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Is goal setting important with your rehab?

Goals are mental representations of desired outcomes, and goal setting is a process by which one identifies specific goals and determines how they will be achieved. Identifying specific and actionable goals is imperative for successfully facilitating health behaviour change. Setting a goal for health behaviour change is seldom sufficient for behaviour change to actually occur. Known as the “intention-behaviour gap”, numerous studies have demonstrated that intention to change behaviour alone does not often result in actual behaviour change. Intension proceeds action, therefore, one must act on one’s intentions in order to change behaviour.


Research on goal setting in recent years has yielded strategies for helping people set an achieve desired goals. Two such strategies include consideration of goal characteristics and creating and implementing an action plan to facilitate achievement of goals.


Approach versus Avoidance goals


Approach goals help an individual move toward desired outcomes, whereas avoidance goals help individuals move away from undesired outcomes. An example of a positively framed approach goal could be “I am going to go to the gym and smash my lower body workout” whereas a negatively framed avoidance goal might be “I am not going to be lazy this afternoon”. These goals appear similar in terms of promoting movement, however, psychological investigation have shown that different cognitive and emotional processes are involved. Approach goals are associated with greater positive emotions, thoughts and self-evaluations and greater psychological wellbeing. In contrast, avoidance goals are associated with fewer positive thoughts and greater negative emotions. Setting approach goals may be more helpful than setting avoidance goals for helping patients change their health behaviours.


Performance versus Mastery goals


Performance goals involve judging and evaluating one’s ability, whereas mastery goals (also called learning goals) involve increasing existing abilities and learning new skills. Failure to achieve a performance goal may be interpreted as failure of one’s abilities but challenges that arise as one pursues a mastery goal are viewed as a natural part of learning and encourage problem solving and active engagement. Furthermore, mastery goals are associated with improved self-efficacy, performance and knowledge. When selecting health behaviour goals, it is important not to set performance goals in the absence of mastery goals. A more appropriate approach would be to supplement a performance goal with one or several mastery goals. Additionally, mastery goals may help individuals persist in their behaviour change effort when feeling challenged or discouraged. As mastery goals encourage problem solving and active engagement, failing to achieve a specific mastery goal may provide feedback that a particular approach for achieving the goal was insufficient, and that a different approach should be considered. In this way, mastery goals may promote self-evaluation of current efforts and problem solving for future events.


Difficulty versus Easy goals


Studies in organisational psychology have consistently demonstrated that challenging goals produce better results than easy goals, particularly when the individual is committed to the particular goal. Easy goals have been associated with low effort and decreased performance. Goal commitment is influenced by many factors, including intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy. Intrinsically motivated goals are inherently rewarding to the individual, and therefore an individual may be more willing to attempt an intrinsically motivating goal in spite of its difficulty. Additionally, intrinsic motivation is associated with improved learning and performance, which may facilitate the goal achievement. Within the content of behaviour change, these findings suggest that a challenging goal that is intrinsically motivating to a patient may be more beneficial than an easy, effortless one.


Self-efficacy refers to the confidence in an individual’s ability to achieve a specific goal. Self-efficacy can also influence goal commitment. Setting and achieving goals can enhance self-efficacy, but repeated failure to achieve a goal can result in diminished self-efficacy, decrease satisfaction, and impaired future performance.


The optimal level of goal difficulty for any given individual will be influenced by goal commitment, motivation and self-efficacy. Clinicians should encourage patients to set goals that are intrinsically motivating. Additionally, clinicians may find resources on Motivational Interviewing informative.


If you have any questions or need help setting specific goals to help with your rehab, training, or return to sport, please feel free to contact one of our physiotherapists in Kew, physiotherapists in Preston, physiotherapists in Oakleigh, or one of our podiatrists in Kew, Oakleigh or Preston!





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