The best athletes and performers intuitively know that high standards and challenging goals motivate them to succeed greater and greater accomplishments. Olympian Michael Phelps keeps a list of his swimming goals on his night stand and speaks readily about the importance of stretch imagesgoals.

Several years ago, I decided to stretch myself. I have always loved dancing, playing music, acting, and other forms of artistic expression, but I have never felt at ease up on stage. Eventually, with some practice, I performed with excitement, confidence, and joy at the annual Middle Eastern Dance festival to a sold-out crowd. Not only did I feel comfortable doing so, I felt exhilarated!

The research on goal-setting argues that the best goals are both “challenging” and “specific.” Stretch goals can always be broken down into smaller, less risky, steps. But starting with smaller goals that are too easy to accomplish may lead to a lack of motivation. The accomplishment of achieving that stretch goal ultimately leads to a boost in self-esteem; with one caveat – stretch goals can backfire in areas where we feel particularly vulnerable, sensitive, or have already experienced multiple failures.

So, try setting a goal that will challenge you and make you see yourself in a new way if you ultimately accomplish it. What’s your stretch for 2009?

  • Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide by Caroline Adams Miller
  • Hollenbeck, J.R. & Klein, H.J (1987). Goal commitment and the goal-setting process: Problems, prospects, and proposals for future research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72(2), 212-220.
  • Latham, G.P. & Yukl, G.A. (1975). A review of research on the application of goal setting in organizations. The Academy of Management Journal, 18 (4), 824 – 845.