Goal-setting: why “do your best” is bad advice

Post by
Max Korpinen
Goal-setting: why “do your best” is bad advice

Goal-setting is something we rarely consciously think about. Goals can easily be ineffective, and when they are, they are close to worthless. But when we set goals with a couple of helpful guidelines in mind, they increase our performance considerably. How, then, should we formalize the goals we want to achieve?

Goals should be specific and difficult

We are often told to “do our best” before a big exam, interview, or work project. According to psychologists studying the goal-setting theory, this is ineffective. First of all, goals should be difficult and specific if we want them to increase our performance.

  1. Specific: set a time constraint, and make it measurable or break it down to subtasks
  2. Difficult: as long as you have the skills to attain the goal, the harder the goal, the better

For example, if you coach a football team, instead of encouraging your team to “make goals” or “do your best” during a game, you should instead say “make 2 goals during the first 45-minute half of the game”. As long as the team knows that they have the necessary skills to achieve this, they will be more motivated and know exactly what is expected of them.

Specific and difficult goals have been researched extensively in psychology, especially in regard to individual goal-setting. Keeping those two words – specific and difficult – in mind when writing down your goals should already help you raise your performance to the next level.

Make commitments to others and ask for feedback

If you work with a team, there are a couple of additional so-called moderators that will help you support your goals in a team context:

  • Commitment to others: if we promise the achievement of the goal to somebody else, we are more likely to achieve it
  • Feedback: providing constant feedback will help to keep up motivation and adapt to the performance requirements of the team

To learn more about goal-setting, you can research “goal-setting theory” by “Locke & Latham”. This is one of the psychology classics of the goal-setting topic and has lots of research done on top of the original studies, so it has aged very well.

These frameworks are some of the foundations that Talbit is also built on, so feel free to reach out if we can help you set up a talent development framework for your organization.


Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting & task performance. Prentice-Hall, Inc.