Changes in Goal-Striving Across the Life Span

Do People Learn to Select More Self-Concordant Goals as They Age?

Authored by: Kennon M. Sheldon

Handbook of Research on Adult Learning and Development

Print publication date:  November  2008
Online publication date:  November  2008

Print ISBN: 9780805858198
eBook ISBN: 9780203887882
Adobe ISBN: 9781135597405


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This handbook as a whole addresses adult development and learning across the life span. Most of the authors on this topic will focus on cognitive-developmental issues, such as literacy, problem solving, expertise, and wisdom. However in this chapter, I propose to consider an important personality-developmental issue: namely, the question of how people learn to select the best goals for themselves—that is, the ones that will be most adaptive, personally expressive, and promoting of health and happiness. Obviously, we all focus our energies in innumerable different directions over the course of our lives. Surely, some of these choices are “wrong” for us, that is, they lead us towards dependency, frustration, and a failure to thrive. In contrast, other types of choices are likely more right for us, more “self-concordant,” leading us towards continued positive change and growth (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999; Sheldon & Houser-Marko, 2001). If this is true, then the decision process by which people continuingly select particular goals and intentions from among the numerous available options may be a crucial meta-cognitive skill—one with important implications for thriving and adaptation.

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