Motivating Yourself with Goal and Expectancy Theories

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As we move forward in our life journeys, it is exciting to discover new passions and rediscover passions we once had. We are continually shaping and creating new visions and goals. When we do this, we are looking forward and are seeing many wonderful possibilities. To help you motivate yourself to achieve your goals, consider applying Locke and Latham’s goal theory and Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory.

Goal Theory

The basic premise of goal theory is that people can form expectations about the future and strive to achieve them. This way of thinking plays a key role in the development of this theory. Locke and Latham, leading researchers on goal theory, tell us that it allows us to form expectations about the future and that we can motivate ourselves by setting future goals (as cited in Jones and George). Locke and Latham continue to suggest that goals affect behavior in four ways:

  1. Directing attention: Expectations allow you to focus more closely on your goal or task.
  2. Mobilizing effort: Expectations allow you to bring together efforts toward a goal or task.
  3. Encouraging persistence: Goals increase your persistence toward achievement.
  4. Facilitating the development of strategies: Goals help you develop and make adjustments in your strategies to achieve them.

To summarize goal theory, consider this formula: Attention + Mobilizing + Persistence + Strategies = Motivation. When all four are high you have maximum motivation to push you to new levels of achievement.

Expectancy Theory

The basic premise of Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory (as cited in Jones and George, 2007) is that an individual’s motivation will be high when there is Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence. Let me explain through personal examples.

  1. Expectancy: If we believe we can complete a task or achieve the needed performance necessary to achieve our goal, we are aligned with Expectancy. For example, I remember two students in my management degree courses who were seasoned managers with exceptional management skills and experience. They both signed up for a course to learn new ideas and theories they could apply. They were both confident that they could complete the course and perform well in this subject area. Their expectancy was high.
  2. Instrumentality: If we believe that our performance will result in the attainment of our goals and/or desired outcome, we are aligned with Instrumentality. For example, the two students I mentioned above were both willing to put forth the necessary time, effort, and energy because they believed by taking action it would lead to their goal. They gave their best and invested the time needed to excel in the course and gain valuable ideas and theories. Their instrumentality was high.
  3. Valence: This is the value an individual places on the rewards. When we truly desire the end outcome we want to achieve we are aligned with Valence. The two students valued the end outcome, and they learned how to apply it to real life situations. They both achieved excellent grades in the course. They displayed their passion for learning and applying the content learned. Both went on to complete graduate degrees in organizational management. Almost two years later, they both contacted me and informed me that their organization had taken notice of their progress, improved performance, and academic accomplishments. They both received promotions within their organizations. These students were aligned with valence. They valued the end outcome, excelled in their course and program, and achieved their goals.

To summarize expectancy theory, consider this formula: Expectancy + Instrumentality + Valence = Motivation. When all three are high your motivation is at the maximum level to achieve your goals.

Forward Thinking

Can you visualize new possibilities and new goals to aim for? When you look forward, make sure you have a vision (which is meaningful, inspiring, and motivates you). Then, to help you motivate yourself to achieve your goals, consider applying Locke and Latham’s goal theory and Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory. These theories applied to your goals will drive your motivation to higher levels and help you achieve.

Written by: Bill Davis
Bill Davis is an instructor in the Forbes School of Business at Ashford University. He holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from St. Ambrose University, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Lewis University, and a Certified Manager Certification from The Institute for Professional Managers. Davis completed sales, human relations, and leadership courses at Dale Carnegie Training. He has over three decades experience working in the beverage industry, specifically for PepsiCo. He has also worked as a consultant for many organizations, advising in subjects like strategic planning, leadership, professional selling, and organizational change.

Jones, G.R.; & Jones, J.M. (2007). Essentials of contemporary management, (2nd ed.). New York, N.Y: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

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