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How Changing Your Intentions Leads to Success

Some time or another in life, we have all been advised to set goals for ourselves on things that are important to us. It’s natural for us to set a goal based on tangible outcome variables, like getting a job offer, an A on a test, or making the soccer team. There’s a satisfying physical element to all of these–– something you can see on paper–– that makes you say, “Yes! I did it, and the evidence is right here!

We, as people, intrinsically relish this. We enjoy seeing the completion of our goals visually so we can know for sure that we were victorious without question and feel proud about it. That’s a big reason why we have certificates and trophies. Focusing on outcome variables can be great when we receive them, but pretty disappointing when we don’t. Focusing solely on outcome goals leads to increased pressure in attaining a goal, and consequently, an increased level of pessimism if you were not to receive the desired outcome. Often, the pressure and stress you place upon yourself to reach those goals is enough to make you crumble and fail in the process. In other words: it’s putting too much emphasis on an external variable that you ultimately don’t have complete control over, and too little emphasis on internal goals and feelings that you have more of a say in. 

The harsh reality of it all is that we are always going to focus on an outcome naturally. This notion has been instilled in us for so long that it is almost impossible to stop idealizing a life where you denote your success to the number of goals you achieve. However, a way of reducing this is to attempt to change the way you set your goals away from outcome variables and towards “effort-based variables.” There is a lot of evidence behind effort-based self-talk boosting both self-efficacy and optimism, particularly when learned and practiced from a young age (Thomaes et al., 2020). Effort based self-talk encourages people to try their best in what they are doing. In contrast, repeating affirmations like “I’ll do my best” or “I will try hard on this” instead of affirmations that focus on the result of their performance, like “I will get an A on this,” or “I will receive recognition from others because of this.” This puts less emphasis on outcome variables and more emphasis on the journey it takes, which puts much less pressure on the person. This is precisely the type of self-talk that encourages intrinsic motivation, pushing people to better themselves through positive skill development instead of bettering themselves through end-goal attainment. 

You may be wondering if effort-based self-talk drives as much motivation as outcome-based self-talk. Wouldn’t working towards something tangible, like a certificate or trophy, make you more inspired to work hard instead of working for the sake of “trying your best”? Well, it all depends on how you look at it. Making “trying your best” your end goal will place emphasis on something you are almost always able to be successful in; you’re almost always able to try the best you personally can (unless you’re sick), and making this your end goal will always make you succeed. In the meantime, it’ll make you put as much effort into a task as possible, which often leads to the outcome variables you once dreamed of (awards, recognition, positive relationships, etc.) without the pressure and stress you had before. A win-win! And, if the outcomes you desired don’t come with your hard work, you can be comforted in knowing that at least you were successful in trying your hardest. 

In lieu of finals, job application deadlines, and holiday plans quickly approaching, I believe that this outlook is an extremely important one to have and one that will keep you much happier and more optimistic about your abilities. I encourage you all to form your thoughts from a place of already possessing all of the skills, abilities, and talents you need. Instead of thinking, “I want to ace this final,” think “I will work the hardest I can in studying for this final.” Instead of thinking, “I want to get a job offer,” think “I will put time into applying for jobs and practicing interviews.” And, instead of thinking, “I want my friend to love the gift I got them, I need it to be perfect,”, think “I am going to put thought and effort into their gift.” It’s all about doing everything in your power to work your most challenging, instead of putting the end goal on a pedestal that depends on someone/something else. 

Jordan is a senior Psychology major and Women & Gender Studies minor at TCNJ, with an interest in becoming a clinical psychologist in the future. In her free time, she loves making lengthy spotify playlists, drawing, trying out new recipes, and rewatching the same 5 tv shows over and over.
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