What are goal setting apps?

Goal setting apps can help people with habit forming, organization, increasing focus, and creating and achieving manageable goals. Apps encourage the completion of goals through various forms of reinforcement, creating incentives that may motivate a user to achieve a certain goal. For example, some apps help “gamify” the process of setting goals and achieving them, which makes the user’s goals and habits into entertaining challenges, reinforcing habit-forming behavior. Other apps provide feedback and a way to visualize progress over time, which can be motivating for people. Apps can also help a person bring attention to the habits they wish to change; for example, time-tracking apps record what apps and websites the user spends their time on. Overall, goal setting apps all have a focus on creating or supporting structure in the user’s life to help them achieve their goals.

How can goal setting apps help?

Actively setting goals and priorities can help with executive function, which are the mental skills involved in behavior control (including skills such as adaptable thinking, working memory, self-monitoring, etc.). Goal setting apps break down big goals into smaller, more attainable goals (Epton et al. 2017). They also help reinforce desirable behavior, seen especially with focus-building or habit-forming apps, through a process called “operant conditioning” (Akpan 2020). This process encourages people to engage with more helpful behaviors, for which they will be positively reinforced (i.e. through a reward), and less unhelpful behaviors, for which they will be negatively reinforced (i.e. punishment, or loss of something motivating).

Goal setting apps can also help users gain confidence in their abilities through successfully achieving their goals (Houston, 2020). Many goal setting apps use CBT principles to help achieve SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely) goals  (Arocho, 2015). Setting SMART goals means setting goals that are more likely to be achieved, thus allowing the user to achieve their goals successfully, boosting self-esteem, and fostering high self-efficacy. The ability to plan and execute goals can create healthy experiences of goal attainment, which is critical for goal setting (Houston, 2020). Ultimately, goal setting apps encourage healthy changes in behavior that benefit the user’s mental health (Gardner 2012).


For more: 

Visit our app guide here to find goal-setting apps. You can also read more about these apps in Micah Saviet’s Professional Review of three goal-setting apps, Fabulous, Habitica, and Productive Habit Tracker.




Akpan, B. (2020). Classical and Operant Conditioning—Ivan Pavlov; Burrhus Skinner. In Science Education in Theory and Practice (pp. 71-84). Springer.

Arocho, J. (2015, Nov 23). How CBT Uses Goal Setting. Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. https://manhattancbt.com/archives/544/cbt-uses-goal-setting/

Epton, T., Currie, S., & Armitage, C. J. (2017). Unique effects of setting goals on behavior change: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 85(12), 1182–1198. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000260

Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), 664-666. https://doi: 10.3399/bjgp12X659466

Houston, E. (2020, Dec 28). What is Goal Setting and How to Do it Well. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/goal-setting/