Surprise! Goals that challenge you are actually way more motivating.

Feb 25, 2024

Setting goals that are achievable and motivating is an art and science, wrapped into one. This week, we want to let our nerd flag fly, so we’ll be diving into the theory behind effective goal setting.

It may seem like goals that are easy to accomplish are better, because you can actually finish them. But Goal Setting Theory suggests otherwise!

Goal Setting Theory says that when goals are clear, specific, and also push you a bit outside of your comfort zone — they are way more motivating than vague or too-easy-to-reach goals. This theory was developed by Edwin Locke, who later partnered with Dr. Gary Latham to further expand on this concept.

This week, we're going to break down the 5 major principles of Goal Setting Theory:

  • Clarity

  • Challenge

  • Commitment

  • Feedback

  • Task Complexity

Let's get to it!


In Goal Setting Theory, clarity refers to the clear and specific definition of goals. It involves having a precise understanding of what needs to be achieved, how it will be accomplished, and the criteria for success. Clarity ensures that goals are well-defined and easily understood.

Here are 3 ways to make sure you are clear about your goals:

✍️ Make sure that your goals are SMART. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. A SMART goal helps you zero in on what you're aiming for and boosts your chances of making your goal happen. Here is a handy tool to help you experiment with designing SMART goals:

✍️ Think about how you'll measure your success towards this goal. What specific metrics will you use? For example, if your goal is to save money, choose a specific amount that you would like to save and track this somehow, like on a spreadsheet. Once you have reached that amount, you’ve accomplished that specific goal.

✍️ Once you've set your goal, notice how it makes you feel. Are you excited? Does the challenge motivate you? If you don't feel strongly about the goal, you might need to clarify it or change it entirely.


You might ask yourself… why would I want to PURPOSELY make a goal challenging for myself? Think about it — any project you tackle needs some serious elbow grease and commitment. But if you set the bar too low, you might not feel the payoff is worth all that hard work, which can kill your motivation. 

On the flip side, setting a goal that's challenging but doable strikes a balance between effort and reward, keeping you motivated and your momentum up. 

Just remember, there is a fine line between 'challenging' and 'unrealistic’ so just remember to find a way to strike the right balance.

Here are 3 ways to make your goals more challenging while staying motivated:

🤔 Take a hard look at your goal… is it challenging enough to spark your interest?

🤔 Identify ways that you can reward yourself when you make progress on your goal. Rewarding yourself as you hit different smaller milestones within a bigger goal helps you stay motivated!

🤔 Before diving into a big goal, do your homework. It’ll keep you grounded and realistic on what to expect as you are working towards your goal (for the most part, as there is always a bit of uncertainty with new goals!)


Commitment refers to the level of dedication and perseverance you have towards achieving your goals. It involves making a firm decision to pursue and stick to the goals despite challenges or setbacks that may arise along the way. 

Commitment is important because it helps you stay focused, motivated, and resilient especially if you are facing obstacles. It increases the likelihood of attaining your goals!

One way to stay committed while you are working towards your goals is to use visualization techniques. Imagine your future self having achieved the goal you set. How do you feel?

You can do this by creating a vision board to remind yourself why you are putting in the work, or writing it down. Visual representations of your goal can help you stay committed, even when the going gets tough.

Here are two questions about commitment for you to reflect on:

❓ What do you do to stay committed to your goals?

❓ What motivates you the most to keep going when things get tough or progress seems slow?


In goal setting theory, feedback refers to the information or guidance you receive about your progress towards your goals. This feedback can come from supervisors, peers, or even personal assessments. 

Feedback helps you  understand how well you are performing in relation to your goals and where there is a need for improvement. It’s a great way to reflect on your strategies and adjust where needed. 

Here are 3 ways to give yourself feedback, or receive feedback on your goals:

🗓️ Schedule time once a week to analyze your progress and accomplishments. Look at what has and hasn't worked and write down a few ideas for adjustments you might make.

👂 Learn how to ask for feedback on your progress from others. Sometimes it can be hard to receive feedback without taking things personally, but getting feedback can be SO helpful, so it's worth working on.

Use technology to track and measure your progress that way you can see how things are going and reassess if necessary. For example: a fitness tracker, an Excel spreadsheet, etc.

Task Complexity

We'd like to close out this week’s theme with the fifth and final principle of goal setting theory — and that is Task Complexity! 

Task complexity in goal setting refers to how hard or complicated the tasks are that you need to do to reach your goal. It's about how many steps are involved, how tough they are, and how skilled you need to be to do them. 

Basically, it's like figuring out how tricky or easy the road ahead is going to be to get where you want to go.

Here are three things to consider when it comes to task complexity and your goals:

🕝 Give yourself plenty of time to accomplish complex goals. Set deadlines that apply an appropriate amount of pressure, while still being achievable.

🧘‍♀️ Take a beat if you start to feel stressed about meeting your goals. Reassess if they might be too complex or unrealistic. Modify your goals if necessary.

🍞 Break large, complex goals down into smaller chunks. This will stop you from feeling overwhelmed, and it will make it easier to stay motivated. Remember, one-step-at-a-time!

Final Thoughts on Setting Great Goals

Setting goals that are both motivating and achievable is an art and a science. You will get better at it the more you practice! And we're always here to help.

Feel free to bookmark this guide for the next time you're working on something that feels overwhelming or complex.

The strategies in this guide can help you break down a big goal to make it clearer, more motivating, and more achievable. Maybe you can even figure out how to make it a little bit more fun, too 😉

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in a session soon!

— Suliel