals.
SPIRO stands for:
- Specificity – As with the other models, the first step is to get specific about your goal. Make sure it is clearly defined and understandable.
- Performance – From an individual and a coach/facilitator perspective, what are the measures of performance that indicate the individual is progressing towards their goal?
- Involvement – Again, both the individual and coach/facilitator can agree on what their specific involvement in achieving the goal might be. This could also include looking at what other resources might be needed.
- Realism – As well as ensuring the goal is realistic and manageable within the set timeframe, this is also about ensuring the goal is aligned with personal values and current lifestyle. For example, setting a goal of going to the gym every night when you have childcare issues, study commitments, and other life plans isn’t realistic. Committing to attending three nights a week might be.
- Observability – From an individual perspective, this step includes asking yourself ‘what does achieving the goal look like externally and feel internally?’. From a coach/facilitator perspective, this is checking what the achievement of the goal might look like externally to others.
It’s clear the SPIRO model would work well in different group facilitator or coaching paradigms, but it could also be nicely adapted for couples wanting to support and encourage each other with their goals.
Do Visualization and Meditation Help Goal Setting?
Both visualization and meditation have been proven to have a wonderful impact on our overall mood and sense of happiness and fulfillment (Meevissen, Peters, & Alberts, 2011, Peters, Flink, Boersma, & Linton, 2010).
Research has also begun to show that visualization can help to promote and improve goal-setting behaviors (Taylor et al, 1998). Some of the exercises explored earlier in the article, including ‘The Average Perfect Day’ and ‘One Year from Now’, all use visualization as a core component to aid goal setting.
These exercises help to improve goal-setting behavior by maintaining expectations of success, creating structured plans, and engaging our emotions in achieving our goals.
Emotions play a crucial role in goal setting. Research has shown that when we connect our goals to our values and attach them to emotional outcomes, we’re more motivated to succeed and feel positive about it in the process (Austenfeld, Paolo, & Stanton 2006).
Using mental imagery of what we want our future to look and feel like is also powerful in supporting goal setting. Oyserman, Bybee, and Terry (2006) found that asking participants to use mental imagery to envision their best possible future self-enhanced their motivation to identify the goals needed to create their vision in real life.
Meditation is a core component of visualization so it makes sense that it would also help aid goal setting. Meditation allows us to calm our thoughts and mind, and take stock of our current being and presence. It can be a useful tool when visualizing what you want your goals to look like, but equally beneficial when you might begin to feel overwhelmed.
Our goals can sometimes get the better of us, and if we’re not achieving them exactly as we think we should, the fear of failure can creep in. Meditation is a great way to prevent these negative thoughts creeping in and depleting our motivation. It can allow us to move forward with clarity (Chen, 2015).
3 Training Games & Exercises for Goal Setting Workshops
Holding a goal-setting workshop can be really valuable. Whether your team manager, teaching a class or working with a group of peers towards a shared goal, a goal-setting workshop can help make sure you tackle the matter productively.
Below are three games and exercises that have been purposefully created for a goal-setting workshop:
1. The ‘Mine Field Goal Obstacles’ game
This is a fun game to use for goal setting with students, or if you want to get more active within your goal setting workshop. It has a focus on communication and trust within a group setting in achieving the desired goal. It requires a bit of preparation but can be a rewarding activity.
You will need:
- Objects and space to create an obstacle course (be as creative and challenging as you like)
- A blindfold
- A timer
- Pen and paper
How to play:
Step One: You’ll need to create an obstacle course. You can do this outside with basic gym equipment, or inside with office equipment (desks, chairs). The idea is to create a maze or course with obstacles through which participants will need to navigate.
Step Two: Divide your group into pairs or small groups. Within the group, they must decide on how quickly they want to complete the obstacle course. These times can be written up visually and you can create a little competition by challenging the teams to beat each other.
Step Three: One participant from each team is blindfolded. With the verbal queues from their other teammates, they need to try and navigate the obstacle within the time goal they have set.
Step Four: Allow each participant an attempt at beating their time goal, until you have an overall winner.
Purpose of the game:
While fun, this game allows participants to reflect on the different aspects that go into achieving a goal. By creating a timeframe, the group should put in the required effort to achieve this, and use the resources (each other) to do this successfully. Once you’ve finished playing the game, each participant can then reflect on one goal they have and identify the obstacles that may get in the way and the resources around them to help support them.
2. The ‘One, Some, Many’ goal sharing team game
This is a particularly good activity for a goal-setting workshop, as it allows participants time to focus on their own goals and come together to discuss group goals. It can help teams reflect on where there are overlaps in the goals they want to achieve, and how to work collaboratively on them.
You will need:
- Selection of pens/markers
- A3 paper and a flip chart board or whiteboard you can write on
- Post-it notes
How to play:
Step One: Focus on the ‘ONE’ part of the activity title. Each participant has a selection of post-it notes and the opportunity to write out their individual goals. Aim for 1-3 goals per person. These can be small goals or long term, but keep them concise when writing them down.
Step Two: Focus on the ‘SOME’ part of the activity title. Participants get into pairs or small groups of three and share the individual goals they have written down. If there are some that are the same, they can combine these to make one shared goal. Ask each group to identify other overlaps and similarities.
Step Three: Now focus on the ‘MANY’ part of the activity title. Using a large piece of paper or whiteboard, ask each team to come and place their post-it notes on the board. This activity should take the longest as participants will need to identify other similarities and overlaps and combine goals. The group can discuss as a whole which goals are the most common and identify how to work on these collaboratively.
Purpose of the game:
This can be a strong team exercise as it demonstrates very clearly and visually how much everyone can be on the same page. There will be goals that aren’t shared and these can be discussed proactively, but the purpose of the game is to identify common group goals and devise a way of achieving them together.
3. Vision Boards Collage Exercise
This exercise can be a lot of fun, while also encouraging group engagement. Vision boards are a great way to create a physical representation of goals and ideas.
You will need:
- Selection of art materials including pens and pencils
- Selection of old magazines, books or newspapers that can be cut up
- Scissors and glue for all participants
- Paper, cardboard or other material for sticking on
How to play:
Step One: Begin by asking each participant to practice a simple visualization exercise. Ask them to focus on one goal they would like to achieve and build a visual idea in their mind of what achieving that goal will look and feel like for them. Focus on the mental images that come to mind, and any feelings they anticipate on success.
Step Two: With these images in mind, participants can then look through the old magazines, books or newspapers to collect images, words and visual representations of what their visualization could look like. They can collect as many images as they like.
Step Three: The fun part! Participants can now start creating their boards. A vision board is a very personal thing so encourage participants to create something that represents them and their goal – there is no wrong or right way to do this. The final images they chose should all make them feel and remember their visualization of their goal.
There needs to be a strong emotional connection to the board to help remind and motivate them what they’re trying to achieve. In the end, each participant can share their board with the group if they would like to.
Purpose of the exercise:
This exercise is a fun way to build a physical representation of the desired goal. By starting with a visualization activity, participants can create something they feel connected to, that will help to motivate them when they need it.
3 Goal Setting Exercises for Couples
Creating shared goals as a couple can be a great way to feel more connected, and secure in your relationship knowing you’re both striving equally towards the same things. Having clear conversations about what it is you both want to achieve in life and how you can do that together is at the heart of goal setting as a couple, and there are some great exercises alongside the ones already mentioned you can use.
1. The FIRE Drill Exercise
The FIRE Drill exercise is a great one for couples as it allows each partner to reflect on what they want as an individual, their role in the relationship, and what they need from their partner. It allows couples to come together and discuss this without judgment. It is built on one core concept:
You can’t build a healthy relationship if you only focus on fixing what you think is wrong.
Essentially, you have to give the good and the bad in the relationship equal attention and devotion, as individuals and as a couple coming together. FIRE stands for:
- Focus: What do you want to achieve?
- Integrity: How are you showing up in the relationship? Are you who you want to be?
- Reflection: What causes you distress in the relationship? What makes you feel content?
- Encouragement: How do you need to be supported?
Each person works through the exercise as an individual first, thinking about their goals and ideas. Then work through the exercise again thinking first about what you need from your partner, and then what you can give/bring to the relationship. As a couple, share your answers with openness and curiosity. This can help you build better communication and clarity over your individual goals and shared goals.
2. Short Term vs Long Term Goals Exercise
For this exercise, it’s good to know what your long-term goals are. Once you’ve got one or two clearly defined and measurable long-term goals that serve you as a couple, it’s time to break those down into short term goals.
Step One: Work together as a couple to create a list of every small step (or short-term goal) needed to achieve the bigger long term goal. Again, be clear and define each step.
Step Two: Next, review each of the steps you have identified. Start to think about how long each of those steps might take and create a timeline for achieving them.
Step Three: Once you’ve done that, it’s time to think about who will be responsible for ensuring they are achieved. You can assign one partner, or make it a joint responsibility. The idea here is to ensure there is clear and agreed upon accountability for achieving the short-term goals.
Write this up or create a vision board you can keep somewhere visible in the house. As each small step is achieved, tick it off or cross it off the list. You’ll quickly see that you’re both working towards your long-term goals, together.
3. The ‘Less is More’ Exercise
This exercise can help you create more defined goals as individuals within the relationship and as a couple. The idea is to think more about your needs or desires and use these to help you decide on some goals.
Step One: As individuals, write up five things that you want less of within the relationship. These could be anything. For example, you might want less debt, less time working in the evenings, fewer takeaways: anything at all that you think might help to improve your life as an individual.
Step Two: Next, again as individuals, write up five things that you want more of within the relationship. You can keep these a mix of fun or serious things like more sex, more holidays, more time relaxing, more time with friends. Keep a focus on things that you think would help bring you closer as a couple but also add value as individuals.
Step Three: Compare your lists with each other. Really reflect and think about what you have both written down, how you think they could be achieved and how you can support each other to do that. Where are there overlaps? Are there any big surprises? What are the areas you have in common and how can you work on these together?
Step Four: Pick one or two that you want to work on as a priority and set a SMART goal for how you will achieve it.
Remember to keep a defined time frame in mind and review the SMART process you create to keep you on track.
What is Group Goal Setting?
Group goal setting is where a group or team of people come together to agree on a set goal that will benefit them as a group or the wider community that they exist and interacts within. Some examples of groups who might set goals include sports teams, research teams, study groups, work colleagues on a set project or objective, a school class working on a fundraising goal or a community group.
Setting a group goal first requires listening to individual interests and priorities, within the group or from the wider community the group is seeking to serve, and then establishing set and shared actions to help the group achieve the desired end goal.
Creating group goals can be very empowering and motivating. Achieving big changes or results is easier with a strong group of individuals working towards a shared aim, especially when there is shared vision and investment in doing so, just think about sports team who go on to win competitions (Schmoll, 2013).
Creating a Goal Setting Workshop Outline
As you can probably imagine, when it comes to running a goal-setting workshop, it’s very easy to go off track! Once everyone starts thinking more deeply about their goals, it can be difficult to keep everyone on the same page as you go through the workshop.
This is where a workshop outline can come in handy. An outline helps to set a clear structure for the session, alongside any potential learning outcomes or ‘take-aways’ you want participants to have. You can also add time limits for each section, exercise or activity and set a clear plan at the start for everyone to adhere to.
When creating a goal-setting workshop outline, there are a few things to consider:
- How long will the overall workshop be?
- How many activities can you reasonably fit into that timeframe, ensuring they are completed effectively and with value?
- How many participants will be attending your workshop? What are the minimum and maximum numbers required for any activities you want to include?
- What resources do you need for each activity?
- Will you be using one overall goal-setting model or introducing a few different ones? How will your activities need to be adapted to this?
- What are the key learning outcomes/ takeaways participants should leave with? Keep this to a maximum of 3-5 and make sure they are well defined and measurable.
When creating your outline, it’s also important to consider where the workshop will be taking place and the physical space you’ll have to work with. Will you need a board for writing notes on or a computer to show digital presentation slides, videos or images? Do you want to record the workshop?
It’s important to put as much thought into the workshop as possible so you have a strong plan to start with. It’s fine to allow for some flexibility and adaptability, but start strong.
What is a Group Goal Setting Questionnaire?
A goal setting questionnaire can be one of two things:
- A questionnaire used to help define and tailor goals within a group setting by asking open questions that are then shared to identify synergies and gaps across the group.
- A questionnaire used by facilitators or researchers to build an idea of participants’ understanding of what goal setting is and what it entails.
Goal setting questionnaires can be particularly useful and meaningful in psychological research so that researchers can know where their participants sit in understanding goal setting and inform further research (Lee, Bobko, Earley & Locke, 1991).
4 Group Goal Setting Exercises and Activities (Incl. PDF and worksheets)
Many of the exercises and activities already described can be adapted and used for group goal-setting workshops or events. Depending on the group dynamics, demographics and desired aims, some exercises will be better suited than some.
Below I’ve collated some additional resources related to group goal-setting exercises and broken them down to be used for work or professional group goal-setting, and school or community group goal-setting.
1. Goal Setting Exercises for Work or Professional Groups:
- This handout from Montana State University titled ‘Setting Group Goals’ is a fantastic resource. Not only does it provide a short break-down of why setting group goals are important, but it also contains five potential exercises and further reading.
- This resource from the University of Toronto titled ‘Group Goal Setting Exercises’ could be used for workgroups, or professional study groups. It focuses on setting a group goal and how to achieve it across a yearly time frame.
2. Goal Setting Exercises for Student or Community Groups:
- This resource from Thriving Adolescent titled ‘Group Goal Setting Worksheet’ has been developed for use in student groups, but could also be great for community or workgroups with smaller goals in mind. It’s very easy to use and clear.
- This workbook from Mentoring Pittsburgh titled ‘Goal Setting and Decision Making’ contains a selection of exercises that can be completed individually or as a group, and has been specifically developed for students and young people.
The purpose of group goal setting is to bring everyone into alignment, in agreement and clear on what their role might be in moving towards achieving a successful group goal. Group goal setting activities should act as a conduit to achieving this, so it’s a good idea to try out a few different exercises and find the one that works for the group as a whole.
A Take-Home Message
Goal setting has many benefits across both our personal and professional lives. Research has shown time and again taking ownership of our goals is incredibly empowering and rewarding.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s that the resources you have available to you – to help you create strong and achievable goals – are limitless! There are so many great exercises, activities and methods to help you set goals in every area of life. If you try one and it doesn’t quite work for you, make sure you pick another one and keep going until it feels right.
Have you had success in achieving a specific goal? Please feel free to leave me a comment, especially if you used a method not mentioned, I’d love to hear about it!
For additional material on goal setting, read our selection of recommended goal-setting books.
- Adams Miller, C (2015). Workbook for Goal-setting and Evidence-based Strategies for Success. Retrieved from: https://wholebeinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/MC-Goal-setting-Workbook-Complete.pdf
- Austenfeld, J. L., Paolo, A. M., & Stanton, A. L. (2006). Effects of writing about emotions versus goals on psychological and physical health among third-year medical students. Journal of Personality 74(1).
- Chen, C. (2015). How Meditation Helps With Goal Setting. Retrieved from: http://viemeditation.com/my-mind/meditation-helps-goal-setting/
- Christakis, N. & Fowler, J. (2009). Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do. Bay Back Books.
- Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Simon & Schuster; New York.
- Dillard, A. (1989). The Writing Life. Harper Perennial; New York.
- Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives. Management Review, 70, 35-36.
- Fine, A. (2018). What is the GROW Model. InsideOut Development. Retrieved from: https://www.insideoutdev.com/about-us/what-is-the-grow-model/
- Handy, C. B. (1996). Understanding Organisations. Retrieved from: https://www.worldcat.org/title/understanding-organizations-charles-b-handy/oclc/17588225
- King, L. A. (2001). The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27 (7).
- Kreek, A. (2018). CLEAR Goals Are Better Than SMART Goals. Retrieved from: https://www.kreekspeak.com/clear-goal-setting/
- Latham, G. P., Winters, D., & Locke, E. (1994). Cognitive and motivational effects of participation: A mediator study. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 15.
- Lee, C., Bobko, P., Earley, P., & Locke, E. A. (1991). An empirical analysis of a goal setting questionnaire. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229736210_An_empirical_analysis_of_a_goal_setting_questionnaire
- Locke, L. A. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0030507368900044
- Locke, E.A. & Latham, G.P. (1991). A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance. The Academy of Management Review, 16. 10.2307/258875.
- Locke, L. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation. American Psychologist, 57(9).
- Meevissen, Y. M. C., Peters, M. L., & Alberts, H. J. E. M. (2011). Become more optimistic by imagining a best possible self: Effects of a two week intervention. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42.
- Miner, J.B. (2005). Organizational Behaviour 1: Essential theories of motivation and leadership. Oxon: Routledge.
- Nguyen, S. (2018). The G.R.O.W. Model in Business Coaching – Simple, Concise, and Powerful. Retrieved from: https://workplacepsychology.net/2018/03/20/the-grow-model-in-business-coaching-simple-concise-and-powerful/
- Oyserman, D., Bybee, D., & Terry, K. (2006). Possible selves and academic outcomes: How and when possible selves impel action. Journal of personality and social psychology, 91 (1).
- Peters, M. L., Flink, I. K., Boersma, K., & Linton, S. J. (2010). Manipulating optimism: Can imagining a best possible self be used to increase positive future expectancies? Journal of Positive Psychology, 5 (3).
- Pfeiffer, J. W. & Jones, J. E. (1972). The 1972 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators. San Diego: Pfeiffer and Company.
- Robinson, K. M. (2017). How writing in a journal helps manage depression. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/writing-your-way-out-of-depression
- Schmoll, F. (2013). Keys to Effective Goal Setting. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/coaching-and-parenting-young-athletes/201311/keys-effective-goal-setting
- Taylor, S. E., Pham, L. B., Rivkin, I. D., & Armor, D. A. (1998). Harnessing the imagination: Mental simulation, self-regulation, and coping. American Psychologist, 53 (4).