Goals help direct us; they inspire action and direct forward propulsion. Not surprisingly, successful individuals have been found to spend time setting appropriate goals. In part this is due to the forward propulsion mechanism (that’s not an academic term, I made it up), by which I simply mean that goals motivate us to act.
However, the correlation between goal making and success has also to do with self-efficacy and self-esteem. Self-esteem is your overall belief that you are a person of value, and self-efficacy is your belief that you are capable in a specific skill. Self-efficacy can influence self-esteem: acquiring skills makes us feel capable and this sense of able-ness can influence our global sense of self-worth. For example, if I’m working on reducing performance anxiety, and I develop some good skills for managing that condition, then it could be said that my emotion-control self-efficacy is improved because I now feel that I can ameliorate my anxiety; I no longer feel that anxiety is something I have no agency over; the condition is no longer a random twist of fate, rather it is something I can skillfully manipulate. If I also believe that managing my emotions is important to my overall performance, my identity as a dancer, and my overall sense of being a worthwhile person, then this increased emotion-control self-efficacy will likely boost my overall self-esteem. Finally, you may not be surprised to hear that research suggests high self-esteem is correlated with happiness, so my skillful control of my anxiety is apt to increase my happiness.
To recap, that’s:
> anxiety-management skills > emotion-control self-efficacy > self-esteem > happiness
Here’s another example: I set a goal for acquiring a specific technical skill, let’s say turning, and I accomplish that goal, (“Yay! Look at me, I can consistently do a triple pirouette!”). From this, I develop turning self-efficacy; I no longer feel that my turning ability is due to tidal patterns, but rather to my own agency. I believe that skill to be important to my identity as a dancer, and so I also feel slightly more confident as a dancer. Ultimately, setting a goal to consistently complete triple pirouettes has enhanced my self-esteem and consequently, perhaps, my happiness.
Using the example above, there is plenty of opportunity to go wrong. Conflating self-efficacy with self-esteem is one potential problem. What if I make a goal to turn better, but in fact, I don’t think turning is all that important in life or in dance? In reality, I do pirouettes in ballet class, but I’m a modern dancer now and I think the last time I was asked to do a triple turn on stage was in 1999. In this case, increased self-efficacy will not improve self-esteem. I’ve set this goal, I’ve achieved my goal, I’ve boosted my turning self-efficacy, but I have not positively impacted my self-confidence. Ultimately, increased turning self-efficacy might not have any impact whatsoever on my overall wellbeing.
Have you experienced the erroneous goal making mentioned above? I know I have. Certain goals appeal to me, perhaps in part because they’re easier for me to achieve, they suit my existing skill set and they appeal to my sensibility. It’s temping to pursue a goal that initially tastes good to your soul or your body, but doesn’t actually give you the nutrients you need to live a healthy life. Goal twizzlers. Unfortunately, investing in appetizing but non-nutritious goals may not leave you successful, confident, or happy. In fact, in my experience, getting very good at things you don’t really believe to be important can be positively demoralizing. It feels crummy to feel you are very skilled at things you believe to be utterly unimportant. Making relevant goals is very important.
It’s essential to think critically about what you truly need to improve upon in order to be a more successful dancer. I’ll talk more about this in my next entry, and also about why dancers might find it particularly challenging to make relevant goals.
On self-esteem (for its cultural insights alone, I consider this a very interesting read):
Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(1), 1–44.
For more on self-efficacy, all things Albert Bandura.
For example, this book:
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company.
Or this article:
Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37(2), 122–147. Find it at: http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1982AP.pdf