Goal Hierarchy: A Brief Summary of How Focusing on Superordinate Goals Motivates Broad, Long-Term Goal Pursuit: A Theoretical Perspective by Höchli et al., (2018).
By Michaela Anderson
Have you ever wondered whether setting goals in a certain way affects the likelihood of a successful outcome? The article How Focusing on Superordinate Goals Motivates Broad, Long- Term Goal Pursuit: A Theoretical Perspective by Höchli et al. (2018) examined the theoretical and empirical evidence on goal hierarchy. The authors argue that goal-setting, in a hierarchical manner, positively contributes to successful goal pursuit (Höchli et al., 2018). The authors found a limitation in the current research that studies typically examine the effect of setting a specific, concrete, and challenging goal versus an abstract, vague goal on the performance of a single task (Höchli et al., 2018). They argue that goal-setters should subdivide their goals in order to improve performance and motivation (Höchli et al., 2018). The authors argue that having both clear high-level goals and low-level goals can help goal-setters overcome the challenges of maintaining long-term motivation, resisting temptations, and maintaining resilience (Höchli et al., 2018).
There is an interconnectedness between the levels of goals; higher goals determine more concrete goals at the intermediate level, and intermediate goals determine the lower-level goals in a top-down activation (Höchli et al., 2018). Goal-setting theory has studied and shown a strong correlation between the process by which subordinate goals increase performance; this article attempts to address how superordinate goals can increase motivation and foster goal pursuit (Höchli et al., 2018).
Superordinate goals are intertwined with a person's conceptualized identity; they describe how a person wants to be and reflect what is or is not important to a person (Höchli et al., 2018). Identity-based superordinate goals foster long-term goal pursuit because it provides enhanced meaning, strengthens guidance, and heightens the importance of a goal (Höchli et al., 2018). These superordinate goals can also foster a broad, long-term vision of goal pursuit, which allows a person to be resilient in the face of short-term temptation, and allow flexibility over the long- term (Höchli et al., 2018). The authors argue that superordinate goals alone are not advantageous in goal pursuit and that they should be combined with intermediate and subordinate goals in order to capitalize on their benefits (Höchli et al., 2018). Goal-setting theory has linked subordinate goals to boosts motivation at much higher levels than superordinate goals in terms of initiating action (Höchli et al., 2018). It did, however, show a correlation between superordinate goals aiding the goal-setter in long-term behaviour sustainability, allowing for greater success in habit development (Höchli et al., 2018).
This article offers evidence that combining goals at different hierarchical levels can increase motivation and long-term sustainability of goal pursuit (Höchli et al., 2018).
Höchli, B., Brügger, A., & Messner, C. (2018). How Focusing on Superordinate Goals Motivates Broad, Long-Term Goal Pursuit: A Theoretical Perspective. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1879. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01879 Retrieved on April 5th, 2020
from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6176065/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6176065
I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak on an episode of Conversations with Coach, a web-based podcast with host Adam Phomin, CFL-3 and owner of CrossFit Closer. We discussed goal setting, hierarchy of goals, and what you should consider when goal setting during COVID-19. I hope you enjoy!
Meditation is defined as "a profound and extended contemplation or reflection in order to achieve focused attention or an otherwise altered state of consciousness and to gain insight into oneself and the world. Traditionally associated with spiritual and religious exercises, meditation is now also used to provide relaxation and relief from stress; treat such symptoms as high blood pressure, pain, and insomnia; and promote overall health and well-being." (American Psychological Association; APA, 2020). These kinds of definitions make it seem as though meditation should be a serious and peak event. The truth is unless you are a Buddhist monk or meditation guru, that is likely not going to be your experience. I’ve summarized the key points from the book “Meditation: An In-Depth Guide” by Gawler & Bedson, (2011) to help answer any of your meditation questions.
Three Basic Styles of Meditation
The three most common styles of meditation are attention, intention and inquiry meditation.
Meditation utilizing attention: an alert yet passive meditation where you are simply paying attention to your moment to moment experience;
Meditation utilizing intention: your meditation is focused on a particular outcome. This practice often uses imagery, invocation, and prayer. An example would be setting an intention to let go of stress or send love to another person.
Meditation utilizing inquiry: this practice is contemplative, where you consciously ask a question and focus your meditation on finding or experiencing the answer.
Getting started with Meditation: Direct vs. Gradual Approach to Starting Meditation
There are typically two approaches to starting meditation, direct and gradual. The direct approach is where there is no particular process or plan; you simply sit and start. The gradual approach is one whereby you build your way into the process, using strategies or techniques to help you begin the process. The gradual approach often includes relaxation techniques, visualization, or guidance.
Why we focus on our breath?
By beginning our meditation practice by narrowing the focus of attention, we help develop the qualities of mindfulness (presence, acceptance, patience, perseverance). We can gradually open up our attention to other aspects of our present moment.
The Monkey Mind: 65,000 Thoughts Per Day
Often our mind is set on default; it is constantly thinking and working, shifting from present to future to past over and over again. This state is often called "the monkey mind," where we are always jumping from one thing to another. During meditation, we want to bring some discipline to the monkey mind; however, too much discipline destroys the lightness and spontaneity of the practice. Too much discipline (focusing too much on stopping our thoughts or redirecting back to the breath) covers a hidden agenda of expectation, craving, aversion, which will undermine the qualities of presence, patience and acceptance. The monkey mind is not tamed by fighting thoughts or trying to eliminate them; it is tamed by becoming aware of them without judgement or reaction. We have approximately 65,000 thoughts per day; it is unrealistic to think that we can stop these thoughts from coming to us.
Tips for Bringing Lightness and Mindfulness to your Meditation
Sitting silently, doing nothing, spring comes,
and the grass grows by itself.
The Physical Position of Meditation
Eyes: it is often easier to meditate with the eyes closed, as you progress, you can open the eyes and either focus on a single point or adopt a broad focus.
The paradox of discomfort: the posture will support your practice if it is a little uncomfortable. When we relax too much (ex. Lying on the floor), the relaxation comes from the body. With a slightly uncomfortable position (actively sitting), this discomfort forces the relaxation to come from the mind.
Three Noble Principles from the Tibetan Knowledge of Meditation:
Good in the beginning. Good in the middle. Good in the end.
Good in the beginning refers to our motivation for meditation, the more encompassing the motivation, the more meaningful the meditation.
Good in the middle refers to our attitude about meditation. The attitude we maintain during our meditation will impact our ability to find stillness and settle into our meditation.
Good in the end refers to how we should recognize that practicing meditation has merit. Recognize that meditation is working on you, which is an important task. There is no bad meditation; there is only meditation.
Progressive muscle relaxation: a practice of bringing your attention to each part of the body and contract (5-10 sec), then relax the muscles. Start with your feet and work upwards, taking your time and going very slowly.
Relaxing body scan: a practice of simply bringing attention to each part of the body and relaxing it without contracting. Taking your time and bring true attention to each part without judgement or action.
Rapid relaxation: the practice of relaxing with the breath and the sigh. Take a fairly deep breath in and then gently sigh it out. Do that 3-5 times.
Boredom, Restlessness and Impatience
These are the most common mental struggles experienced during meditation. Here are a few tips to overcome them:
Variations of focusing on the Breath
If you are having trouble focusing on the breath, here are a few techniques you can use:
Counting the breath: count the inhale and count the exhale. Ex. Inhale 1-2-3-4, exhale 1-2-3-4.
Naming the breath: with each breath, say "breathe in" and "breathe out" in your mind. You can say inhale, exhale, or whatever feels good.
Naming the thought: whenever thoughts pop up, name them. When your start planning for tomorrow say "planning, planning" in your head. If you start worrying, say "worrying, worrying" etc.
Practicing Mindfulness in Meditation
Here are two techniques to become more mindful during your meditation if you find you are getting lost in thoughts.
Four access points of attention: feet, tummy, shoulders, face. Spend time on each of these four points drawing as much attention to them as you can.
Whole-body scan: move your attention from each part of the body in a non-judgemental way, seeking awareness. Start with feet and work your way up, don't worry about trying to relax. Go through this process slowly and thoroughly.
If you are interested in trying a few different experiments during your meditation, here are a few examples you can use:
Notice the thoughts: be a non-judgemental observer of the thoughts that come into your mind. Use your curiosity and see what comes into your head.
How to thoughts appear: as thoughts come into your mind, notice how you are seeing them. Are you talking to yourself, seeing yourself, feeling yourself, etc.
Thoughts as segments: notice over the course of your meditation where thoughts begin and end, when you know they have started and when they have finished.
The gap between thoughts: notice the quiet space between thoughts and try to focus on them.
Milestones Indicating Progress
Here are a few examples of milestones to celebrate:
Motivation and intention: you have the motivation and intention to get started Establishing a practice: you have a routine of some kind
Being able to sit still: you actually can sit still
Feeling heavy: feeling heavy and relaxed
Feeling lighter: feel like you are floating or light
Temperature changes: feeling hotter or colder (usually goes on for 1-2 weeks) Feeling the same all over: feeling pleasantly hollow
Changes in body awareness: noticing more
Loss of body awareness: you no longer have any awareness of your body Transitional experiences: finding stillness or seeing a light
Infinite space: a sense of being in an infinite space
Infinite consciousness: feeling connected to or a part of an infinite consciousness Oneness: the duality of mind and body is gone, and there is only you
Other Types of Meditation to Try
Forgiveness Meditation: Ask forgiveness from others, then forgive others, then forgive yourself Gratitude: think of all the things, people, experiences you are grateful for
Loving-kindness: send love and kindness to yourself for a few practices, then someone you love for a few, then someone neutral or a stranger for a few, then someone you have difficulty.
Contemplative: you can journal before and identify a specific question you want to contemplate, or meditate on an inspirational quote
I hope this summary helps you as you continue your practice, and remember, there is no bad or good meditation; there is only meditation.
APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/meditation
Gawler, I., & Bedson, P. (2011). Meditation: An in-depth guide. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
The concept of mindfulness is quite popular today; a quick google search will show you page after page of different practices, meditations, and courses available on mindfulness. The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology (APA) defines mindfulness as the awareness of one's internal states and surroundings, used "to help people avoid destructive or automatic habits and responses by learning to observe their thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them." (APA, 2007). There has been a lot of intriguing research into mindfulness practices and their effects on neurological processes and mental health. One exciting area of research is the effects of mindfulness practice on overall happiness and well-being in daily life. This topic was explored further in 2017 by Strick & Papies, where they studied the connection between implicit motives and mindfulness (Strick & Papies, 2017).
Stick & Papies argue that many people are not fully aware of what truly motivates them or makes them happy, leading them to make poor decisions that leave them dissatisfied and disengaged (Strick & Papies, 2017). They specifically looked at the implicit affiliation motive, which they describe as the enduring, unconscious motivation to create and maintain harmonious social relationships (Strick & Papies, 2017). They hypothesized that a brief mindfulness exercise leads people to align their choices with their implicit affiliation motives (Strick & Papies, 2017).
Participants then completed two sessions of a mindfulness-based body scan exercise, which trains participants to guide their attention to different body parts and to observe and accept the sensations in an open and nonjudgemental way (Strick & Papies, 2017). Sessions were followed by a scenario describing the start of a new study program where participants had to select and rate the number of goals they could pursue during the program on a questionnaire (Strick & Papies, 2017). They hypothesized that the mindfulness practice would increase the predictive value of the implicit affiliation motive on the selection and motivation towards affiliation goals to be pursued in the scenarios (Strick & Papies, 2017).
What can you do with this information?
Why not start an experiment where each night for one week, you self-reflect on how satisfied you are with your current goals and progress. The next week, once each day, perform a mindfulness-based body scan. Sit quietly and slowly scan your body from part to part, acknowledging how you feel without judgement. At the end of the week, reflect on your goals and progress. Determine if you think they are serving you, what changes you could make to improve satisfaction and improvement. Continue this process for as long as you feel it is helping you, or start a new experiment with a different mindfulness-based exercise.
Strick, M., & Papies, E. K. (2017). A Brief Mindfulness Exercise Promotes the Correspondence Between the Implicit Affiliation Motive and Goal Setting. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 43(5), 623–637. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217693611. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5414900/
VandenBos, G. R., & American Psychological Association. (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/mindfulness
The first day I had at home alone when all of this social distancing started, I spent the entire day in my basement cleaning and organizing. A few hours into rummaging through boxes, I found my training journals. My entire competitive swimming career was tracked, scribbled, and noted in a box of journals. For ten years, I journaled daily, everything from my workouts, meals, feelings, free thoughts that floated onto the pages. This time was defined by vulnerability and painful learning experiences, so many years ago, I stored it in a box in my basement and tried to forget about it.
What I was expecting to feel was a rush of regrets; back then, I was a bit of an idiot. I trusted no one, I thought I knew it all, and even in the face of failure after failure, I refused to see that I was the cause. I opened up the nearest journal and flipped through the pages, and instead of regret or shame, I felt compassion for my former self. I could see the tear marks on the pages, the frustration in my handwriting, and the continued optimism and belief that I could overcome my obstacles.
What did I do with the journals?
I spent an hour or so combing through the pages, reminiscing on the athlete lifestyle, my training mates, the competitions, and the fun. After a few laughs, some smiles, and some tears, I decided it was time to part with them. I could hold onto these journals forever, but what use would they have? I have the memories, the life lessons, and old friends.
I brought the box upstairs and put it in the recycle bin; it was time to let go of the need to hold on. It was time to move forward without clinging to my past and time to embrace my new chapter with open arms.
My basement is clean.
The purpose of my coaching is to facilitate reflection, changes, healing and growth that lead an individual to live a life of contentment. My coaching is evidence-based and focuses on improving three critical components of life that I believe is the core of living a life of contentment. The three components are emotional wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and pursuit.
In my coaching, I work towards an individual's contentment instead of satisfaction because a life lived in pursuit is never really satisfied. At no point do we kick up our haunches and decide that is good enough, I can stop here when we are in the pursuit of something greater than ourselves. The Merriam-Webster dictionary (2020), defines contentment as "the quality or state of being," whereas satisfaction is defined as "the fulfilment of a need or want." I believe that by focusing on the quality of our lives and our state of being is a much more precise and attainable goal than seeking something as fleeting as happiness or satisfaction. We all know the feeling satisfaction that comes after achieving something, and how quickly it fades.
There is a great deal of variance in their ways of achieving positive outcomes in each of the three components to contentment, and the amount of time or energy each area requires. To begin, I believe starting with the evaluation and development of the pursuit, and then moving into emotional and physical wellbeing. Once all three components are evaluated and further understood, we work fluidly through each part, dealing with what opportunities and obstacles each day brings.
We begin by creating an idealistic identity-based goal that is the foundation for all other goals, behaviours, and attitudes. This overarching goal is value-based, it is something we strive to embody but never truly achieve because it is not an end state, it is a state of being that is dictated by our daily choices, behaviours and attitudes. For simplicity's sake, we will call this goal the pursuit.
An individual's pursuit will dictate what goals are set, what habits are created, maintained, or changed, and how we live our lives every day. In coaching, I use the development and understanding of and individual's pursuit to help them improve the other two components of life contentment.
Our emotional wellbeing encompasses different things for different people; common focuses are relationships, self-compassion and care, and overcoming life changes. Reflection, compassion and care are at the core of emotional wellbeing.
Most of us understand that when our bodies are unwell, it is challenging to feel well in any other area of our lives. Our physical bodies are not separate from our minds; they affect each other bidirectionally. By creating wellness in the physical body, we can affect positive change in the brain and vice versa. Coaching in this area focuses on creating healthy habits and practices that improve overall physical health. These can include starting a new activity, improving nutrition, enhancing sleep quality, changing environmental circumstances, and implementing recovery practices.
Coaching works through this continuum with fluidity and seeks to meet the individual where they are at that moment. Coaching is client-driven, meaning the client dictates the focus, sets the goals, and decides on protocols. As a coach, my job is more of a facilitator, I ask the hard questions, I offer resources and guidance, but I will not tell you what you should do.
If this process of self-discovery and the pursuit of contentment interests you, please book a free consultation, and we can discuss what coaching could look like for you.
It's hard to begin when everything around me is the same but different; I can't quite put my finger on how to describe my feelings. I'm grateful, first and foremost, for everything I have and am in these turbulent times. I'm sad for those struggling, whose lives have been uprooted and are dealing with tragedy, chaos, and pain. I'm still in shock; the dust hasn't quite settled for me, and I'm sure once it does, and I'm forced to sit down and think about it all, it will be overwhelming.
I'm studying Theories of Personality in school, and the topic of nature vs. nurture and their impacts on personality is dominating the discussion forums. The argument is compelling, but the words are hitting me in ways I never thought they would.
Never have I felt more disconnected from either as I sit at home in my third week of quarantines and social distancing. I look outside and see spring creeping upon us, and I feel a craving for sunshine on my skin. I've had less time than ever, cramming work, school, family, and everything else all into one jumbled mess of a day. No time for quiet reflection, no time for me, there is no nurturing of any kind.
It's time for me to stop. It's time to put my feet into the cold grass, look up into the blue-grey sky and take a deep breath. It's time for quiet, for both nature and nurture to return into my daily routine before the dust settles and I'm too overwhelmed with emotion to enjoy the moment.
Is it time for you to stop?