The goal pursuit cycle: don’t miss this essential step

Goal pursuit cycle: yacht

It important to realise that working with goals is not a one-off process that ends when you’ve selected the goals you want to pursue and sketched out a plan for how you are going to achieve them.

One of the critical aspects of striving to reach your goals is the process by which you monitor and evaluate the progress you are making and then adjust accordingly.

This is called the self-regulatory or goal pursuit cycle.

And this is how it fits into the process by which you can bring about some kind of goal directed change:

  1. Identify the broad issue that you want to change or address
  2. Set some goals that will help you bring about this change
  3. Set some specific actions you’ll take to make this happen
  4. Take action
  5. Monitor what happens as a result of your actions
  6. Evaluate the extent to which those actions have or have not moved you in the direction you want to go
  7. Make informed decisions about what you need to continue doing, what you need to stop doing, or what you should do instead
  8. Change or modify your actions or change or modify the goals, as necessary.

The goal pursuit cycle of monitoring, evaluation and change, as necessary, then continues until your goals are attained.

This is it mapped out.

Self regulatory cycle
The self-regulatory cycle (adapted from Grant (2013))

The goal pursuit cycle

Here is the goal pursuit cycle fleshed out by way of this an example.


Let’s assume you decide that need to increase your confidence and demonstrate the ability to take more responsibility at work.


It’s likely you’ll need to focus on two or three different goals to get you where you ultimately want to be but, for this example, we’ll focus on the pursuit of just one goal.

Let’s say that you decide you want to lead the next three meetings with potential clients and close a deal with at least one of them.

Action plan

You set your self some actions. These might be:

  • Thoroughly research the background and interests of the potential clients,
  • Try to work out in advance what these clients are looking for, and
  • Draft and learn a script for how you are going to lead the meeting.


You put these plans into action, doing your research and leading the first two meetings according to your script.

Monitoring, Evaluation, Adjustment

You review the position after the second meeting.

You decide that the scripting isn’t working, but that you are getting a lot of value out of your pre-meeting research.

Your confidence is still a bit shaky, so rather than going in to the meeting with no prepared material, you decide to try scripting the opening and then having a more flexible list of points to cover for the rest of the meeting.

You try this approach and after the third meeting, you reflect again. You decide to continue with this approach and also to devise some other goals to further your overall aim.

You keep up the process of action, monitoring, evaluation and adjustment until you get to where you want to be.

Goal pursuit and self reflection

What is interesting is that, this process, when carried out correctly, has other positive effects too.

Research shows that as long as the introspection involved in the self-regulatory process is constructive and solution focused, rather than ruminative and problem focused, then self-regulation is strongly related to insight and to subjective well-being.

Self-regulation, therefore, not only helps you further your goal pursuits, but can also lead to an increase in your general levels of life satisfaction.


Critics of goals often suggest that there is too much rigidity in goal setting. They argue that goal outcomes can become all-consuming and can lead to inflexibility and missed opportunities.

And there is no doubt that this can happen.

But if it does, it probably means that the wrong kinds of goals are being pursued, or that the goal pursuit does not include the essential element of self-regulation.

An inherent aspect of the self-regulatory cycle is that it ensures that the pursuit of goals remains nimble, flexible and amenable to change.

Thus, it accounts for the ambiguities and uncertainties of life and enables you to change your plans when they are derailed by situation and people outside your control.

Like a sailor, tacking, jibing and trimming sails in accordance with the vagaries of the wind, practising self-regulation as you try to reach your goals, enables you to hold true to the course you set out on, but adjust the way that you get there, as events unfold.


Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2001). On the Self-Regulation of Behavior. Cambridge University Press.

Grant, A. M. (2012) An integrated model of goal-focused coaching: An evidence-based framework for teaching and practice. International Coaching Psychology Review, 7(2), 146-165.

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1 thought on “The goal pursuit cycle: don’t miss this essential step”

  1. A lot of people set goals but never map out how to reach them and just wing it which is why they fail most of the time. I enjoyed the read. A very honest observation of setting goals and keeping them.


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