Tag Archives: Goals

Are Too Many Choices a Hindrance?

One reason for achieving goals is that people are motivated by self-gratification that may occur consciously or unconsciously (Aarts, 2007).  Addressing needs, or accomplishing a task etc. are examples of goal achievement that occur on a regular basis.  Some tasks however require more thought process and perhaps may involve more choices. While more choices are what society may strive for, it is arguably a positive outcome.

Take television or cable channels, for instance, the former may allow a person in the U.S. access to see 12 channels while the latter may result in 70 or more.  A person can be content with watching one show at any given time or bits and pieces of many. Whereas channel surfing may be a popular past time it’s hardly time well spent and people may even be less happy in the end. In the context of dating there may be the ‘perfect [person] list’ where there is an elusive perfect individual somewhere out there.  The individual may be so overwhelmed with choices of an ideal that, again, the outcome is less than positive.

Iyengar, Wells, and Schwartz (2006) argue that too many choices can make someone feel worse rather than better. The researchers found that people who were fixed on options (i.e. TV channels or attributes on the perfect person list, for instance) and used external sources (i.e. TV guide and fashion) as information tended to be less happy.  An explanation for the result is that, in pursuing the goal, the individual is in search for the ideal and while a person may have indeed performed better in some way in the end the ideal cannot been reached (Iyengar et al., 2006).

Depiction of water choices

Read more: NPR- basic TV offers cable alternative

Read more: Ladies and ‘perfect man’ list

Iyengar, S.S., Wells, R.E., & Schwartz, B. (2006).  Doing better but feeling worse: Looking for the “best” job undermines satisfaction.

Aarts, H. (2007). On the emergence of human goal pursuit: The nonconscious regulation and motivation of goals.

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The month of March is upon us, and chances are you’ve already fallen victim to false-hope syndrome – yet again.

According to Human Kinetics, the premier publisher for sports and fitness, almost 50% of people who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get into shape stopped going to the gym by March 1st. MSNBC quotes an even higher statistic: Whereas health clubs are packed in January, they say, more than 75% of newbies will have called it quits by the end of March.

And yet every year, we typically make the very same resolution: to go the gym, lose weight, tone up, get healthy, and then some – even though most of us repeatedly fail by March (and that’s if we’re relatively persistent). Psychologists Polivy and Herman (2000) have coined the term “false-hope syndrome” to refer to this phenomenon best manifested by attempted and broken New Year’s resolutions. They say that individuals persist in attempting to change themselves despite repeated failure due to an overconfidence that includes feelings of control and optimism (e.g., the twin beliefs that losing weight is easy and fast), and expectations for an unrealistically high payoff from triumphant self-change (e.g., the assumption that changes in weight loss will catalyze major rewards in other, unrelated areas of life). Inevitably, when such unrealistic expectations are not met, individuals often experience disappointment, discouragement, and the perception of oneself as a failure. As these negative emotions build, a sort of Catch-22 results, such that the self-control required for eventual success falters and behavior spirals out of control.

Researchers therefore advise that, in order to create real hope (instead of false hope), we must be accurate in our initial assessments of the difficulty of self-change, commit to realistic goals and expectations, and hone a set of coping skills that build resiliency in the face of normal setbacks. So, with regards to the gym, for starters – get back in there! Understand that weight loss and getting healthy will not happen overnight and instead of shooting for a giant amount of pounds lost, set smaller, more attainable goals (i.e., eating a salad at lunch, running one mile tonight), and strive to attain a few each week. Moreover, if you miss a goal or fall short of an expectation – a minor failure should not set you completely off-track. Give yourself a little pep talk and tell yourself you won’t become a March 1st fitness statistic.

Don’t become a March 1st fitness statistic

Flipping the switch is only the first step

The False-Hope Syndrome: Unfulfilled expectations of self-change

Want to keep those New Year’s resolutions?

In just a few days we’ll have a resolution double-whammy. Not just a new year, but a new decade. Seems like a perfect time to be jotting down those resolutions (or publishing them online), right? Making resolutions is one thing…but what about keeping them? What can social psychology tell us that will help increase the odds that this time next year we’ll be proud of ourselves for the changes we’ve made?

In a recent study Lally et al. found that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a new habit to become automatic. While 254 days of gym trips and healthier eating may seem daunting, there’s small comfort in their finding that missing one day did not seem to influence the habit formation process. Weidemann et al. found that action-planning and coping-planning also affect behavior change, particularly in behaviors related to health. Additionally, developing an action plan early on and preparing mentally for the obstacles you may confront as you try to keep your goal (coping-planning, further explained here) can also help you keep your goal.

So,

  • stick with your resolution for the long haul
  • don’t beat yourself up too much if you miss a day
  • develop a plan to help you reach your goal or keep your resolution
  • mentally imagine yourself overcoming any obstacles
  • and, while you’re at it, tell your friends, since that seems to help too!

(2009) Lally et al. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

(2009) Wiedemann et al. How planning facilitates behaviour change: Additive and interactive effects of a randomized controlled trial

(2005) Sniehotta et al. Action planning and coping planning for long-term lifestyle change: theory and assessment

(2009) Burkeman. This column will change your life, The Guardian

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Never Gonna Give You Up

800px-StudyingIt is generally assumed that telling friends and family about your current goals is beneficial. A great deal of research has shown that when people explicitly state their intentions, they are more likely to follow through. This might be for a number of reasons including the need for self-consistency and the benefits of social support.

However, a recent investigation showed that publicizing your goals may actually lead to a lower likelihood of working toward them. In 4 studies, Peter Gollwitzer and colleagues (2009) asked people to report how important certain goals were to them. These responses were then turned into the experimenter who read them over (making them socially known) or set it aside without looking at them (making them private). Following this, the students completed tasks that were related to their goals. In all studies, they found that while both groups were made up of people strongly committed to their goals, it was people who kept their goals private that were more likely to actually engage in behaviors that were consistent with their intentions.

This finding, while somewhat surprising, is actually consistent with work done by classic theorists such as Kurt Lewin. Namely, the act of stating one’s intentions publicly is symbolic and creates a premature feeling of success, leading people to feel as if they’re already on their way to achieving their goals. In turn, this false sense of accomplishment makes people less likely to engage in the necessary behaviors for achieving those goals. And with this, I’m off to work on some of my own goals, none of which I can or should tell you about.

square-eye Does announcing your goals help you succeed?

square-eye Gollwitzer et al. (2009). When intentions go public: Does social reality widen the intention-behavior gap?