Rushing Toward Goal Attainment

Topic: Goals
Publication: Applied Psychology: An International Review (JUN 2010)
Article: Velocity as a predictor of performance satisfaction, mental focus, and goal revision
Authors: J.D. Elicker, R.G. Lord, S.R. Ash, N.C. Kohari, B.J. Hruska, N.L McConnell and M.E. Medvedeff
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

We all know how great it feels to reach our goals.  But what about when we know we are approaching our goals quickly?   Goal setting is a process that creates discrepancies between one’s current performance and some future performance ideal.  One of the most obvious outcomes of goal attainment is satisfaction (Yes, I did it!), but in a recent study of college students’ academic goals over the course of a college semester, Elicker et al. (2010) found that the speed at which people believe they are reaching their goals, which is referred to as velocity, is also important in determining performance

While Elicker et al. found that students who had better performance were more satisfied with their performance, the results showed that students who believed they were approaching their goals more quickly (higher velocity) were also more satisfied with their performance.  Overall, performance satisfaction tended to be greatest for students who considered their academic goals to be highly important to them AND perceived that they were attaining their goals quickly (high velocity).

In addition to satisfaction, Elicker et al.’s results suggest that velocity leads to increased mental focus toward goal attainment, which likely increases learning and performance.

Another outcome of practical interest is that students who believed they were moving quickly toward goal attainment did not revise their goals as much as those who perceived that they were moving slowly toward achieving their goals.  Interestingly, however, for those who perceived low velocity but felt that their goals were highly important to them, tended to set higher goals for themselves over time.

The authors speculate that this allows people to compensate for their lack of progress toward goal attainment. There is no doubt that the implications of these findings are limited in their applicability to the workplace.  However, Elicker et al.’s findings point to often neglected piece of the goal setting puzzle: velocity.  If you’re skeptical, think about the second question asked in this review in terms of your work, i.e., how applicable are these findings to you?

So what can we take from this article?  If goal attainment is far away, satisfaction may not necessarily be.  Get started on those neglected projects!

Elicker, J.D., Lord, R.G., Ash, S.R., Kohari, N.C., Hruska, B.J., McConnell, N.L., & Medvedeff, M.E. (2010). Velocity as a predictor of performance satisfaction, mental focus, and goal revision. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 59(3),