Goal Pursuit

Peter M. Gollwitzer and Gabriele Oettingen

in The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780195399820
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Goal Pursuit


We start out with describing how the goal concept emerged in the history of the psychology of motivation to better understand the important role it plays in current research on motivation. We then suggest a differentiation between studies targeting the setting of goals versus the implementation of goals to get a grip on the host of empirical work the goal concept has triggered. With respect to goal setting, we first discuss studies that explore determinants affecting the content and structure of set goals (e.g., entity vs. incremental theories of intelligence influence the setting of performance vs. learning goals). We then turn to studies on the self-regulation of goal setting and discuss in detail how a self-regulation strategy called mental contrasting of future and reality facilitates strong commitment to feasible goals but dissolves commitment to unfeasible ones. With respect to goal implementation we first refer to studies on the determinants of effective goal striving (e.g., the framing of the set goal in terms of approach vs. avoidance) and then turn to analyzing the effective self-regulation of goal implementation. Here we focus on the strategy of forming implementation intentions (i.e., if-then plans) and explicate in detail how such planning helps in overcoming classic hurdles to goal attainment (e.g., distractions). We will end the chapter by reporting the results of recent intervention studies that successfully enhanced goal attainment in the health, academic, and interpersonal domains by combining the self-regulation strategy of mental contrasting with that of forming implementation intentions.

Keywords: goal setting; goal implementation; goal commitment; obstacles; mental contrasting; implementation intentions; self-regulation; self-control; willpower; behavior change interventions

Article.  18802 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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