In Pursuing Goals, People Celebrate Progress More Than Setbacks

Use this strategy to motivate yourself

When pursuing goals, people give more weight to progress than setbacks


Say you have a bunch of New Year’s resolutions. Cool. But take note of a new study and use it to your advantage: People tend to believe good behaviors are more beneficial in reaching goals than bad behaviors are in obstructing goals, according to a University of Colorado Boulder study.

A dieter, for instance, thinks refraining from eating ice cream helps his weight-management goal more than eating ice cream hurts it. “People tend to accentuate the positive and downplay the negative when considering how they’re doing in terms of goal pursuit,” says Margaret C. Campbell, lead author of the paper. 

This finding is called “progress bias,” and it can be a motivator: a lapse while working toward a goal, referred to as goal-inconsistent behavior, doesn’t feel as damaging to the perpetrator and can be redeemed. Successes while working toward a goal, referred to as goal-consistent behavior, feel like big accomplishments.

“So our moral for the season is monitor, monitor, monitor,” said Campbell. “For example, dieters need to pay close attention to calories in and out — both aspects — during this tempting time to keep from falling prey to the bias.”

Goals often require people to control themselves repeatedly in order to engage in behaviors that move them closer to the goal, and to avoid behaviors that move them further from the goal. Thus, it’s important to use progress as a marker to keep spirits up in pursuit of a goal!

Image: Australian National Maritime Museum on flickr

Category: Body


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