20 different types of goals for more powerful goal-setting

20 different types of goals

When it comes to goals, goal theory and goal setting, most people know the SMART goal framework – goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. And there is no doubt, this framework is well-known because it is useful and it works.

But there are many other different types of goals – at least 20 of them – and many other ways that these different types of goals can be categorised.

Understanding these different types of goals is crucial for your personal development, as it allows you to tailor your goal-setting strategies to your unique needs, preferences, and life situations.

This is particularly important when you have multiple goals, as most of us usually do. In that context, an understanding of the types of goals to set that extends beyond the SMART goals framework allows you to create goals that are consistent, supportive and self-reinforcing.

You should also read about how goals work, for a fuller understanding of how these different types of goals operate.

Different types of Goals

In this comprehensive exploration of 20 different types of goal types, we define each of the goal types. We also explain how being aware of these distinctions can lead to setting more effective and fulfilling goals.

1. Learning/Mastery Goals

Learning or mastery goals focus on acquiring new skills or knowledge and improving competence in a specific area. These goals are internally motivated, emphasising personal growth and development over external validation or outcomes. Mastery goals focus on task mastery and encourage a growth mindset, where challenges are seen as opportunities to learn and mistakes as part of the learning process.

Understanding this goal type can encourage continuous learning and resilience in the face of challenges and help you focus on the journey of learning, rather than just the destination.

2. Performance Goals

Performance goals are oriented towards achieving a specific outcome or standard. They are often externally motivated, with success measured by comparing your performance against others or a predefined standard. While performance goals can be motivating and lead to high achievements, they may also increase pressure and anxiety.

Setting performance goals can help you strive for excellence in competitive or outcome-focused situations. They are better for specific situations over short time frames. So, if you have long-term outcome-focused targets, break them into shorter time frames and smaller units to prevent stress and overwhelm.

Mastery and performance goals are two of the most important of the different types of goals to be aware of. These are goals that you will often set in combination with each other.

3. Conflicting/Complementary Goals

Conflicting goals are those that interfere with each other, while complementary goals support one another.

For example, if you aim to save money for a big overseas trip next year, a conflicting goal might be to remodel your home this year. The cost of remodelling is likely to prevent you from being able to save. A complementary goal, on the other hand, might be to get a weekend job to top up your income.

Being aware of how goals interact can help you prioritise, manage their time and resources more effectively, and make strategic decisions that align with your overall plans.

4. Approach Goals

Approach goals are focused on achieving a positive outcome or moving towards a desirable state.

They are motivating because they are framed positively, encouraging individuals to engage in behaviours that lead to success. Understanding approach goals can help you set goals that are inspiring and aligned with your values.

5. Avoidance Goals

Avoidance goals aim to prevent an undesirable outcome or state. While they can be effective in certain situations, they are often less motivating than approach goals because they focus on avoiding negative consequences rather than achieving positive outcomes.

Avoidance goals can also lead to stress and anxiety, as the focus is on avoiding failure or negative judgments. Recognising when avoidance goals are influencing your behaviour can help you reframe your goals more positively.

6. Distal Goals

Distal goals are long-term objectives that are often broad and ambitious. They provide a vision for the future but can seem overwhelming due to their scope and the time required to achieve them.

Distal goals require patience and long-term planning. Breaking them down into more manageable parts, with shorter time horizons (see proximal goals below) can make them more attainable and less daunting.

7. Proximal Goals

Proximal goals are short-term objectives that are more immediate and specific. They serve as stepping stones towards achieving distal goals.

Proximal goals can help you maintain motivation and momentum and provide a sense of achievement along the journey.

8. Outcome Goals

Outcome goals focus on the end result of an activity. They are another name for performance goals.

Outcome goals are defined by the achievement of a specific outcome, such as winning a race or earning a promotion. While motivating, they can also lead to disappointment if not achieved. Balancing outcome goals with mastery goals can mitigate this risk.

9. Process Goals

Process goals are specific actions or “processes” of performing, focusing on the steps needed to achieve a result. Unlike outcome goals, process goals are completely within an individual’s control, allowing them to concentrate on the actions rather than the end result.

These goals improve focus by providing direction in the moment and eliminating distractions, making them particularly useful in activities such as sports, where maintaining focus is crucial. Process goals help you maintain a consistent focus on your daily actions, rather than becoming preoccupied with future steps or potential obstacles to achieving goals.

10. Concordant Goals

Concordant goals are those that are in harmony with your core values and interests. They are intrinsically motivating because they resonate with what truly matters to you. Setting concordant goals can lead to greater satisfaction and fulfillment.

Goals are especially concordant (or congruent) when you align your goals, not only with your values but with your strengths as well.

11. Controlled Goals

Controlled goals are driven by external pressures or obligations. They may not align with your personal values or interests and can lead to stress and burnout. Controlled goals are the kinds of goals imposed on you by work targets and departmental objectives

If you recognise controlled goals you can sometimes re-frame them to incorporate aspects that align with your personal goals and motivations.

For example, you might have a goal to “generate $50,000 per quarter of revenue in your department”. But you might be personally motivated less by the number and more by helping junior team members progress. You could therefore reframe your revenue goal along the lines of “generate $50,000 per quarter with increasing contributions each month from junior team members A and B”.

12. Autonomous Goals

Autonomous goals are chosen freely and are aligned with personal values and interests. They are intrinsically motivating and similar to concordant goals.

Autonomous goals lead to a sense of authenticity and personal agency, higher engagement and satisfaction. Understanding the importance of autonomy in goal setting can you frame your goals in a way that will mean you can pursue goals that genuinely matter to you, promoting a sense of purpose and well-being.

13. Introjected Goals

Introjected goals are pursued out of a sense of internal pressure, obligation or guilt, rather than true desire or interest. These are the things that you do because you have to.

Introjected goals can lead to resentment and a lack of motivation. As with controlled goals, being aware of when you are pursuing introjected goals can help you modify the goals to align better with your internal motivations.

14. Identified Goals

Identified goals are recognised and accepted as important by the individual, even if they are not intrinsically motivating. These are the things you do because you know that they are the right thing to do.

By committing to identified goals, you can align your actions with their broader objectives, giving you a sense of purpose and direction. For example, keeping accurate business records can be uninspiring. But it can seem more worthwhile when you think of it as an important part of how you can demonstrate the growing value of the business.

15. Intrinsic Goals

Intrinsic goals are essentially the same as autonomous goals. They are pursued for the inherent satisfaction and pleasure they bring.

Intrinsic goals are self-motivating and fulfilling, leading to greater happiness and well-being. Focusing on intrinsic goals can enhance personal growth and development.

16. External Goals

External goals, like controlled goals are driven by external rewards or recognition. While they can provide motivation, they may not lead to long-term satisfaction. Balancing external goals with intrinsic goals can help maintain motivation and fulfilment, ensuring a more holistic approach to goal pursuit.

17. Promotional Goals

Promotional goals focus on achieving gains or advancements. They are optimistic and forward-looking, motivating individuals to pursue growth and improvement. These are similar to approach goals.

By setting promotional goals, you can channel your efforts towards positive outcomes, creating a sense of progress and achievement.

18. Prevention Goals

Prevention goals aim to avoid losses or negative outcomes. While motivated by safety and security concerns, they may limit risk-taking and innovation. These are similar to avoidance goals.

Understanding the influence of prevention goals on behaviour can help you to balance risk management with opportunities for growth and development.

19. Higher Order/Abstract Goals/Super-Ordinate Goals

Higher order or abstract goals (also known technically as super-ordinate goals) are broad, overarching objectives that provide direction and purpose. They connect individual actions to a larger meaning or vision, fostering motivation and commitment. 

By setting higher-order goals, you can cultivate a sense of purpose and significance in your aims. They operate as an over-arching purpose beneath which you can construct more specific goals that help you achieve your aims in alignment with that purpose.

20. Lower Order/Specific Goals/Sub-Ordinate Goals

Lower order or specific goals are concrete and detailed, providing clear steps for action. They help translate abstract goals into actionable plans.

These are the specific goals that sit beneath your higher order goals and drive you towards fulfilment of your higher order goals.

The value of the different types of goals

different types of goals: Goal Wheel
Different Types of Goals – Goal Wheels

Being aware of these different goal types will help you set goals that are aligned with your personal values and aspirations and structured in a way that maximises motivation, satisfaction, and effectiveness.

The goal wheel (above) gives you a visual representation of the relationships between the different goals, giving you a sense of goals that are complementary and goals that are contradictory.

It is especially important to understand the nuances of the different types of goals that complement each other and the different types of goals that conflict with each other. This will help you create a suite of goals that you can really believe and pursue successfully.

References

Clutterbuck, D., & David, S. A. (2016). Goals in coaching and mentoring: The current state of play. In Beyond goals (pp. 21-36). Routledge.

Moskowitz, G. B., & Grant, H. (Eds.). (2009). The psychology of goals. Guilford press.

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