Different Types of Goals – Self-Improvement Vs. Performance Goals

The best way to achieve your goals is to know the different types of goals you can set and work towards. It’s not enough to just “have goals.”

Here, I describe the difference between self-improvement (mastery) goals versus performance goals. Luckily, it’s more interesting and easier than it sounds. This research describes different types of goals – and how your goals affect your relationships at work and home.

“People with performance goals are more deceitful,” says P. Marijn Poortvliet, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands. They’re less likely to share information with coworkers, both in the laboratory and in real-world offices he has studied. “The reason is fairly obvious – when you want to outperform others, it doesn’t make sense to be honest about information.”

To achieve your personal and professional goals, you’d do well to learn the difference between self-improvement goals and performance goals. Each type of goal affects your relationships differently – both at home and at work – which in turn affects whether you’ll achieve your goals! To learn more about goal setting and achievement, read Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want – Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible.

And, here’s a summary of a research study on how to achieve your goals, including a definition of self-improvement or mastery goals versus performance goals…

Different Types of Goals – Self-Improvement Vs. Performance Goals

How you think about your goals – whether you want to improve yourself or to do better than your coworkers or neighbors – can affect whether you reach those goals. Different kinds of goals can also have distinct effects on your relationships at home and work, according to the authors of a paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

People with “mastery goals” (self-improvement goals) want to improve themselves. Maybe they want to get better grades, make more sales, or land that triple toe loop. On the other hand, people with what psychologists call “performance goals” are trying to outperform others – to get a better grade than a friend or be Employee of the Year. Both types of goals can be useful in different contexts, and both types of goals apply to our personal and professional lives.

P. Marijn Poortvliet, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands and Céline Darnon, of France’s Clermont University are interested in the social context of these goals, or what they do to your relationships. And, knowing how to achieve your goals successfully involves knowing how your goals affect your professional and personal relationships (because the better your relationships are, the more likely you’ll achieve your goals at work and at home).

How Different Goals Affect Your Relationships

Poortvliet’s work focuses on information exchange: whether people are open and honest when they are working together. “People with performance goals are more deceitful” and less likely to share information with coworkers, both in the laboratory and in real-world offices he has studied, Poortvliet says. “The reason is fairly obvious — when you want to outperform others, it doesn’t make sense to be honest about information.”

On the other hand, people who are trying to improve themselves are quite open, he says. “If the ultimate goal is to improve yourself (self-improvement goals), one way to do it is to be very cooperative with other people.” This can help improve the work environment, even though the people with these goals aren’t necessarily thinking about social relations. “They’re not really altruists, per se. They see the social exchange as a means toward the ends of self improvement.”

Other research has found that people with these self-improvement goals are more open to hearing different perspectives, while people with a performance goal “would rather just say, ‘I’m just right and you are wrong.'”

It’s not always bad to be competitive, Poortvliet says. “For example, if you want to be the Olympic champion, of course it’s nice to have mastery goals and you should probably have mastery goals, but you definitely need performance goals because you want to be the winner and not the runner-up.”

Do your goals involve money – and you don’t care what type of goals you’re setting? Read my most popular money articles.

How Your Relationships Affect Your Goals

It’s important to think about how achieving your goals affects your relationships. “If you really want to establish constructive and long-lasting working relationships, then you should really balance the different levels of goals,” Poortvliet says – which means thinking not only about each person’s achievement, but also about the team as a whole.

Some people are naturally more competitive than others. But it’s also possible for managers to shift the kinds of goals people have by, for example, giving a bonus for the best employee. That might encourage people to set performance goals and compete against each other. On the other hand, it would also be possible to structure a bonus program to give people rewards based on their individual improvement over time.

If you have strong, healthy, proactive relationships, you’re more likely to achieve your goals because you have social and practical support. If you really want to achieve your goals, enlist the help of your family, friends, and coworkers — and focus on self-improvement goals as well as performance goals.

If you need help achieving your goals, read How to Convince People to Say Yes – 5 Persuasion Techniques.

What goal do you most want to achieve in life? The more you think and talk about it, the more you’ll act in ways that will make it happen…

The above story is adapted from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.

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12 thoughts on “Different Types of Goals – Self-Improvement Vs. Performance Goals”

  1. Re-reading this article makes me think that self-improvement goals are better than performance goals. I was watching the Dragon’s Den today, and think that Kevin O’Leary ONLY cares about money. He has performance goals. He’s greedy and selfish, which he would say makes him a good businessman.

    Other people, however, have self-improvement goals that don’t just improve their lives, but the lives of people around them. Performance goals don’t really improve others’ lives.


  2. Really enjoyed this post! What’s fascinating is when you sow into someone’s dream and they end up sowing into yours down the road. Despite our different goals, often we find things in common–the biggest one being that burning passion to see that heart’s desire come to fruition.

  3. Very interesting post

    I’m into self improvement. I enjoy sharing information with other to help them better themselves as well. This actually is what improves me. It’s a, when I help others I help myself sort of thing.

    It’s like giving people what they want will automatically bring what you want to you!


  4. Hi

    Great post you have, thanks for sharing. Totally agreed that goal setting and putting plan into action is the key to success.

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment, Ashley. I hadn’t realized the difference between performance goals and self-improvement goals until I wrote this article. I found it fascinating! I don’t know if it makes a difference in how to achieve goals, but it sure is interesting.

  6. Ashley Miles @ Improving Your Personal Growth

    Interesting Info. Everything we accomplish in life takes steps. To help us achieve our desires we need to set goals.

  7. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I totally agree — the best way to achieve goals is to set goals that actually mean something to you! If you’re striving to achieve somebody else’s goals, you wont get far.

  8. I think that when we setting our goals, we need to choose and doing what we like, because without motivation process will be slowed down and finally aborted.

  9. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments, Susan, and your tip, Harry!

    I have no problem setting goals, but I tend to lose interest in them. For instance, I recently set up a “Quips and Tips Articles Corral” blog to promote my Quips and Tips sites, but I’ve already lost interest. I just don’t know if I lost interest because it’s not an effective way to promote Quips and Tips for Achieving Your Goals, or I’m just lazy.

    Maybe I need to write an article on that.

  10. This is really great information.

    Goal setting and achieving is SO important to our self esteem and success in life. Yet, so many of us truly don’t know how to envision a goal, create a plan, and stay motivated to achieve it. Nor do we know how to truly celebrate it once accomplished.

    I’ve always enjoyed visiting your blog and will be back on a regular basis again. :)