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“Performance goals” are another type of goal that can help you “master your craft”. They focus on improving a personal performance standard.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, “outcome goals” are based on the result of a contest with an opponent or team. One of the issues with “outcome goals” is that they are never fully under your control because they depend on the performance of your opponent(s). Moreover, although they can provide you with a good source of extrinsic motivation (driven by external rewards such as a gold medal, trophy, praise, money, fame), you also need to be intrinsically motivated (driven by pleasure, personal satisfaction, or mastery) to be successful.

If done correctly, setting “performance goals” can be a powerful source of intrinsic motivation. In addition, “performance goals” are almost exclusively under your control. The idea behind this type of goal is to identify past personal performance standards (which are usually related to a statistic) and strive to surpass them. Examples of “performance goals” might be to add 20 pounds to your bench press by the end September, shave 1 second off your 200-meter sprint record by the end of the pre-season, or average 3 rebounds per game during the regular season.

Set aside quality time to complete this exercise. Give yourself a minimum of 20 minutes. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and focus only on the task at hand. Take 3 deep breaths and relax (close your eyes if you need to). In your journal, write down different “performance goals” that will help you achieve your “outcome goal”. This is a brainstorming session, so write down as many “performance goals” as possible (you can refine them afterwards). Make sure your goals are specific.

Burton and colleagues (1989) examined the impact of performance goals on collegiate swimmers’ cognitions and performance. A collegiate swim team went through a season-long goal setting training program focusing on the development of “performance goals”. One of the purposes of this study was to analyze case study (based on personal accounts) data from two female swimmers. The results demonstrated that there was a solid link between “performance goals” and key psychological and performance variables. More specifically, setting “performance goals” could precipitate positive and negative performance spirals. When “performance goals” were realistic and closely matched to performance, the athlete felt successful, took credit for her successes, and accepted the blame for her failures (she used failure as a motivating factor to do better in the future). On the other hand, when “performance goals” were unrealistic, the athlete’s anxiety increased while her self-confidence, concentration, and effort decreased.

This study demonstrated that setting “performance goals” can have a positive impact on an athlete’s cognitions and performance. The main thing to keep in mind is that, when you set your goals, you must make sure that they are challenging, yet realistic and attainable.

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.


Burton, D. (1989). Winning isn’t everything: Examining the impact of performance goals on collegiate swimmers’ cognitions and performance. The Sport Psychologist3, 105-132.

2 thoughts on “TWEAKS 2 MYC #10: PERFORMANCE GOALS

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