incredible power of goals“My goal is always the same: to keep the other player from ever scoring a point.  That doesn’t always happen,  but that’s what I try for.”
— Venus Williams; 1980–

Can too aspirational a goal demotivate? If someone does not believe a goal is achievable, can that hurt performance?

A lot turns of clarity of expectations and the quality of communication about consequences. Some stress is motivational, too much stress can freeze people, be the “deer in the headlights” syndrome. Obviously, a goal is not motivation if someone does not believe it is realistic AND that they will be punished for failing to achieve it.

One powerful way to look at goals is to view them in a “nested” or incremental fashion. Every baseball batter who steps up to the plate hopes to hit a home run. That is the highest, most aspirational goal. After that the goal is 3rd base, a triple, or 2nd base, a double. Even after that, the batter knows he will be cheered and congratulated if he hits a single, gets on first base. Why? Because, as with many goals, in this case achieving any respectable outcome creates a foundation from which to move forward (there are categories of goals where significant incremental failure can be catastrophic i.e. parachutes etc., that is a whole different discussion.)

The coach or the crowd may say “Hit a home run!” and that is clearly against the odds and yet the competitive player knows it is always a possibility and gives his best to make it true this time.

No analogy is perfect, every analogy breaks down at some point. People tend to respond to analogies in different ways (there is very little difference between people but that little difference is very important): those who look for the positive learning experience, the inspirational kernel, and those who do not wish to challenge their world view and look for reasons why the analogy does not apply to them or their circumstances. On rare occasions they are correct, most of the time they simply are refusing to learn and grow.

Closing quotes:

“Think you can, think you can’t, you are right.”  — Henry Ford; 1863–1947

“If the sun comes up, I have a chance. “— Venus Williams

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal;  nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”  — Thomas Jefferson; 1743–1846, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States