Surprising new research defies conventional wisdom
“Past research on personal achievement has focused on whether someone sets nearsighted or farsighted goals. We were interested in how staying focused on the self can either help or hinder a person’s ability to overcome indulgences and distractions when they are either focused on the ‘big picture’ or remain more in the near term,” write authors Ravi Mehta (University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign), Rui (Juliet) Zhu (Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business), and Joan Meyers-Levy (University of Minnesota).
In one study, participants were offered M&Ms—the indulgence—while answering questions focused on either staying connected with friends and family (near-term) or improving their health (big picture).
Results showed that when participants were focused on themselves (looking at themselves in the mirror), they were more likely to eat the M&Ms when their goal was more big picture (improving their health), and less likely when their goal was near-term. Conversely, in the absence of self-focus (no mirror), the participants were more likely to eat the M&Ms when thinking about friends and family, the near-term goal.
This suggests that focusing on the self when focused on a specific goal will lead to achievement; whereas using the big picture as motivation works when the person is not the focus of the goal (is the family will be better off).