Request a demo
Back to Blog

Young men lag in developing this key skill that’s linked to achievement and success

February 16, 2022 - 8 min read

YoungMenLagInDevelopingThisKeySkill

 

32% fewer Americans reported making New Year’s resolutions this year. 

Whether it’s uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, an unpredictable economy, the threat of armed conflict, or some other looming crisis, the next few months, weeks, and even days seem harder to envision than they used to. For many people, setting goals against that backdrop of uncertainty feels like an exercise in futility.

But goal-setting is a critical part of our personal growth and development. According to research by the Dominican University of California, there’s a direct correlation between setting goals and achieving success. People that regularly set and achieve goals have higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy

In prior research on prospection, though, we also know that it isn’t just about setting any goals, but about setting goals that we feel a reasonable chance of achieving based on a realistic view of the situation. One of the primary skills of future-mindedness is the ability to set sensible goals. 

As part of the research on future-mindedness, BetterUp Labs wanted to see which groups of people find it easy to set sensible goals and which groups struggle. Through a survey of 15,000+ professionals, BetterUp Labs asked several key questions about goal-setting, imagining outcomes, making plans, and flexible execution.

subscribe-betterup-blog

What the data say:

Analyzing the data, we found that women tend to start higher in goal-setting and make consistent improvement across age groups. Men start out with low goal-setting ability, improve, and then stay relatively consistent throughout the rest of their lives.

image2-Feb-16-2022-06-47-34-68-PM

Interestingly, young men have the most difficulty setting sensible goals. They score significantly lower in this skill compared to young women, older men, and older women. What’s going on here?

One reason could be what many sociologists and psychologists call “extended adolescence” or “emerging adulthood.” Men (and to a large degree women as well) are taking longer to reach nearly all of life’s traditional milestones — getting their first job, getting married, buying a house, having a child, etc. — than their parents and grandparents did. 

The theory of emerging adulthood proposes that advances in technology, shifting demographics in the workplace, the rise of post-high school education, and even the influence of pop culture have introduced a new developmental stage — one that is marked by identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between adolescence and adulthood, and a sense of broad possibilities for the future. It is possible that today’s young men are feeling less pressure to set and achieve goals than previous generations.

Another factor is the education gap between men and women that has been steadily growing over the last 40 years. A college degree is table stakes in many industries — even for the most junior roles. Today, 60% of all bachelor's degrees, 60% of master's degrees, 50% of medical and law degrees, and 42% of MBAs are earned by women

This lack of education has held young men back in the knowledge economy. In urban centers, among those who are employed full-time, the average full-time salary of young women is 8% higher than that of their male peers. The gender wage gap is still very much a problem though, as men begin to out-earn women starting in their 30s.

While the reasons why young men are abandoning higher education are complex and varied, it seems possible that lower goal-setting skills and lack of degree attainment are connected. While low skill in setting goals might get in the way of getting into or completing college in the first place, it also stands to reason that missing out on the college experience could affect their ability to set sensible goals. Surrounding oneself with motivated peers, being exposed to new possibilities and perspectives, building employable skills, and receiving guidance from experienced professors are the foundations of university life. It’s not surprising that in our increasingly educated and information-driven society, many young men who are missing this experience are feeling rudderless.

Why this matters:

In addition to improving our well-being, confidence, and mental clarity, goal-setting helps us implement new behaviors by altering our brain structure. When we set goals, our brains literally optimize themselves to better achieve those goals. Goal-setting is closely linked to higher achievement across multiple aspects of life. Additionally, the more challenging the goal, the higher our performance

Anyone struggling with setting goals is at a disadvantage. It’s critical that young adults receive goal-setting support so that they can have the highest chances of success.

Fortunately, goal-setting is a skill that can be learned and strengthened over time. Multiple frameworks exist to help people set and achieve goals. Increasingly, researchers who look at goal setting and attainment and habit formation understand that a large part of goal setting is creating a realistic plan around those goals. Equally important is being clear on why the goal matters to you and reminding yourself often.

Within this context, the popular method of SMART goals is still a helpful way of approaching goal-setting. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. A framework like SMART can add needed structure to our goal setting. It helps us ensure our goals are specific, held to a timeframe, and align with our values and life plan. While there are proven benefits to setting challenging goals, setting the bar too high often leads to feelings of discouragement and disappointment. Setting attainable goals helps us build momentum because we have more opportunities to celebrate small, but consistent wins.

The SMART method is one of many ways we can get better at approaching our goals and developing realistic plans to achieve them. One of the best and most impactful ways to strengthen this skill is through professional coaching. A coach can help you set and assess your goals, strengthen your skills and mindset, and provide accountability so you can achieve your desired outcomes.

Are you looking for help setting and achieving goals so you can reach your full potential? Get in touch with a BetterUp coach today.

 

New call-to-action

Published February 16, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

Read Next

Leadership & Management
13 min read | January 13, 2021

The secret behind how to influence people

Discover the secret behind influencing people. Learn how to exert influence to enable others to share your vision and collaboratively achieve your goals. Read More
Research & Insights
7 min read | April 14, 2021

What we can learn from “pandemic thrivers”

What are the secrets of high mental fitness? Here's what we can learn from pandemic thrivers who protected their well-being through the pandemic. Read More
Culture
4 min read | July 27, 2021

Hybrid work puts inclusive leadership to the test

In a new era of work, inclusivity is more important. Yet, what it means to be inclusive has shifted. How do we prevent “in-group” and “out-group” dynamics? Read More
Research & Insights
5 min read | October 13, 2021

Data shows since pandemic team performance hinges on this leader skill

Good leaders who lead successful teams have many skills, from influence to humility. Our data shows what is most important to employees and bottom line. Read More
Research & Insights
4 min read | November 17, 2021

Managers have a strong effect on team performance, for better or worse

Thriving managers improve team performance. But what about managers who are struggling? How team outcomes are impacted when leadership is lacking. Read More
Research & Insights
13 min read | January 11, 2022

Meet the Future-Minded Leader: Your organization’s answer to uncertainty

More than ever, the future feels uncertain and opaque. We have to move forward, but it’s harder to plan for what’s ahead. What does it take to thrive? We discovered one key... Read More
Diversity & Inclusion
21 min read | January 25, 2022

Breaking the glass ceiling at work and unleashing your potential

If there’s a glass ceiling at your workplace, it can hold you back from reaching your full potential. Find out what’s behind this barrier — and how to smash it. Read More
Culture
12 min read | June 21, 2022

43% of us don’t feel connected at work. Here's what to do about it.

Employees everywhere aren't getting the type of social connection they want or need. Learn why that matters and what you can do to boost your own. Read More
Research & Insights
13 min read | August 22, 2022

Struggling with control issues? Coaching can help

If your employees are struggling with change, it's time to examine locus of control. Dig into the data behind coaching and control — and why it matters. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.