People motivate themselves in different ways depending on where they are in pursuing a goal, new research finds.
At the start, people motivate themselves with hopes and dreams of reaching their goal.
For example, someone wanting to lose weight might think about the clothes they will be able to wear.
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Psychologists call this ‘promotion motivation’ as the study’s authors, Dr Olya Bullard and Dr Rajesh V. Manchanda, explain:
“Promotion motivation encourages people to focus on hopes and aspirations, it makes people think of their goals in terms of attainment of something positive, and it leads individuals to favor approach-oriented “eager” strategies in goal pursuit.”
However, as people get closer to their goal, they get more defensive.
Psychologically, it becomes less about the benefits and more about avoiding a slip-up:
“…prevention motivation encourages people to focus on responsibilities and duties, it makes people think of their goals in terms of avoiding something negative, and it leads individuals to favor avoidance-oriented “vigilant” strategies in goal pursuit.”
Across a series of five experiments, the researchers found people moved from promotion to prevention motivation as they got closer to their goal.
So, if you are at the start of a journey towards your goal, the authors have the following advice:
“…focus on how reaching it will help you fulfill the hopes and aspirations you have for your life and employ approach strategies to help you stay motivated.
For example, you can make a list of the “right things” you can do to make goal progress, take note of some of the positive things you will attain by reaching your goal, and reward yourself when you make progress in the early stages of goal pursuit (as long as the “reward” does not undermine your actual goal progress, of course!).
Once your are getting closer to your goal:
“…focus on the duties you have in your life and how goal attainment will help you feel that you are taking care of these responsibilities.
In addition, employ avoidance strategies to help you stay motivated.
To use similar examples to the above of activities likely to stir up your motivation: make a list of things “not to do” to stay on course toward your goal, write down the negative things you will prevent from happening by reaching your goal, and give yourself a break from something you don’t enjoy when you make progress in later stages of goal pursuit (again making sure that the break does not undermine your goal progress).”
The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (Bullard & Manchanda, 2017).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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