When we set goals, there's an immediate boost to self-esteem as long as we're patient with ourselves. That's before we even reach the goals; just setting a realistic goal makes me feel better. Actually making progress benefits spouses, family, and friends too. Continuing to learn and grow is exciting, and we all have a higher purpose to fulfill. Challenging ourselves to improve helps us feel better right away and to grow towards the best people we can become.
One of the best things about setting some goals and working towards them is a boost to self-esteem. People feel good standing on their own two feet. It feels good knowing that I make my own way in the world, providing for myself as best I can. People cooperate a lot. We don't need to be independent frontiersmen in most cases, but just to pull our weight in the groups that we're part of. People need to divide the labor fairly in their relationships or families. It doesn't have to be same as some mythical “normal”, but it does need to be fair and work for that family.
As soon as you start working towards a goal, you feel better about yourself. One therapist puts it really well when she writes, “It’s the keeping of that promise, more than the attainment of this or any goal, that will enhance your self-esteem (Gilberston).” Everyone wants to feel like a mover and a shaker, in control, and empowered. Knowing that you keep your promises to yourself is a good start.
One difficulty with goal setting is that people can get impatient with themselves because they haven't arrived at their destinations yet. Be patient with yourself. If I do anything at all today to make progress towards the things that I want to achieve, I can know, not just guess, but really know that I'm a worthy human being. The people I admire the most are people who reach goals that help other people, and here I am, trying in my own way. I'm doing something. That can be so encouraging that after taking one small step, I can continue with another. It isn't the only source of self-worth at all, but it's a powerful one. It's also really reachable because it starts the moment I start honestly trying to take one tiny step. It's sustainable because I can keep taking more steps, and setting new goals.
Of course when you start setting goals and moving towards them, it can alarm the same partner and family members that you're trying to benefit. Sometimes people can get anxious that if you grow, then you might not need them anymore. You may want to reassure them of your love and their worth, that even when your skills and abilities change somewhat it doesn't mean the relationship will. Or if it does, it can be to everyone's benefit. It's human to feel some anxiety, but most healthy relationships can survive people continuing to grow into better people. Growing into better people does not usually include abandoning responsibilities. As long as you're focused, for example, on how to take care of your family and make progress in your career, it should be possible to reassure your spouse and kids.
Another benefit of setting goals is that we grow as people trying to reach the goals. Good goals challenge us a little (sometimes a lot). We learn and grow the most facing challenges. Most people think of stress as only bad, but psychologists for a long time have described eustress, a positive, exciting kind of stress that helps us face and overcome challenges. Jennifer Sin covers the science in a easy to understand way on The Glass Half Full. Setting positive goals and working towards them presents us with the good kind of stress. When's the last time you were excited about meeting a new challenge?
In addition to feeling exciting, facing those challenges also helps us think new thoughts, learn new things, and grow as people. According to Abraham Maslow, the height of this lifelong growth is self-actualization. That is, people grow into their potential, into their best possible selves. People can work on more than one level of needs at a time. Goals help us focus our efforts on what's important to us. This isn't about perfection or some final test. Instead, it's about reaching our full potential.
Finally, growing towards our potential helps fulfill our higher purposes. I'm trying to respect everyone's faith and spirituality here, and I can't do them all justice. So I'll just say that 1) I believe we all have a higher purpose, things we're meant to do things beyond ourselves. Also, 2) I believe that eventually, the most motivation can come from knowing that we're acting towards that higher purpose. It may not be clear right away, or even for a long time (it's a lifelong thing, after all.)
In conclusion, setting goals and taking even a single step towards them boosts self-esteem. A lot. It helps people grow as people. Setting goals creates eustress, the positive kind of stress that encourages learning and creates excitement trying to meet the challenges. Goals help us move towards self-actualization, which is reaching our full potentials. Finally, setting goals helps reveal and work towards our higher purposes. What differences do you notice when you set goals? What gets in the way of achieving them? How do you tell good goals when you set them?
Gilbertson, Tina. “Setting Goals for Self Esteem.” GoodTherapy. 19 Jan. 2011. https://www.
Sin, Jennifer. “Enhancing Eustress while Coping with Distress.” The Glass Half Full. 9 Dec. 2013.
“Understanding Maslow's Theory of Self-Actualization.” ThoughtCo. 21 Sept. 2018.
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Gregory Hanks has taught community college for upwards of 17 years. He's helped thousands of students achieve more of their potential, write better, and earn their degrees. In 2017, he left a traditional teaching role to help more people like you get better results, faster.
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